Game 53 Preview: Kings vs. Timberwolves

The Sacramento Kings open up the final month of the season with their third game in five nights.  They host the Minnesota Timberwolves, who’ve gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, for the final time this year.

Gametime: 7 pm PST
Broadcast Information: Click here.
For perspective on the Timberwolves, visit fellow TrueHoop Network blog A Wolf Among Wolves.

Kings Probable Starters (18-34)

Isaiah Thomas Marcus Thornton Tyreke Evans Jason Thompson DeMarcus Cousins

Before Saturday’s loss, the Kings offense was clicking.  They had scored 100 or more points in their nine previous contests.  They were also averaging about 23 assists per game.  The defeat to New Jersey was first double-digit loss in nearly two weeks. John Salmons will miss his fourth straight game with a injured hip.

Timberwolves Probable Starters (25-29)

Luke Ridnour Martell Webster Wes Johnson Derrick Williams Kevin Love

The Timberwolves remain alive in the playoff hunt, but their chances continue to slide as the regular season nears a close.  Minnesota fell to 12th place and 3.5 games back of the eighth seed after losing by 13 in Portland last night.  However, Kevin Love continues to impress and is statistically making a case for MVP.  In hist last five games, he’s averaged roughly 29 points and 14 rebounds.

3-on-3 Roundtable

You may be familiar with ESPN.com’s 5-on-5 roundtables, which feature opinion and analysis from ESPN writers and TrueHoop Network contributors on pressing NBA topics. Along with other THN blogs, Cowbell Kingdom has brought that format to the local level in the form of our own 3-on-3 roundtable.

Zach Harper of A Wolf Among Wolves and Michael Rand of Minneapolis Star-Tribune join me to preview today’s Kings/Timberwolves game.

1. Match-up to watch?

Zach Harper: Derrick Williams against Jason Thompson. If Pek doesn’t play again, the Wolves are going to need someone to complement Kevin Love’s MVP level production. That guy has to be Williams against this Kings’ frontcourt. It isn’t just the scoring either. Williams has to be able to help protect the rim and rebound the basketball. He has a tendency to float on the perimeter for far too long during stretches of the game and the Wolves need him to attack the rim and get involved. But most importantly, they can’t let the size advantage of Sacramento be obvious on both ends of the floor.

James Herbert: Kevin Love vs. DeMarcus Cousins. It’s an easy call because they’re both fascinating to watch and have both been playing great ball lately (aside from DMC against Jersey, I guess). It’s also intriguing because Cousins just hasn’t been able to stay on the floor against the Wolves this season. If the Kings are going to win, they need him to stay out of foul trouble.

Jonathan Santiago:  Derrick Williams vs. Jason Thompson.  This match-up favors the Timberwolves because of Thompson’s struggles defensively against stretch fours like Williams.  The Wolves rookie played heavy minutes in their last meeting and managed to record 16 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

2. Stat that decides the game…

Zach Harper: Three-point shooting. The Wolves have to attack from the outside to take advantage of this Kings team. Send the Sacramento defense scrambling on the perimeter and everything will open up inside. You’ll get sloppy rotations that lead to hasty recoveries and fouls in the process. The Wolves may not have their inside presence if Pek sits so they’ll have to adjust the attack and play to the available players’ strengths. T’Wolves are 13-4 when they make nine 3-pointers or more.

James Herbert: Rebounding. The Kings gave New Jersey and Utah too many second chances. They need to be better in this area against Minnesota — it’s almost impossible to slow Love down, but it’s imperative to keep the other guys off the glass.

Jonathan Santiago:  Assists.  In the Kings’ last two games – a narrow victory in Utah and a lethargic loss to New Jersey Saturday – Sacramento recorded below 20 assists.  Before Friday and Saturday, they had tallied 20 or more assists in seven out of eight contests.  The Kings can’t fall back into the trend of playing too much one-on-one basketball otherwise the Timberwolves will rack up an easy win.

3. Fact or Fiction: Both of these teams will make the playoffs next year.

Zach Harper: Fiction. Wolves have a good chance if they can bring in a key veteran and get Ricky Rubio back to 100 percent health and production by January. With how deep the West is, it just seems like it’s asking a lot for both teams to get in and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the Wolves have a much better shot at it than this Kings’ squad. Kings have acquired a lot of assets but the direction of the team still seems in doubt. Either way, there are only so many playoff spots available and everybody above these two teams should still be pretty good next season.

James Herbert:Fiction. It’s certainly possible and it looked like the Timberwolves were on their way there this season before Ricky Rubio went down. But the West is so ridiculous that it doesn’t seem a safe bet. I can’t confidently say the Kings or Wolves have better chances than Houston, Golden State, or Utah next year. At least not yet.

Jonathan Santiago:  Fact for the Timberwolves and possibly fact for the Kings.  The Wolves have the right pieces around Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to make a push next year.  Sacramento’s playoff hopes next year rest on what tweaks the front office makes around DeMarcus Cousins.  Unlike years past, Geoff Petrie has assets to dangle in deals.  We’ll see what he does with them to take this team to the next level.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.