Two teams that have positioned themselves to make rare playoff appearances hope to continue to rise at the other's expense when the Sacramento Kings visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night in Minneapolis.
It has been 17 years since the Kings last experienced the NBA postseason (2006), while the Timberwolves have reached the playoffs just twice since 2004. But both reside among the winning clubs in the Western Conference as the calendar prepares to turn to February.
Minnesota got the better of Sacramento on Saturday 117-110 in the opener of a three-day, same-site sequence. It was the first of four meetings between the teams this season.
Two players looking to pick up votes from the coaches when All-Star Game reserves are announced Thursday put their impressive forms on display in the series opener.
The Timberwolves' Anthony Edwards was the game's leading scorer with 34 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists. He shot 14-for-21 on a night when the hosts buried 52.5 percent of their shots.
A third-year player who has never been in an NBA All-Star Game, Edwards has raised his scoring to a career-best 24.7 points by averaging 34.2 while shooting at a 54.0 percent clip the past five games.
"I feel like I can't miss right now, to be honest," Edwards said after Saturday's win. "I don't want to jinx myself, but right now, I feel like I just can't miss. I put a lot of work in, man, so I'm happy it's showing."
The Timberwolves have won three in a row and five of the last six. They handled the Memphis Grizzlies and Kings, two of the top teams in the West, to open a six-game homestand during which the reigning NBA champs (Golden State) and current No. 1 team in the West (Denver) also will be visiting.
The Kings, whose current .563 winning percentage is nearly 200 points higher than last year's .366, have stumbled lately, losing three of four. Saturday's loss to the Timberwolves was the opener of their longest trip of the season -- a seven-game excursion that will take them to San Antonio, Indian, New Orleans and two in Houston. Sacramento had won its previous three road outings before arriving in Minneapolis.
Like Edwards, Domantas Sabonis continued a season worthy of All-Star consideration on Saturday, posting 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Timberwolves. Sabonis leads the NBA with 37 double-doubles.
The Kings shot reasonably well in defeat (45.1 percent), but that's not where the game was lost, coach Mike Brown insisted.
"That is fool's gold if we think as a team and organization that we're going to just beat teams by outscoring them," Brown said. "It's not going to happen, especially come playoff time. So, somehow, some way, I have to find combinations of players that can score and that are willing to get stops for us."
After being acquired from the Indiana Pacers last February, Sabonis made his Sacramento debut in a home game against the Timberwolves on Feb. 9. He contributed 22 points and 14 rebounds to a 132-119 win.
--Field Level Media