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Barea, bench lift Timberwovles over Kings

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- If you hung around Target Center enough last year, you heard, over and over, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman despairing over his lack of depth, pleading for more playmakers, dissing his defense.

What a difference an off-season makes.

A re-tooled Wolves roster that was playing Friday without stars Kevin Love (broken hand) and Rickey Rubio (knee surgery) showed it had more of everything Adelman wanted. The result was a bench-led, energy-driven season-opening 92-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

"It was a very good win for us," said Adelman, whose Wolves shot 36.8 percent, going 2-for-17 on three-pointers ... and still winning by a dozen points.

The reasons: Bench play and defense.

The bench scored half of the Wolves points, led by guard J.J. Barea's 21 points. The bench also supplied much of the defensive energy (four blocks by backup center Greg Stiemsma) and turned around a game that was going Sacramento's way in the third quarter.

It was a night of new faces. Brandon Roy, making his return to the game after a year in retirement, had 10 points and six assists. Andrei Kirilenko, who played in Russia last year, returned with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The Wolves also got solid efforts from newcomers like Dante Cunningham, Stiemsma and Chase Budinger.

But this night belonged to Barea and his fearless drives to the basket.

"I've been feeling good lately," said Barea, who also had five assists. "By my body felt good in preseason and it got better every day. I was able to come with a lot of energy. I was moving good. I was attacking."

Not to mention setting a tone.

Meanwhile the Kings (0-2) couldn't overcome a poor start and a 15-point fourth-quarter finish. Part of it was DeMarcus Cousins (11 points) being in foul trouble all night. Part of it was poor shooting thanks to good Minnesota defense. Isaiah Thomas finished with 20 points, Marcus Thornton had 15 and Jason Thompson had 10.

"We came off not shooting the ball well, but that's not an excuse," said Kings forward Jason Thompson. "We weren't defending well either."

The Wolves never trailed in the first half, pushing their lead to 18 with 4:06 left in the half. For most of the next 12 minutes it was all Kings. Thomas had 11 points, Thornton and Tyreke Evans six each in a 34-9 run that bled into the third quarter and ended when Thomas' third 3-pointer gave the Kings a 61-56 lead.

Then two things happened: Cousins had just gone to the bench with his fifth foul, and Adelman re-inserted much of his bench back into the game, starting with Barea. And the momentum shifted again. Barea fed Kirilenko for a dunk and the Wolves were off on a 14-3 run. Moments later Dante Cunningham scored the second of consecutive buckets and the Wolves led 62-61. That least stretched to eight before being trimmed to five entering the fourth quarter.

"We got up by five and I thought the momentum was on our side," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "And I felt we took some quick shots. That's a part of growing up with this team, not taking quick shots at that particular point."

The Kings never led again.

And so the Wolves, still getting to know each other after an off-season filled with turnover, showed some good signs. Nine players scored in the first period alone. Eight players had nine or more points, three had at least five assists. Playmakers? Just wait until Roy (4-for-14 shooting) and Budinger (3-for-12) start hitting their shots.

It could get interesting. But until then, the Wolves showed they can win games with defense, something that didn't happen much last season.

NOTES: Kings swingman John Salmons returned to his team Thursday after a much longer stay away from the team than originally expected. Salmons was with his wife, Taniesha, in Philadelphia for the birth of the couple's third child. Unfortunately, the baby arrived five days late. Salmons will practice with the team for a spell before returning to the rotation. ... In something of a surprise, Derrick Williams got the start at power forward for the Wolves. Many had expected Cunningham to fill the starting role at power forward until Kevin Love (broken hand) returned.
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