The 9-3 high that the Timberwolves were riding since trading Jimmy Butler came crashing back to reality with four consecutive road losses, including one to the lowly Phoenix Suns, the worst team in the league. The Wolves are now an abysmal 2-12 on the road this season and 0-11 when visiting fellow Western Conference teams.
This recent losing streak harkened back to November when Minnesota fumbled five straight games on the road right before dishing Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. Granted, there are three teams that overlap in both of these woeful stretches, all of which have proved to be formidable in one way or another this season (or in the last, say, 4-5 years): the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers and Sacramento Kings.
Ah, yes, those pesky Kings. Prior to season’s start, Sacramento was the presumed laughing stock of the NBA, what with their combination of misfit veterans and unproven young talent. Yet the Kings have been one of this season’s many surprises so far. They’ve managed to reach the seventh spot in the West more than a quarter of the way through the season, which means they’re in playoff talks for the first time since 2005. (A 13-year playoff drought should sound familiar to Wolves fans.)
Bolstered by impressive play from the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield (both of whom are shooting near or around 40 percent from three), Sacramento is third in the league in three-point percentage. Fox in particular is having a breakout season, exercising his blazing quick speed while refining his jump shot, which was a big question mark for him coming out of the draft.
But the Kings’ success this season is far from proven. Their early-season schedule has featured many low-tier opponents, and their most notable wins have come against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers.
Nevertheless, at this point in the season the Kings have already beaten the Wolves by 11 twice in Sacramento, and tonight marks the third of four matchups between the two. The first of those two losses (back in November) can perhaps be written off as a Jimmy Butler throwaway game, given the fact that it was his last game in a Timberwolves uniform and the final push in his campaign “You f——— need me!” where he went 3-12 from the field and was –6 overall. All five Sacramento starters reached double figures in that game, with Willie Cauley-Stein (25 points) battling up against Karl-Anthony Towns (39 points).
The second matchup, just last week, showcased the Kings’ range, where the team shot 19-38 (50 percent) from three. Former Thibs outcast Nemanja Bjelica had himself a revenge game, finishing with 25 points on 4-9 from deep. His return to Target Center tonight will be an interesting watch.
The fact of the matter is that the Kings have pieces, and when those pieces connect they can beat you in more ways than one. Whether it’s their collective shooting or the pace in which they play (second in the league), the Kings have options offensively. How the Wolves choose to defend them will have a big impact on tonight’s outcome.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Rob Covington
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Bogdan Bogdanovic
PF: Nemanja Bjelica
C: Willie Cauley-Stein
Our pals over at Sactown Royalty have Kings coverage for you.