Timberwolves end winless start behind McCants' big night

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota's role for Rashad McCants was expanded during the offseason overhaul.

Well, this was the kind of game the Timberwolves hope to get more often from McCants, who has the ability to race to the basket and swish an outside shot with the best of them.

McCants scored a career-high 33 points on 13-for-22 shooting in Minnesota's first victory this season, 108-103 over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

"This is his opportunity to be that type of player," coach Randy Wittman said.

Ron Artest returned from his seven-game suspension with 17 points and six assists for the Kings, who have lost all five of their road games. They've beaten Minnesota and Seattle, both winless at the time.

"We've got to win these close games when we get there on the road and have a chance," said Brad Miller, who scored 17 points for Sacramento. "We got to be able to make these count, because there's other games, like Dallas and San Antonio, where we don't have a chance to win at the end of the game on the road."

The Wolves gave up fourth-quarter leads twice in their first five losses, but the Kings couldn't complete the comeback. Beno Udrih, who had 17 points, hit a 3-pointer to give the Kings their last lead, 87-86 with less than 5 1/2 minutes left.

Then Minnesota firmed up on defense and McCants took over. He had nine points and Antoine Walker had five over the next four-plus minutes to put away the game and give the Wolves a 100-90 lead.

After missing most of last season following microfracture surgery on his right knee, McCants is finally at full strength and able to use all of his quickness.

"Now it's just playing with my teammates and getting this chemistry right," he said.

That includes Walker, who had only 14 points in Minnesota's first five games. Acquired in the trade that sent Ricky Davis to Miami, Walker scored 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Al Jefferson did the rest down low, with 23 points and seven rebounds.

Unlike the other thirtysomethings on this re-made, inexperienced team, Walker is unsure where he fits, and the Wolves seem to be, too. After spending the entire game on the bench last Saturday, Walker was back in the rotation, while fellow forward Craig Smith was on the inactive list due to a sprained left ankle.

"That's what their jobs are, to put a seed in my head," Wittman said, adding: "Now he's going to give me a reason to play him."

Walker moves slower and stiffer than most of the others on the court, but he still has a soft touch. Walker scored eight points in the second quarter on a fast-break dunk and a pair of no-jump 3-pointers, providing a valuable supplement to the sharp outside shooting by McCants.

He said he understands the situation Wittman is in with so many young players to develop and only room for nine or 10 players on the court each night.

"When you've been in the league as long as I have been playing, it's tough to watch sometimes. You've just got to be patient," Walker said, adding: "I want to help these guys win."

Kevin Martin had 18 of his 22 points in the second half for Sacramento, which welcomed Artest back after the suspension from the NBA due to a domestic violence charge from earlier this year.

Despite a decent line in the boxscore and two 3-pointers in the second half, Artest's impact was minimal on both ends. Early in the third quarter, he fumbled a ball near the sideline and lost it out of bounds for an ugly turnover.

But coach Reggie Theus praised Artest for his defense against Jefferson, and lamented his team's play down the stretch.

"They got the big rebounds and came up with the loose balls. When they got it down to Jefferson, he put it in the hole. That really is the way you finish a game," Theus said.

Game notes
Kenny Thomas didn't play for the Kings, due to a bruised right shin. Neither did Shareef Abdur-Rahim, because of a sore right knee. ... Wittman said that guard Randy Foye, who hasn't played because of an injury to his left kneecap, could be sent to the NBA Development League for a game or two once he returns if his absence lingers. Foye has not yet been cleared for any on-court activities. ... John Salmons came off the bench for Sacramento for the first time this season and finished with four points, his first failure to reach double digits. "It has nothing to do with him personally," Theus said. "It's just trying to get a better rotation in terms of the entire team." ... The Wolves went 16-for-22 from the foul line, and the Kings were 14-for-14. This was the first time Minnesota made more free throws than the opponent after entering with an average negative margin of 31 to 13.