Timberwolves-Kings Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Timberwolves need to pick up the pace if they want to stick around in the Western Conference playoff race.

While the Sacramento Kings have a ways to go to get back in the mix, they looked nothing like one of the weaker teams in the league their last time out.

Hoping to avoid a fifth loss in six games, the Timberwolves continue a seven-game road swing Sunday night seeking a third straight win over the Kings.

Lurking just outside of the playoff picture for much of the season, Minnesota (22-23) may be on the verge of falling out of contention. The Timberwolves have played the last four games without rookie standout guard Ricky Rubio, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL on March 9.

After opening its trip with a 127-124 win over Phoenix on Monday, Minnesota suffered a 111-105 overtime defeat to Utah on Thursday and fell 97-92 to the Los Angeles Lakers the following night.

Kevin Love had 27 points and 15 rebounds Friday for his NBA-leading 37th double-double, but the Timberwolves went 4 of 22 from 3-point range and fell below .500 for the first time since March 1.

"If you want to be in the playoff race, you have to go out and play like you really want to stay in it," coach Rick Adelman said.

"We have to have more urgency as a group. You can't talk about it. You have to do it. We have to go out in the last four games on this road trip and make a statement."

Sunday's matchup may give the Timberwolves their best chance to get back on track with visits to Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City in store. After defeating Sacramento 99-86 on Jan. 16 behind Love's 33 points and 11 boards, Minnesota escaped with an 86-84 win Feb. 7 with Love suspended.

A third straight victory in the series, however, could be hard to come by if the Kings' latest effort is any indication. Sacramento is in 14th place in the West, but snapped a three-game skid with a 120-95 rout of Boston on Friday.

Marcus Thornton scored a season-high 36, Jason Thompson had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the second consecutive game and Isaiah Thomas added 13 points and 10 assists.

The Kings shot a season-best 53.5 percent from the field and held a 45-28 rebounding edge over the Celtics, who surrendered their highest scoring output in almost three years. Sacramento also scored 32 fast-break points.

"I think we made shots," said Thomas, averaging 14.5 points since moving into the starting lineup Feb. 17. "We're a young team that feeds off little things like that. If we're making shots, you can say we're going to have a good game."

While the Kings' overall efforts have left much to be desired, the team has held its own against some of the better clubs in the league. Sacramento is a combined 3-0 at home versus Oklahoma City, Dallas and the Lakers, and also defeated San Antonio on the road.

"I think that for some reason we play to the competition," Thompson told the league's official website. " ... When we get stops and finish with a rebound, we can run and when we run and get easy fast-break points, then it makes the half-court game easy."

Averaging 17.1 points, Tyreke Evans in uncertain to be available after sitting out Friday with a sprained left ankle. Minnesota's Michael Beasley is expected to return following a two-game absence due to a sore left toe.

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