J.J. Barea had 21 points and five assists in 28 minutes for Minnesota, helping the Timberwolves overcome a weak shooting performance in their season opener and beat the Sacramento Kings 92-80 on Friday night.
Brandon Roy pitched in 10 points, six assists and five rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko added 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists as both players returned to NBA action for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season.
Isaiah Thomas had 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter for the Kings, who trailed for most of the game but overtook the Wolves for a stretch after halftime. Reserve Marcus Thornton had 15 points, but DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans were quiet.
Barea and his bench buddies led the way for the Wolves, who will be without stars Ricky Rubio (left knee surgery) and Kevin Love (broken right hand) for at least the first month of the season. Greg Stiemsma hounded Cousins around the basket and had nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 16 minutes.
The Wolves shot 2 for 17 from 3-point range.
Nikola Pekovic, who finished 2 for 8 from the field in a bruising matchup against Cousins, finally made his first basket with 4:10 left when he got loose on a fast break and dropped in a layup off a slick pass from Kirilenko to stretch the lead to 82-74 and finally give the home team a comfortable cushion again.
Cousins led the Kings in almost every significant statistical category last season, but with Pekovic and Stiemsma bothering him in the paint he had just 11 points and four rebounds. Evans, who had 21 points and eight rebounds in the Kings' opener, finished with six points on 3-for-14 shooting.
The Wolves built a 45-27 lead in the second quarter, but their inability to sink any outside shots caught up with them, and the lead shrunk to nine points by halftime. Then the Kings, with Thomas making three 3-pointers in the period, came surging out of the locker room. The Wolves missed 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half.
The sharp-dressed men behind the bench — Rubio was in a charcoal suit coat; Love wore dark gray — could only watch while the errant shots piled up from all corners of the court. Some of it was simply bad luck, balls that rolled around the rim and inexplicably rolled out. Many of the misses looked like smart plays, but they just wouldn't go in.
The Kings have a streak of six straight losing seasons that coincides with the amount of time since coach Rick Adelman was fired. Now he's with the Wolves, trying to turn them into the perennial playoff team he had in Sacramento.
Any improvement for the Kings this season will start with defense. They were by far the easiest team to score against in 2011-12, allowing an average of more than 104 points per game. They've shown at least a few signs this week they're more willing and capable of distracting their opponent enough to stay competitive. They lost 93-87 in Chicago two nights before.
After falling behind 61-56, the reserves led the Wolves on a 12-0 spurt to regain command of the game. With Stiemsma's long arms and soft touch in the post, Barea's quickness and confidence and the hustle by Chase Budinger and Dante Cunningham, the second group sure looked sharper than the first.
Adelman was stingy with playing time for Derrick Williams in his rookie season. But the second pick in last year's draft has the ability to score in bunches and the Wolves will need that punch while Love is out, so he took the All-Star's place at power forward. Williams had all kinds of trouble finding an easy path to the basket and finishing his layups once he got there, but he wasn't the only one. Williams had eight points and seven rebounds.
NOTES: Adelman said he'd prefer to keep his starting lineup the same while Love is out. Cunningham's energy off the bench was another factor, Adelman said, in giving Williams the start. ... Kings swingman John Salmons has rejoined the team after a two-week absence to be with his wife and newborn child, but he's not ready for game action yet. Coach Keith Smart said his conditioning needs to be built back up before he'll use him. ... Kings backup point guard Aaron Brooks broke a tooth diving on the floor for a loose ball against the Bulls. "He put it under his pillow, but he didn't get any money," Smart quipped. ... This was the fourth time in seven years that the Timberwolves opened their season at home against the Kings. Sacramento was the opponent for six of the franchise's 24 openers.