The Sacramento Kings could have given in to distractions in their last game. Instead, they moved to the brink of their longest win streak this season.
With Rajon Rondo back from suspension, the Kings try for a fourth straight victory while sending the Minnesota Timberwolves to a fifth consecutive defeat Friday night.
Rondo was suspended by the NBA for Tuesday's game against Houston because of a "derogatory and offensive term" he used against official Bill Kennedy in a loss to Boston in Mexico City on Dec. 3.
Kennedy, who later reportedly revealed that he is gay in an interview, said that the Kings point guard used a gay slur. Rondo issued a second apology Tuesday after receiving criticism for his initial one on Twitter in which he blamed "frustration and emotion."
"I want to be clear, from the bottom of my heart that I am truly sorry for what I said to Bill," Rondo said in a statement released by the Kings. "There is no place on or off the court for language that disrespects anyone's sexual orientation. That is not who I am or what I believe and I will strive every day to be a better person."
Rondo served his suspension during a 107-97 victory, a game that featured a strange incident. DeMarcus Cousins' manager Andrew Rogers was ejected for slapping at the Rockets' Jason Terry in the third quarter.
It didn't derail Cousins, who had a team-best 26 points and 12 rebounds, or the Kings (10-15) as they won despite committing 29 turnovers - their highest total in 19 seasons.
Darren Collison had eight giveaways but also recorded 14 points, a season-best 13 assists and seven rebounds in place of Rondo, among the NBA leaders with four triple-doubles.
"We all know what kind of player Rondo is, but when somebody is down, we've still got to be able to win games," said forward Rudy Gay, who had 17 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.
Rondo is slated to start against a Minnesota team that's lost eight of nine. A 107-102 defeat at New York on Wednesday was its fourth straight.
The Timberwolves (9-16) have averaged 106.1 points in their last seven games but given up 111.3. Coach Sam Mitchell, though, is touting his young team's improvement from a 16-66 effort in 2014-15.
"We're not jumping up and down celebrating, but compared to where we were defensively last year, offensively last year, I'm laughing at you guys (the media)," Mitchell said. ''Everybody's like, 'What's wrong with the Timberwolves?' We won 16 games last year. We've got nine wins right now.
"You're talking about eight guys 22 or younger. Our three most talented players that play the most minutes and are our leading scorers are all 20 years old and would be juniors in college."
Minnesota won 101-91 at Sacramento on Nov. 27, ending a four-game skid in the series. Andrew Wiggins scored 22 points while Zach LaVine contributed 19 points and eight rebounds.
The Timberwolves, 3-10 at home, face a Sacramento club that has won in its last two visits to Minnesota. The Kings have also played the past two in the series without Cousins, who was out with a strained lower back Nov. 27.
Gay had two points on 1-of-13 shooting in that game after scoring a combined 54 in his previous two matchups. Rondo had 16 points and 16 assists.
Wiggins is averaging 26.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in four career games against Sacramento, his highest marks in both categories against a Western Conference opponent.