Sacramento Kings (4-9) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 93-91 vs Atlanta (ugh), Sacramento: L, 99-60 (woof) vs Dallas.
The Timberwolves blew an 18 point third quarter lead against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, wasting another offensive outpouring from Kevin Love. Atlanta’s zone defense utterly fooled the Wolves, and two late free throws by Ivan Johnson were the difference.
The Kings scored a stunningly low point total of 60 against the Mavericks, the lowest scoring output by an NBA team since 1991. They were blown out by almost 40.
INJURY UPDATE: Martell Webster just tweeted he has been cleared to begin practicing. Great news, we wish him a speedy recovery, and look forward to his return to action.
The Key Questions
#1. What did the Wolves learn about zone defenses on their day off?
For all the rhetoric about how the Wolves are a young team who will blow leads, it wasn’t youth that killed Minnesota. In fact, it was Minnesota’s youth and energy that was killing Atlanta in the third quarter. But when Atlanta brought a zone, Minnesota struggled mightily.
Two things would really help the Wolves against a zone. First, Minnesota will clearly benefit when Barea and Beasley come back from their injuries (which won’t be tonight). The Wolves need someone who can get to the hoop and score around a group of defenders. Second, the Wolves outside shooting has GOT to improve. Wayne Ellington got hot in the 4th quarter against Atlanta, but for much of the game, Rubio and Love were the only offensive options. I’ve talked about this before, but what the Wolves desperately need is someone who can hit three pointers from the corner, a la Richard Jefferson for San Antonio this year. Rubio would add 4 of 5 assists to his total every game just by setting that person up.
And, to get back to my original point, improved outside shooting would seriously help against a a zone defense. Fortunately, Sacramento’s defense is one of the worst in the league, 29th in points allowed per game.
#2. Will Rubio start again?
The smart money says “yes” since the Wolves got off to a good start with Rubio in the game on Saturday. Rubio’s starting numbers, 15 ppg and 10.5 assists, are superb, and he has played good tough defense, although Jeff Teague actually punished him a bit with his speed. Still. Expect to see Rubio get his first start at the Target Center. On a related note…
#3. How many alley-oops will Rubio throw tonight?
The Kings allow a ton of points, and they don’t help out much on defense. Rubio is very capable of making bad defenses pay. Add in a ton of extra minutes from his role as a starter and a desire to show off for the home crowd, and we could be in for some very entertaining work from Rubio.
The Key Matchups
DeMarcus Cousins could cause some problems for the Wolves tonight, if he’s playing well. Good DeMarcus posts up, has silky sweet moves and a really nice tough around the basket. Good DeMarcus bulls his way to the basket, grabs offensive rebounds, and plays engaged, solid defense. Bad DeMarcus is disengaged, doesn’t post up enough, and shoots too much from midrange. We’ll see which one shows up.
Tyreke Evans has been playing some shooting guard with Jimmer Fredette at point this season, and he could also do some damage at that position. Evans is quick, fluid, and very strong. If the Wolves can force him into taking jumpers, they will be in better shape, but if he gets to the hoop, he might cause some havoc.
On the other hand, Jimmer won’t challenge Rubio as long as Rubio stays out on him and keeps a hand in his face, and the Kings have no one who can match up on Love if he continues to play well.
It would be great to see the Wolves win this game. Winning games you should win is a mark of improvement for a rebuilding team like Minnesota, and Sacramento is a team they should beat. The Kings have talent, but they are struggling right now and the Wolves need to take advantage.
Game starts at 7 pm on Fox Sports North