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Wolves blame themselves for failing to contain red-hot Kings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Kings were on fire Wednesday night and hit 19 of 38 three-pointers in downing the Wolves 141-130. You might think the Kings just had a lucky night shooting, but the Wolves didn’t view it that way.

They didn’t do a good enough job of preventing those attempts in the first place.

“When a guy hits a three, you have to run him off the line,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t close short on him.”

To Thibodeau, the Wolves weren’t hustling enough to match the fast-paced Kings, who had the second-fastest offense in the league entering Wednesday. This led to holes in the defense that the Kings were able to exploit with ball movement to the weak side.

“The problem was we were in scramble situations because if you have one guy jogging back … now you have to cover for someone, now you’re leaving someone else open.”

Derrick Rose said there was also a lack of communication while Robert Covington said the Kings took advantage of every mistake the Wolves made.

“We didn’t string enough stops together to come out and get a win,” Covington said. “I think it was just one of them nights. They were making a lot of shots.”

Okogie gets in
Josh Okogie played six minutes off the bench to start the second quarter, a surprise given Okogie was the 10th man in Thibodeau’s rotation. Okogie has been the odd man out when Thibodeau has a healthy roster. Okogie played his minutes early in the second quarter, normally when Robert Covington plays with four bench players.

Thibodeau said Okogie’s minutes didn’t have anything to do with trying to limit Covington’s minutes.

“We were matching him with [Buddy] Hield,” Thibodeau said.

Covington played 31 minutes, scoring 17 points and said his knee felt fine after the game.

Wiggins’ strong night
One of the bright spots for the Wolves was the play of Andrew Wiggins, who had an efficient 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting. This came after Wiggins shot 14 of 33 in his previous two games.

Wiggins missed his first two shots of the night – both 3-point attempts – and changed his mindset after that.

“I was just trying to get to the rim,” Wiggins said. “It kept working, so I kept going with it.”

Bjelica’s revenge
Former Wolves forward Nemaja Bjelica saved one of his best games for his former team. He scored 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 9 from 3-point range. Bjelica made sure to twist the knife in the fourth quarter, hitting a key 3-pointer to put the Kings up eight with 1:42 to play and stifle a late comeback effort from the Wolves.

“We’ve seen that a lot from him,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a great shooter and so you can’t give him airspace.”

Wolves teammates call Okogie 'a highlight waiting to happen'

PORTLAND, Ore. – It was about 40 minutes before Saturday’s game, Josh Okogie said, when coach Tom Thibodeau told him Robert Covington wasn’t going to play because of right knee soreness and Okogie would be seeing significant minutes.

The rookie’s reaction?

“I’m always ready,” he said.

Okogie certainly appeared that way, running around the court like a video game character with an endless supply of stamina in his 26 minutes.

He shot 3-for-5 from the field for just eight points in the Wolves’ 113-105 loss as he tried to pick up the slack on the defensive end with Covington out. Okogie’s gave the kind of effort his teammates have come to expect – and they seem to respect him for it.

“Josh came out and hooped,” guard Derrick Rose said.

Added Karl-Anthony Towns: “The thing about Josh is for a rookie, especially, he’s a true professional. He understands how to be a true pro. He keeps himself ready. … When his number was called, he was ready to do whatever it took to give the team a chance to win.”

That included a stunning play in the fourth quarter in which Okogie got caught in the air, threw the ball to himself off the backboard, caught it and made the putback.

“Jumping in the air, it’s hard to pass so I kind of just passed it to myself,” Okogie said.

It was the kind of play that displayed the full Okogie experience. He made a mistake in jumping into the air with the ball without a purpose, but he made up for it with his athleticism and pure hustle. It had his teammates on the bench in awe or in delirium. Rose said it was “unreal.”

“We all thought he was going to go dunk it,” Towns said. “We were more surprised he didn’t get a chance to dunk it than making it. He’s such a talented player, and you expect highlight moments like that. When he comes in the game, it’s a highlight waiting to happen.”

Okogie certainly expects that of himself whenever he enters a game. Saturday marked his first meaningful minutes in a game since Nov. 14. Thibodeau has relegated Okogie to the bench since Covington and Dario Saric came from the 76ers. Since then, it’s been a lot of learning and practicing for Okogie.

“The game is the easy part,” Okogie said. “Whether I play or not, I do the same thing every day. … I could miss 20 games. The 21st game you put me in there, it’ll be like the last time I played.”

Okogie said he has been a sponge while in practice or on the bench, trying to absorb as much information as he can from teammates and coaches while trying to pick up on tendencies from opponents.

“I always sit next to the coaches. I ask questions, [see why] other players do what they do and pick up the kind of stuff they’re doing,” Okogie said. “Whenever I’m thrown in, I’m always locked in. I’m always putting myself in a position where if I’m ever called on to play I’m ready.”

It’s a quality the Wolves seem to appreciate.  

“He’s a pro,” forward Taj Gibson said. “Whatever you throw at him, he’s ready for the occasion. Just wish we could’ve pulled out a win for him.” 

Final, 12/12 1 2 3 4 F
Minnesota 13-15 31 19 42 38 130
Sacramento 15-12 35 28 33 45 141

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