Wolves' playoff hopes continue to fade with loss to Sacramento
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The Minnesota Timberwolves' hopes of making the postseason for the first time since 2004 continue to be decreasing at a rapid rate, with rookie guard Ricky Rubio lost for the season and during a seven-game trip that is proving to be too much for the players who remain.
The latest example came Sunday as the Wolves fell 115-99 at Sacramento, leaving them 1-3 on the trip. That puts the Wolves' two-and-a-half games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with both Phoenix and Utah ahead of them in the ninth and 10th spots.
The Wolves (22-24) trailed 90-82 after three quarters and they continued to get outplayed by a Kings team they had beaten twice this season. Sacramento (16-29) has the second worst record in the Western Conference ahead of only New Orleans (11-34).
The wheels completely fell off in the fourth quarter, with the Wolves falling behind by as many as 20 points. It was a particularly sloppy game for the Wolves. They had 21 turnovers and the Kings turned those miscues into 29 points.
"Everything we started off at the beginning of the season trying to avoid we did tonight," said Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who at one time ran the Kings bench. "I don't know how many second-chance points they had, but they continued to beat us to the rim. Their season has been tough and we talked about that before the game. If you let them get going in their own building they will be tough."
Michael Beasley made his return after missing the past two games because of a bruised big toe he suffered last Monday night in a victory over Phoenix. That was the opening game of the trip. The Wolves lost to Utah on Thursday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
Beasley entered Sunday's game at the 1:09 mark of the first quarter for Wesley Johnson and scored his first points less than 30 seconds later when he made a three-pointer.
But Beasley came up lame midway through the second quarter and forced coach Rick Adelman to call timeout after tweaking his toe. Beasley stayed in the game and continued to lead the offense, scoring 11 points on five of eight shooting in the first half.
In the second half, however, Beasley went cold and he finished with 13 points on six of 16 shooting. Any first-half thoughts that Beasley might recapture the magic of his 42-point performance last season quickly went out the window as he, and the rest of the Wolves, cooled off in an increasingly dominant performance by the Kings.
The bench did respond after scoring only 19 points in the loss to the Lakers, accounting for 47 points to keep the Wolves in the game.
While Beasley returned, the Wolves were forced to play without center Nikola Pekovic because he again had trouble with a sore left ankle that caused him to miss time at the All-Star break.
Pekovic had five consecutive 20-plus point games, but it was his physical style of defense the Wolves missed the most against the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins.
Love drew the defensive assignment against Cousins and did a great job containing the second-year player that Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn passed on in order to select Johnson in 2010.
Cousins did not make his first field goal until the 9:15 mark of the third quarter, but he began to come alive after that, scoring nine points and drawing a third foul on Love.
Anthony Randolph -- who started the second half in place of Darko Milicic -- got the nod to guard Cousins at times, too, in one of his most productive games of the season. Randolph finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, his most since scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds in garbage time on Feb. 29 against the Lakers.
Milicic played only six minutes and was benched for Randolph the rest of the way -- the latest sign that he is not long for this team.
The fourth quarter quickly turned into a train wreck for the Wolves as they allowed the Kings to do whatever they wanted. The Kings outscored the Wolves 25-17 in the quarter.
Love and J.J. Barea got into a brief shouting match on the bench late in the game.
"It's frustrating, but nothing personal against JJ," Love said. "I think we were both frustrated and took it out on each other when we should have took it out on the other team. So both of us made mistakes and both of us feel bad."
• 1: Times this season the Wolves have been tied at the half. The Wolves and Kings were even at 57 after two quarters.
• 38: Double-doubles for Love this season, the most in the league. He finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes.
• 100: Wolves' percentage from the free-throw line, a small silver lining in an otherwise embarrassing game.
• 1-4: Wolves' record since Rubio was lost for the season because of a torn ACL on March 9 against the Lakers. Rubio is scheduled to have surgery on his knee Wednesday.
• 6 of 25: Wolves' success rate on three-pointers.
Pekovic missed the game because of bad ankle, but the Wolves said the move was precautionary. The ankle flared up after the loss to the Lakers and the Wolves wanted to guard against a further setback by putting Pekovic on the court with short rest.
He is considered day-to-day and will be questionable for Monday's game at Golden State.
The California portion of this trip wraps up when the Wolves play their first game against the Warriors this season.
The Wolves were 1-3 against the Warriors (18-24) a season ago and this will be the first of three meetings between the teams down the stretch this season.
From there, the Wolves wrap up the trip with stops in San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
The Associated Press contributed.