Timberwolves hit by regression monster in home loss to Kings

Minnesota’s defense has indeed been dominant this season. And it obviously was not as good Friday against Sacramento.

The Kings hung 120 on the Timberwolves to hand Minnesota its first loss of the season at Target Center, 124-111. Sacramento shot a blistering 50% from 3-point range, hitting 17 shots from deep.

Sacramento (9-6) has the type of roster with a number of wings who are legitimate scoring threats. That puts Minnesota’s big-ball lineups in a bit of a bind on the defensive end. Those mismatches created some ease of offense for the Kings, which translated to a number of open looks that Sacramento buried.

De’Aaron Fox led the way with 36 points and 12 assists

The Kings shot better than they usually do from behind the arc, but Minnesota (11-4) was also likely due for such a night. Heading into the game, opponents were shooting just 27% against Minnesota on “open” 3-point shots. The Timberwolves’ general defensive aggression plays a role in that, but that number was by far the lowest in the NBA.

Analytics gurus will tell you 3-point defense is a number that generally will revert somewhere toward the mean over time. Minnesota paid the piper on Friday. And even when Sacramento did miss, it often grabbed the offensive rebound — one of few bugaboos for Minnesota this season.

The Kings tallied 26 second-chance points.

And Minnesota’s offense couldn’t do enough to keep pace, at least in the second half. Despite Sacramento’s elite shooting, Minnesota trailed by just six — 70-64 — at the break Friday. It stayed in the game by attacking the paint relentlessly and was rewarded with 17 first-half free-throw attempts, 11 of which came from Anthony Edwards.

But that approach went to the wayside in the second half. Minnesota started chucking up perimeter shots ad nauseum early in the clock. They didn’t fall, and the Wolves mustered just 15 points in the third quarter on 5-for-20 shooting, which allowed the Kings to pull away.

With a win Saturday, Minnesota would’ve clinched West Group C, securing its spot in the final eight of the in-season tournament. Instead, the Wolves’ chances of advancing are in trouble.

Minnesota is 2-1 in group play with one final contest — a home tilt Tuesday against Oklahoma City — remaining. The Kings are 3-0.

Minnesota has to win that Thunder game to have any chance of advancing as the group winner or via the conference’s one wild-card spot, but it would also require a massive swing in point differential.

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