SACRAMENTO – With a shared history that dates to the 1980s and a coaching rivalry in basketball’s minor leagues, Sacramento’s George Karl and the Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders reunited Tuesday for a 116-111 Kings’ victory that, in the big scheme of things, meant little and yet everything to both.
Two men in their 60s, they just won’t go away.
“We’re both pretty much lifers,” Saunders said. “I’m sure that’s why George is back in it, and it’s why I’m doing it right now.”
Karl is 63 and a two-time cancer survivor who won 1,131 career games and still hadn’t had enough when the Kings hired him away from television work and coaching retirement over February’s All-Star break to guide a young, talented, enigmatic team.
His Kings are 27-50 overall and 9-16 since he was hired after they overcame an early 28-19 deficit playing without injured All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and ended a five-game losing streak after leading by as many as 19 points.
They did so with forward Rudy Gay scoring 33 points, Omri Casspi adding a career-high 31 and former Wolves’ lottery pick Derrick Williams playing like he usually does against his former team.
“He looks like an All Star out there every time he plays Minnesota,” Wolves veteran Chase Budinger said.
Kevin Martin led the Wolves with 37 points and rookie Andrew Wiggins had 26. The Wolves pulled within six points five times in the final 10 minutes but could get no closer.
Williams made eight of 12 shots — including a vicious one-handed, putback slam dunk — while coming off the bench even though Karl offered up before the game the same sentiment that caused the Wolves to trade away a player they drafted No. 2 overall in 2011.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Williams averaged 15 points on 54.5 percent shooting in six career games against the Wolves and 9.0 points on 42.4 percent shooting in 284 games against everybody else.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Karl said. “A lot of people are happy with how Derrick has played. I’m frustrated because I think he can play better than he plays. He’s an extremely talented kid. It’s just getting him to make more good mental decisions than bad decisions.
‘‘I really enjoyed him a lot of days, but I think coaches get frustrated with players who have talent — off-the-chart type talent — but you don’t get it every night, you don’t fit into the team every night.”
The Wolves played with nine healthy and available players Tuesday — one more than in recent days — after they signed D League forward Arinze Onuaku, who flew into Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon and played 16 minutes that night without so much as participating in a morning shootaround.
The Wolves signed Onuaku before Tuesday’s game to give them a big body up front on a team that was down to just Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton as their only healthy big men.
Onuaku, 27, played 41 games with the D League’s Canton Charge this season, averaging 17.5 points on 62.2 percent shooting and 12.2 rebounds. Tuesday’s game was the first of four games in five nights for the Wolves, who are without injured centers Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng.
“We thought it best to have someone in here, just in case,” Saunders said.
• The Kings played Tuesday without Cousins, who had a sore foot.
• Pekovic is scheduled to have surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.
• Wolves forward Kevin Garnett missed his 14th consecutive game on Tuesday, but Saunders said Garnett’s leg and knee are stronger and said there’s a chance he’ll play again before the season ends next week. He accompanied the team on its West Coast trip and watched Tuesday’s game from the dressing room.
• The Wolves’ five starters Tuesday have played a combined 16 NBA seasons, or as many as Kings veteran guard Andre Miller.