MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves had their Wildcat center. The Sacramento Kings were missing theirs.
Kentucky big men sure do make a difference.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks to lead the Timberwolves to a 113-104 victory over the Kings on Wednesday night.
''I was very happy with us,'' said Towns, who stood up to Quincy Acy's physical play in the paint. ''We did a great job of not only moving the ball, but just playing physical and mentally playing sharp.''
Zach LaVine scored all 23 of his points in the second half, Andrew Wiggins also had 23 and the Timberwolves overcame a sluggish start to get just their second home victory of the month. They shot 56 percent and had 29 assists to overcome 18-for-32 shooting at the free throw line.
Rajon Rondo had 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, but the Kings sorely missed star center DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the game with a bruised right knee. Kosta Koufos had 15 points and 15 rebounds in Sacramento's 13th loss in 16 games.
''In the third quarter, we just didn't have any presence,'' Kings coach George Karl said. ''It felt like they scored about every possession on the offensive court. In the fourth quarter we fought back, but their skill set is pretty impressive.''
The biggest reason to tune into this game between two franchises going nowhere in the Western Conference this season was the matchup between Cousins and Towns, two Kentucky big men with remarkably versatile games.
The two friends competed against each other in the Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend in Toronto, and wound up celebrating together when Towns won the guard-oriented competition in the first year frontcourt players were allowed to compete.
After the first half was a mishmash of free throws, turnovers and lazy defense, Towns showcased that grace again in the third quarter to get the team rolling. The 7-footer went coast-to-coast for a layup and then went back-to-back with Wiggins on a pair of thunderous dunks to push the lead to 14.
''It's something I've been doing since high school,'' Towns said of taking the ball up the court. ''You didn't see me do too much of it in college, but it's always been something in my game, go coast-to-coast to make things happen. It's won me a Skills Challenge, something I treasure.''
The Kings pulled within in two points in the fourth, but LaVine scored 12 points down the stretch to hold them off.
The Kings went 12 for 23 from the free throw line.
''They're like two different teams,'' LaVine said about the Kings with and without Cousins. ''He's such a big presence on their team that the whole offense probably is going to go through him a lot of the time.''
RONDO AND KG
Kevin Garnett again watched in street clothes behind the Timberwolves bench. He and Rondo were very close during their time as Boston Celtics, and the two fierce competitors would go at it each other verbally all the time in practice.
They were at it again in the first quarter, when Garnett caught Rondo shaking his head at an official after a foul call.
''Keep your head, boy,'' Garnett said.
Rondo locked eyes with KG and barked, ''Keep YOUR head.''
The Wolves shooting guard has been a consistent threat since he was inserted into the starting lineup weeks ago, but was scoreless and took just two shots in the first half. He went 7 for 10 in the second half.
''We talked to him at halftime and told him you've got to pick it up,'' Mitchell said. ''Little did I know he'd get 23 in the second half. Zach just has that talent, he's explosive. We needed it.''
Kings: Marco Belinelli scored 14 points. ... Rondo played despite ailments to his toe and shoulder. ... Willie Cauley-Stein played 21 minutes while dealing with an illness.
Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng had 16 points and 12 rebounds. ... F Greg Smith was signed for the rest of the season after completing two 10-day contracts. Smith had seven points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. ... Coach Sam Mitchell picked up a technical foul for arguing with the officials in the first half.
Kings: Host Phoenix on Friday night.
Timberwolves: Visit Washington on Friday night.