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Game 28, Wolves at Kings: Slowing it Down

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Minnesota looks to get back on track in their third straight road game

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (13-14) at Kings (14-12)

9:00 pm CST

FS North

After two tough games on the road against playoff teams, the Wolves head to Sacramento to face the most surprising team in the NBA this year.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous of the guys over at Sactown Royalty that have gotten to see their young studs blossom this year. I can’t wait for this game partially because of how much fun the Kings are to watch on a nightly basis.

Buddy Hield has made tremendous strides and is starting to make the once-maligned DeMarcus Cousins trade not look so bad for Sacramento. It is interesting how much New Orleans could use a player like Hield now to knock down shots on the perimeter.

Anyways, Hield has grown into a nightly threat from the perimeter, and at 24 years old is averaging 18.6 points and 5 boards a night on sizzling 47/42/84 shooting splits. Buddy looks more like the player that struck fear into the hearts of opponents during his time at Oklahoma.

His backcourt mate, De’Aaron Fox, has arguably shown the biggest jump of any second year player. After averaging 11.6/2.8/4.4 on 41/31/71 shooting splits as a rookie, Fox has improved to where he is producing 18.1/3.6/7/5 on 48/42/72 shooting splits.

Everyone knows Fox has always been fast, which made him a terror in transition. What’s made him so effective this year is the way he’s been able to cause problems for opponents in the half court. His reads out of the pick-and-roll are markedly better, which has played a large role in his increased assist numbers.

The single biggest improvement for Fox has to be the three-point shooting, though. This was the biggest knock on Fox coming out of school, and it seemed like something that was going to stick with him after his poor shooting performance as a rookie.

When defenses have to close out hard to Fox on the three-point line, they have almost no chance of staying in front of him. The next step for Fox will be maintaining this level of efficiency from three while increasing his attempts. He’s averaging roughly three attempts a night, which isn’t super low, but an uptick in attempts with relatively similar efficiency would really make Fox unstoppable in the half-court.

I obviously hope that Minnesota contains these two young guards tonight, but the basketball fan in me is looking forward to watching them play.

There are countless other players on the Kings who have contributed to their surprising start, but Hield and Fox will determine whether or not Sacramento will continue to be in the playoff race.

For the Wolves, tonight is all about stopping the bleeding early. Outside of their game against Phoenix on Saturday, they’ve got quite a few tough games coming up. Getting a victory tonight would go a long ways towards keeping pace in a ridiculously competitive Western Conference. Three game losing streaks are never good, but one this season can doom your postseason chances.

To get the win tonight, the Wolves will need RoCo to limit Hield as much as he can. Covington is a great defender, but his tendency to leave his man in search of the ball slightly worries me tonight. Hield is great at moving without the ball, and you don’t want to give him any open looks.

Secondly, the wolves may want to employ Dario Saric at the 4 as much as possible tonight to match up with our old pal Nemanja Bjelica.

Lastly, transition defense is going to be crucial. Yes, Fox and the Kings as a whole are much improved in the half-court. However, they are still at their best when they get Fox the ball in transition with players like Hield running to the three-point line and Willie Cauley-Stein running to the rim. Alternatively, Fox generally doesn’t really need running mates. He’s that fast. I mean, just watch.

When I say transition defense, that doesn’t just mean getting back after a miss or turnover. If the Wolves don’t get back off of their makes, Fox is going to turn on the jets and do this.

Those are the baskets Minnesota has to limit tonight. Again, even though the improvements are obvious in the half-court, Minnesota needs to stop Fox from getting in transition and blowing past everyone. The pace of this game will probably decide the game. A half-court game gives the Wolves a great shot tonight. An up-and-down track meet heavily favors Sacramento.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Covington

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Kings

De’Aaron Fox

Buddy Hield

Iman Shumpert

Nemanja Bjelica

Willie Cauley-Stein