SACRAMENTO, Calif.(AP) The pregame butterflies in Kenny Natt's stomach grew into a menacing swarm when the Sacramento Kings missed the first 10 shots of his head coaching debut.
"I didn't know whether I would have to dress out and get out there and shoot a shot myself, or what,'' said Natt, the veteran assistant who replaced Reggie Theus earlier Monday. "What was going through my mind was just not panicking.''
Natt kept it together in a game he'd waited 28 years to coach, and so did the Kings in an encouraging start to his tenure.
Francisco Garcia scored 21 points, John Salmons added 17 and Sacramento beat the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves 118-103 in the Kings' first game under Natt, a longtime assistant to Jerry Sloan and Mike Brown who finally got his first chance to run a team.
A few hours after the Kings fired Theus, Natt calmly presided over one of Sacramento's best efforts of the season against the Timberwolves, who lost their 10th straight. Brad Miller added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who had eight players scoring in double figures in just their second win in 12 games.
Natt streamlined the game plan, calling plenty of pick-and-rolls and simple defenses. After an unusually intense, 90-minute pregame shootaround, the Kings had plenty of energy for the challenge.
"He's a heck of a coach, so I'm looking forward to a lot more accountability from everybody,'' Miller said. "We tried to simplify things today, and he didn't want to overload us on a lot of changes. I think it really worked.''
Al Jefferson scored all of his 22 points in the first half for Minnesota in a meeting of struggling teams that both fired their head coaches in the past eight days. The Timberwolves dropped to 0-5 under Kevin McHale, who replaced Randy Wittman last week.
"Starting the second quarter, it seemed like we couldn't muster any energy,'' McHale said. "We started missing shots, and our energy got zapped. ... We looked like we started hanging our heads, and you can't have that.''
Before Monday's shootaround, the Kings dismissed Theus and top assistant Chuck Person, ending Theus' 106-game stint in charge of the franchise for which he scored the first basket after moving to California's capital in 1985. Theus, who went 44-62 with Sacramento, was doomed by the Kings' lackluster efforts during their 6-18 start, which included humiliating blowout losses to Denver and New York in recent weeks.
"Coach just let us play free, and we played for ourselves,'' said Garcia, who matched his season high in points. "We all know him, and everybody here felt he came in and did a good job. We're all behind him.''
Guard Kevin Martin sat out his 16th game of the young season with an injured left ankle, but the Kings didn't miss their leading scorer for a change. Sacramento hit a season-high 10 3-pointers and showed plenty of energy for Natt, who received congratulatory pregame calls from Sloan and Phil Johnson, the veteran Utah Jazz coaches who worked with Natt for a decade.
"They said to just keep it simple,'' Natt said with emphasis.
The Kings began Natt's tenure by falling behind 15-3 with 10 straight bricks, but Sacramento rallied to a 53-50 halftime lead on Bobby Brown's 3-pointer at the buzzer. Jefferson was unstoppable early on, hitting 11 of his 17 shots in the first half with a fluid low-post game that befuddled Miller and Spencer Hawes, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
But Sacramento took charge in the third quarter with a 17-3 run that included big baskets from Garcia and Salmons. Jefferson went scoreless despite playing all 12 minutes of the quarter, and Minnesota fell irretrievably behind with 5-of-23 shooting.
"They weren't double-teaming (in the first half), and I just took advantage,'' Jefferson said. "It was a long time since I got to go one-on-one like that. They trapped in the second half, so I moved the ball, and guys got open shots.''
Rashad McCants scored 21 points while Craig Smith and Kevin Ollie added 17 apiece for the Timberwolves (4-20), who haven't won since Nov. 28.
The Kings won for just the second time in 11 games at Arco Arena, which was about half-full at tipoff. Sacramento's streak of 354 consecutive home sellouts ended in Theus' home debut last season, and the arena has been several thousand fans short of capacity for nearly every game this season.
Notes: Jefferson's 16 points in the second quarter were the most by any Kings opponent in any quarter this season. ... Sacramento won both of its home meetings with Minnesota this season, while the Wolves beat the Kings in their Minneapolis season opener. The clubs won't meet again until April 15. ... Sacramento opens a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Portland.