Wolves vs. Kings
9:30 PM CDT
TV Coverage on Fox Sports North and NBA TV
The Wolves hit the road tonight to take on the Sacramento Kings in the second game of this young season. The Wolves will be playing on two days rest following a disappointing loss to the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies in the season opener on Wednesday.
The game one loss was a definite letdown, as many expected this young Timberwolves roster to come out of the gates hot and take advantage of an aging and depleted Grizzlies roster, which was without the services of newly acquired Chandler Parsons and veteran defensive savant Tony Allen. The expectations for a win only grew as the Wolves jumped out to an early 20-3 lead in the first five minutes of action, propelled by swarming defense and some hot shooting. The early game dominance was short-lived though, as Memphis made effective adjustments and cut the lead down to three by the end of the first quarter and, well, we know how it went from there.
Overall, I didn’t think that the first game was a total calamity. The Wolves were able to play to their strengths in some facets, but fell on the wrong the side of variance in both three point shooting and free throws. The Wolves, who are one of the League’s best teams at getting to the line, did the work to get plenty of free throw attempts in the game, with a total of 29. They weren’t able to take full advantage, however, connecting on just 20 of those attempts, a mere 69 percent. Three point shooting was also problematic for the Wolves, who finished just 6-18 from deep in the game (33 percent), with some key misses on wide open attempts late in the contest. On the other end, a Memphis squad not known for putting up numbers in the three-ball column finished 11-24 on threes, led by 4 of 5 from Mike Conley.
At the end of the day, the Wolves lost to a still solid team loaded with savvy veterans. I absolutely don’t think the Wolves will continue to shoot sub-70 percent at the stripe, and I expect the three point shooting to improve both in number of attempts (the 18 in game 1 will be anomalously low) and efficiency. If you think about it, had the Wolves hit one or two more free throws and one more three-pointer, we would likely be sitting at 1-0 instead of 0-1. Better days ahead.
On the other side of this matchup, the Kings enter this game at 1-1 having handily beaten the Phoenix Suns in their opener on Wednesday followed by losing a surprisingly close tilt at home to the Spurs on the tail end of a back-to-back.
The Kings will definitely be an interesting opponent from a matchup standpoint. Like the Wolves with Dieng and Towns, the Kings are playing an ultra-big starting lineup with Demarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos in the primary unit. On the offensive end, I have to give favor to the Kings’ bigs on the interior, but Towns and Dieng will have the advantage as floor spacers, and hopefully can pull some of Sacramento’s size away from the basket to open up some lanes. In any case, the big man rotations for both squads will be a treat to watch face off, even the reserves (Aldrich for Minnesota and Willie Cauley-Stein for Sacramento). A key factor here for the Wolves is finding a way to mitigate Cousins in the post without fouling. Cousins has been fouled a ton through the first two games, getting to the line a whopping 16 times in each of the first two games, and has been able to make the most there hitting 81 percent.
Another thing to watch for from the Wolves tonight will be perimeter close-outs on defense. Memphis was able to shoot so effectively from deep in the first game due to blown defensive rotations leaving perimeter shooters wide open. Hopefully we see the defense collectively keep their attention on assignments and not hastily over-help or ball-watch. The good news is that the Kings have been abysmal as a team from beyond the arc, shooting just 29 percent so far.
As far as our offense goes, I want to see an emphasis on ball movement and off-ball motion. In the first game, we saw a lot of groan-educing isolation sets in the half court and a contentment to settle for contested two-point jumpshots. That’s just not a strategy that plays into the strengths of this team, which plays with multiple ballhandlers on the floor. More pick-and-roll, more dribble handoffs, more perimeter passing, more basket cuts...just more good basketball plays. We should also expect to see a significant uptick in three-point attempts tonight compared to the 18 on Wednesday. Based off of what we saw emphasized in the pre-season, the coaching staff is really pushing for an offense that creates shooting opportunities from beyond the arc, and I fully expect to see three-point attempts per game average closer to 25.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl Anthony Towns
PG - Ty Lawson
SG - Arron Afflalo
SF - Rudy Gay
C - Kosta Koufos
C - Demarcus Cousins
This should be a really fun game, and is the only late-night tipoff of the evening, so basketball Twitter will be all over it.
For the Kings perspective, our friends over at Sactown Royalty have you covered.