SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Tyreke Evans is still making the adjustment from point guard to small forward for the Sacramento Kings.
But Evans certainly looked comfortable Monday night. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Kings, who topped the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves 116-108.
Evans was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and had an injury-plagued season a year ago when his stats dropped.
He has been tentative at times this season after coach Keith Smart inserted rookie Isaiah Thomas at point guard and Evans became the starting small forward.
Yet Evans was anything but tentative against the injury-plagued Timberwolves.
He played with the abandon of his rookie season, driving fearlessly to the basket on the fast break and often times scoring before the Timberwolves had a chance to slow him down.
“I’m trying to get used to it,” Evans said about playing small forward. “It’s up to me to be aggressive and to keep attacking. When I rebound I just get a head start and just kind of open up things because they close the paint.”
While Evans continues to search for a consistent perimeter shot, his ability to penetrate defenses remains a strength. He did it repeatedly against the Timberwolves, who lacked a defensive presence inside. Evans made 8 of 14 shots, hit 8 of 11 free throws, and had two steals and only one turnover in 38 minutes.
Despite his ball-handling duties being diminished in the normal flow of the offense, Smart still wants the creative Evans to be an offensive facilitator.
“I still put him in a position to be a playmaker,” Smart said. “Tonight was a game where he could push it up and make plays. He’s a small forward with point guard skills.”
The Kings opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run, aided by a pair of baskets from Evans, and never trailed the rest of the way. Sacramento entered the game having lost five of six.
The Kings made their free throws in the closing minute to secure the victory and move to 14-12 at home this season.
“They started out fast in the fourth quarter, and then we cut it to a reasonable deficit,” Kevin Love said. “But it was too late at the end. Everyone seems to be hurt right now and that’s been tough for us.”
Love had 23 points and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who lost their third straight and fourth in five games.
Rotating defenders, the Kings played tough defense on Love through three quarters. But the All-Star forward got going in the fourth when he scored 11 points.
“They have injuries, but Minnesota still had some talented players, and Kevin Love is one of them,” Smart said. “We tried to make sure he didn’t have a big game to beat us.”
Nikola Pekovic had 17 points, Luke Ridnour had 13 and Brad Miller had 11 points and six assists for Minnesota, which has seen its playoffs hopes dwindle since losing starting point guard Ricky Rubio last month to a season-ending knee injury.
The Timberwolves are 4-10 in Rubio’s absence. Minnesota trails Houston, which holds the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
“I’m not worried about the playoffs. We do have to turn this thing around,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “We are not going to give up on this season. We have to turn this season around with the people we have right now.”
DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Kings. Jimmer Fredette had 19 points, one below his season high. Isaiah Thomas had 17 points and five assists. Terrence Williams had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Williams has been a consistent contributor since being signed to a 10-day contract on March 21. The versatile guard/forward has earned consistent minutes and last week the Kings signed him for the remainder of the season.
“He’s a player that you don’t have to depend on him scoring or doing one thing, he does them all – rebounds, passes, scores and defends,” Thomas said. “He’s one of the most complete players in this league and you need somebody like that on your team to help you win games.”
Fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1:50 left, Love made all three free throws to bring the Timberwolves within 109-104.
But Minnesota could not get closer in losing to the Kings for the second time on the road after defeating them twice at home.
Leading by one heading into the fourth quarter, the Kings ran off 11 straight points and took a 98-86 lead when Fredette connected on a 3-pointer at the 8:01 mark.
The Timberwolves missed their first six shots in the fourth and also committed several turnovers.
It didn’t help the Timberwolves that Love picked up his fourth foul with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter. Love went to the bench, but not before arguing the call and earning a technical foul.
The Minnesota bench got thinner when Ridnour was in pain near his basket after suffering a sprained right ankle. He had to be helped off the court with under a minute to play in the third and never returned.
Miller started at center for the Timberwolves and scored all 11 of his points in the first quarter. It was the first start this season for the veteran center, who played six years with the Kings.
Before the game, Miller shook hands with Kings owner Gavin Maloof who was at a courtside seat. He was greeted warmly by Sacramento fans in the pregame introductions as well.
“It was nice to come back, I have a lot of great memories here,” Miller said. “This is my home. As soon as the season is over, this is where I’ll live. I wanted to get the win, but we weren’t able to tonight. But it does feel good to at least come back here and play one last time and contribute.”
Notes: Injured Minnesota reserves Jose Barea, Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic didn’t travel with the team. … Miller is in his 13th season and has said this will be his final one. He missed the first 19 games this season following microfracture surgery on his left knee. … Marcus Thornton suffered a bruised left thigh in the first quarter and didn’t return. … The Timberwolves were 11 of 21 on 3-pointers.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)