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Game #60 Preview: Utilizing the Buddy System

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The Wolves continue their four-game road trip as they visit the new-look Sacramento Kings.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (23-36) vs. Sacramento Kings (25-34)

Where: Golden 1 Center — Sacramento, California

When: 9:30 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)

Why: The Wolves make their first ever visit to the Golden 1 Center, a.k.a. the “House that DeMarcus Cousins Built (and was then evicted from).”

Welcome back and happy Monday! The Wolves return to action tonight against the new look, Boogie-less Sacramento Kings. If you were living under a rock last week, you may have missed the blockbuster trade that essentially sent Boogie Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Steph Curry-clone Buddy Hield, a bundle of misfit toys, and a first-round pick that may not actually be a first round pick.

As a member of the Kings this season, Cousins was second in the league in usage rate (37.5), only behind one-man wrecking ball Russell Westbrook (41.6). Without him and Rudy Gay (who had a usage rate of 25.7 before tearing his achilles back in January), the current version of the Kings is completely unrecognizable.

Going forward, the Kings’ new “foundation” is a combination of second-year player Willie Trill Cauley-Stein (yes, that’s his real name), 23-year old rookie Buddy Hield, and upcoming draft picks that will either be swapped with the Philadelphia 76ers or simply just given to them (#TrustTheProcess). While the future in Sacramento seems bleak, Kings’ management hopes that the short-term subtraction of Boogie Cousins will actually result in a long-term addition. Whether or not the trade actually works out for the Kings (spoiler: it won’t), Kings’ management appears to finally be headed in a direction of their choosing:

As for the Wolves, an up-and-down season continues to be just that.

After returning from the All-Star break, the Wolves still find themselves three full games behind the 8th place Denver Nuggets in the race for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot. While the Lakers and Suns made moves prior to the trade deadline that signified their desire to start strategically losing, the Wolves are still battling five other teams (including the new-look Pelicans, Nuggets, Mavericks, Blazers, and Kings) for the coveted chance to get swept by the Golden State Warriors.

While February wasn't kind to the Wolves in terms of playoff chances (currently 4-7 this month), it did represent the most efficient month of Andrew Wiggins’ young NBA career. In eleven games, Andrew Wiggins poured in 29.0 points per game on 52% shooting, including 83% from the foul stripe on seventy attempts. The efficiency was notable, but so too was the consistency:

Speaking of efficiency, February marked the most efficient month of 21-year old Karl-Anthony Towns’ young career as well. Towns averaged 28.4 points per game on 60% shooting while adding 12.9 rebounds, including a monster 37 point/22 rebound performance on Saturday against the Houston Rockets:

While the production in February was elite for the Wolves two franchise players, it should also be noted that Wiggins and Towns averaged 37.4 minutes per game this month, ranking them fifth and seventh, respectively. While the Wolves haven’t given up hopes of potentially climbing up to the 8-seed in the Western Conference, the debate of “long-term player health vs. short-term playoff potential” will only become louder over the upcoming weeks.

“And now, your starting lineups...”

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Sacramento Kings
PG - Darren Collison
SG - Ben McLemore
SF - Tyreke Evans
PF - Anthony Tolliver
C - Kosta Koufos

Injuries

Timberwolves: Zach LaVine (knee), Adreian Payne (illness), and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.

Kings: Aaron Afflalo (leg) is QUESTIONABLE, Malachi Richardson (hamstring), Garrett Temple, (hamstring) and Rudy Gay (achilles) are all OUT.

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Kings match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Kings

eFG% / 51.3% / 51.2%

TOV% / 14.8 / 14.9

ORB% / 27.2% / 21.8%

FTR / .285 / .294

While “ball don’t lie,” stats sometimes do. According to Four Factors, these two teams are eerily similar to one another, but considering the Kings are a completely different team sans Boogie, it’s hard to gain much of an insight into how the Wolves match up against Buddy & Co. The Wolves continue to dominate the offensive glass, ranking third in the NBA in ORB%. In terms of FTR, after trading away Cousins (10.0 FTA’s per game), no current King averages more than 3.0 attempts per game. The Wolves, meanwhile, rank thirteenth in the league in FTA’s per game (23.9).

With only 23 games left in the season, the Wolves are running out of time to make a push for the playoffs. After falling to the Kings in their first two match-ups of the season, the Wolves will need to continue to ride the hot (and effective) hands of both Towns and Wiggins if they want to continue to claw their way to a potential 8-seed.

Prediction: Wolves 108, Kings 99