Ike Diogu and the Sacramento Kings found a way to put a positive ending on a long and frustrating season.
Diogu had 28 points and 13 rebounds to help the Sacramento Kings finish a sorry season with a victory, 97-90 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night in a season finale featuring two teams that started thinking about next season a long time ago.
Diogu topped 20 points in two straight games for the first time in his career and Andres Nocioni scored 17 points for the Kings (17-65), who had lost nine in a row and 16 of their previous 18.
"I needed to show everybody. You read a lot of things, bust, lottery pick didn't pan out, this and that," said Diogu, who had 32 points and 11 rebounds on Monday against Denver. "That wasn't the case at all. I just hadn't been in the ideal situation. It just feels good to really silence everybody, all the people who thought I wasn't a good player."
Craig Smith scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out for the Wolves. It was a fitting end for Minnesota, losing to the worst team in the league on its home floor.
Minnesota (24-58) finished with 13 victories on the road and 11 at home, the only team in the league with a better record on the road.
"We haven't had much energy at home," said Wolves coach Kevin McHale, whose 15-year employment with the Wolves may have come to an end. "We didn't have any tonight."
McHale started veterans Brian Cardinal, Mark Madsen, Jason Collins, Mike Miller and Kevin Ollie to reward them for their consistent hard work and good attitudes in what has been a long, long season.
But even that didn't help the team solve its home-court blues.
The two teams combined to win just 41 games this season. To put that woeful total in perspective, 14 teams in the league have won more games this season than that total.
"This is another year gone," Wolves forward Ryan Gomes said. "We keep saying we're young. But we're getting older and getting older, and we have to step on the gas soon in order for us to be where we want to be, at least have a chance to get in the playoffs."
The Kings played 30 games without leading scorer Kevin Martin, who missed the final eight games of the season with a sore ankle. Center Spencer Hawes also sat out the final game with a knee problem, adding injury to this insulting year in Sacramento.
It's been the worst season in the franchise's largely spotty history, which has helped drive fans away from once-raucous Arco Arena. After winning 38 games last season, the Kings took a massive leap backward this season.
"We definitely have much more potential than we showed this season," point guard Beno Udrih said. "Something just wasn't clicking. I guess we have to figure it out a little bit and try to fix it in the summer and in training camp when we come back."
Sacramento had its second straight losing season after being one of the most entertaining, and successful, teams over the previous eight years with Mike Bibby, Chris Webber and Rick Adelman steering the ship.
Those guys are all long gone, and they are in danger of reverting to the hapless Kings of two decades ago, when they had 15 straight losing seasons from 1983-1998.
"It's a tough season. I'm just enjoying this win here," interim coach Kenny Natt said. "It's been a long time coming. We haven't had many this year, but every win is a good feeling and I'm just enjoying that right now and I'm looking forward to tomorrow and seeing what happens from there."
Minnesota has been without star forward Al Jefferson (knee) since the All-Star break and played the final nine games without second-leading scorer Randy Foye (hip). They still managed to win two more games than they did last season, but McHale has not said whether he will return as coach.
"I don't think he knows yet," Gomes said.
The team will have plenty of cap room to attract a free agent or two in the offseason, has three first-round picks in the June draft and several tradeable contracts, so optimism is high that better days are ahead.
"I really like those guys," McHale said. "If I owe it to anybody, I owe it to those players to come in and try to help them."