MINNEAPOLIS -- An unexpectedly strong performance in the middle gave the Minnesota Timberwolves a big lift Sunday night.
Kevin Love had his usual solid performance with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead the Timberwolves to a 104-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
But it was the other double-double that was unexpected.
In his first career start, rookie Gorgui Dieng had his first career double-double with season highs in points (12) and rebounds (11) for Minnesota. He also had five blocks.
"We're a man short right now and Gorgui, he just came in and did what we needed him to do and that's just rebound and alter shots at the basket," said Kevin Martin, who had 31 points
Dieng, the 21st pick in last summer's draft, made his first career start in place of Nikola Pekovic, who sat out with soreness in his right ankle.
"I was prepared if I get minutes or not I was just going to keep working," Dieng said. "I think you should work more when you don't play a lot. I didn't get minutes. I never got frustrated. Just keep working and I know my time will come one day."
A former Timberwolves' player saw Dieng's potential firsthand.
"I told him since the first day he got here that it's your job to block shots. You got drafted to rebound and block shots. His post game's getting better as well. If he sticks with that he's going to be a good player in this league," said Derrick Williams, who scored 26 points and had 11 rebounds off the bench for Sacramento.
Williams knows about being a young player in Minnesota. The second-overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Williams had two disappointing seasons with the Timberwolves before being traded to Sacramento on Nov. 26 for Luc Mbah a Moute, who has been a non-factor for Minnesota.
"I think anybody who gets traded wants to play good against the team that traded them," he said. "I just wanted to be aggressive because (DeMarcus) Cousins was out and I was the next man up. Coach wants me to be aggressive and that's what I did tonight."
Cousins, the Kings starting centre, missed the game with right knee tendinitis. He was replaced by Aaron Gray, who hadn't seen action since Feb. 25. Gray finished with four points in 20 minutes.
"It's a testament to Aaron's work ethic and his positive attitude for him to be ready to play tonight after not playing in so many games," coach Michael Malone said. "It was good to see him out there."
Love hit 3 of 6 3-pointers, including one with 1:07 to play to give Minnesota a 97-95 lead and the Timberwolves hung on to win for the 33rd time, their most wins since 2005-06.
Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas had 27 points, including two 3-pointers in the final 15 seconds to keep it close.
Thomas scored from beyond the arc with 13.2 seconds left to get the Kings within two. After Martin made two free throws to make it 102-98 with 12.1 seconds left, Thomas answered with another 3-pointer before Martin made two more free throws with 5.7 seconds left.
It was the second straight night the Kings couldn't close out a game, leaving them with a 2-5 record on a season-long seven-game road trip. They were outscored by six points in the fourth quarter and lost 94-87 in Chicago Saturday.
"We were in there; we had a chance to win, but we just couldn't capitalize," Thomas said.
Down 29-19 late in the first quarter, Williams provided a spark by scoring 10 straight points off the bench to get the Kings within three by quarter's end.
Williams had six more in the second quarter as the Kings took a 54-53 halftime lead.
NOTES: Sacramento has officially been eliminated from playoff contention. ... Listed as day to day, Pekovic missed 13 games earlier this season -- including all of February -- with bursitis in his right ankle. ... Minnesota entered the game averaging a league-low 3.5 blocks per game. ... Thomas reached 1,000 career assists with a first-quarter helper, becoming the eighth player in Sacramento history to have that many in his first three seasons with the Kings. ... Martin made his 1,000th career 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. ... Twelve of Sacramento's final 15 games are in the Pacific time zone.