Kings 100, Timberwolves 98

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Martin’s development into a clutch performer was well-displayed in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

But it was lethargy, not so much Sacramento’s scoring leader, that ultimately beat the Timberwolves.

Martin had 28 points and the go-ahead jumper with 16.6 seconds left, helping struggling Sacramento stave off another road defeat with a 100-98 victory.

“You’re seeing the maturation of a player who is now becoming a go-to guy,” coach Eric Musselman said of Martin, whose 20-plus points average is tops on the Kings. “Not only does the coaching staff have a lot of confidence in him, but more importantly his teammates do.”

The Timberwolves, who were led by Ricky Davis and his 24 points, were ideally at the point in their season where they didn’t have to worry about efforts like these.

A flat first half, which featured numerous lifeless defensive sequences and a costly rash of turnovers, left them trailing 54-41—a deficit they erased with a spirited comeback down the stretch.

After Mike Bibby beat the shot clock with a jumper to make it 92-83, the Wolves finally made their push over the final five-plus minutes. Randy Foye made one of two free throws with 2:32 left that brought Minnesota within 95-94, then Kevin Garnett gave the Wolves their first lead since late in the first quarter with a tough turnaround jumper.

Martin answered, though, by faking Foye into the air and calmly stepping forward and swishing his big shot to make it 97-96.

Foye was stripped by John Salmons on the other end on a drive, and Minnesota was forced to foul Ron Artest, who made two free throws to put away the game. Foye stepped on the out-of-bounds line and was called for another turnover on the subsequent possession.

Interim coach Randy Wittman was exasperated by his team’s early lack of exertion, however, and not really concerned with the rookie’s mistakes.

“We were running in mud. That’s not acceptable,” Wittman said, later adding: “We’ve talked every day about effort and coming out and playing hard, and we didn’t do it.”

Garnett finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists after shooting just 2-for-12 from the field in the first half, in which Sacramento owned a 34-18 edge in paint points. The Kings had a 31-12 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game, which caused howling from the Wolves and a postgame complaint from Garnett.

But the damage was done with that lack of effort, which Wittman repeatedly mentioned in his remarks.

“You feel it in the air, if you’re real with yourself,” Garnett said.

The worst part for Minnesota was that this followed a 121-112 victory over Phoenix that ended the Suns’ 17-game winning streak and moved the up-and-down Wolves back to the .500 mark.

“Believe me, if I had those answers, I would definitely share them,” Garnett said.

After reaching a low point with 11 losses in their last 14 games, the Kings were happy to improve their road record against the Western Conference to 4-11. They had only eight turnovers and worked their motion offense well.

“It’s one we definitely needed,” Bibby said.

The key was starting strong and taking that momentum Minnesota gained by beating Phoenix away as quickly as possible.

Artest scored nine points in the first quarter, closing by corralling a loose ball, speeding unabated up the court, eyeing up the clock and swishing a 30-footer at the buzzer to give the Kings a 26-22 lead.

A 9-0 surge by Sacramento that made it 48-35 was fueled by four Minnesota turnovers, the last a lazy pass by Foye that Martin picked off and took the other way for an uncontested dunk. Martin dribbled up so fast that the ball girl who was mopping the court on that end had to scurry away and avoid getting hit. She smiled sheepishly and patted her heart after the sequence was over.

“We knew they were going to be on a high and have a lot of confidence,” Martin said. “We just wanted to jump on them early and carry it throughout the game.”

Notes

Returning from June microfracture surgery on his right knee, Rashad McCants had two points in five minutes in his season debut for the Wolves. … Shareef Abdur-Rahim sat out for Sacramento because of a sore right knee. … The Timberwolves finished 9-8 in January. They are 129-128 for the franchise’s only winning month in history.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Sacramento
K. Martin K. Martin
10-18,  28 Pts
7 Rebs, 1 Assists
 Minnesota
R. Davis R. Davis
8-11,  24 Pts
7 Rebs, 3 Assists

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Points
Rebounds
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Wednesday, Jan 31