MINNEAPOLIS — The Sacramento Kings were facing an opponent missing four starters and playing on the second night of a back-to-back — a scenario that scared the daylights out of coach Mike Malone.
His young Kings are just getting the taste of success, and the coach worried about a let-down. DeMarcus Cousins wouldn't allow that to happen.
Cousins had 31 points and 18 rebounds to power the Sacramento Kings to a 113-101 victory over the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
"These are scary games because I mean you look at a team's record and you think, 'oh this is a win,'" Cousins said. "And guys come out and play to the level of competition and whatever the case may be and then they come out with a loss but then we came in that second half and played the right type, well, better basketball.
Cousins hit 11 of 15 shots and Ben McLemore had 22 points and nine rebounds to help the Kings overcome a sluggish start and improve to an eye-opening 8-5.
"I don't know if there's a better center in the league, the way he's playing," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said of Cousins, whom the Wolves passed on in the 2010 draft in favor of Wes Johnson. "He's got his head screwed on straight. That was always a question mark. He seems to be very focused."
Andrew Wiggins scored a career-high 29 points and had four steals for the Timberwolves, who were missing four starters and playing the second night of a back-to-back.
The Kings out-rebounded Minnesota 50-37, taking full advantage of a frontcourt missing Nikola Pekovic to injury and Thaddeus Young after the death of his mother.
The young Kings have been one of the biggest early surprises of the league with eight wins in their first 13 games, but Malone's fears proved valid at the start.
Also playing without Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Ronny Turiaf, Saunders used a zone defense that befuddled the Kings early on. They missed 10 of their first 12 3-pointers and had difficulty getting Cousins touches in the paint.
McLemore missed three of his four 3-pointers in the first half and five of his first seven shots overall, but got two dunks at the end of the second quarter and one at the start of the third to get himself going. He hit three 3-pointers in a row, then scored on a drive to the basket for a 72-62 lead midway through the third.
"I didn't think we came ready to play, which was a concern of mine even before we left Sacramento, but to our guys' credit we came out and played with a great sense of urgency, as we outscored them I think 36-25 in the third quarter," Malone said. "And we did it with defense."
Kings: Rudy Gay had just 14 points and six rebounds in 35 minutes while playing with a sore Achilles. ... Collison had 19 points, seven assists and four turnovers.
Timberwolves: Saunders said Pekovic (wrist, foot) will be evaluated on Monday. If it is determined he will be out at least another 10 days, the Wolves could get a roster exception to add another player without trading or releasing a player. ... Wiggins played 19 straight minutes to open the game.
WIGGINS' BIG NIGHT
The No. 1 overall pick who came to Minnesota from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade played 41 minutes, was 2 of 4 from 3-point range and 9 of 10 on free throws. The Wolves have been encouraging him to be more aggressive, and he responded by taking 22 shots and driving hard to the basket. His 29 points were the most by a rookie this season.
Kings F Derrick Williams was drafted No. 2 overall by the Timberwolves in 2011. He was traded to Sacramento last year and has been up and down. But he usually plays well against his former team, and did so again on Saturday, scoring 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting with six rebounds.
"I just want to get out there and play well, no matter who we play though," Williams said. "But it's definitely a little bit extra when we play them."
Kings: At New Orleans on Tuesday.
Timberwolves: Host Milwaukee on Wednesday.
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.