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Game Preview #15: Wolves vs. Kings

Anthony Edwards and Minnesota will look to take down De’Aaron Fox and Sacramento to win In-Season Tournament West Group C and punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.

Sacramento Kings v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Sacramento Kings in the third and final game of this mini-Thanksgiving week home stand. Target Center should be rocking as people come home from the holidays eagerly anticipating getting to see this Wolves team in action as they look to further their lead on top of the Western Conference.

This game holds extra weight as it is an NBA In-Season Tournament matchup of the only two undefeated teams in Western Conference Group C. If the Wolves win this game, they would win the pool (because of how the tiebreakers are set up with head-to-head first, followed by point differential). If the Kings win, they would become the favorites to win the pool. However, if the Golden State Warriors win out (Including beating the Kings) they could catch Sacramento and win the group stage.

Even if you are not a fan of the In-Season tournament, these games have seemed to have a little something extra to them. Just look at the last time the Timberwolves played a game in pool play — Thanks, Draymond!

With all that is on the line and a key matchup against a good Western Conference opponent, let’s look at some things to watch for.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (11-3) vs Sacramento Kings (8-6)
  • When: 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Timberwolves -4, Total: 229.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of 1:45 PM CT on Friday:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
  • Jaden McDaniels (right ankle sprain)

Sacramento

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Colby Jones (left hip soreness)

OUT:

  • Keon Ellis (left ankle sprain)
  • Jordan Ford (two-way contract)
  • Alex Len (right high ankle sprain)
  • Keegan Murray (lower back soreness)

What to Watch For

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Nickeil Alexander-Walker vs. De’Aaron Fox

NAW is in for a big challenge this week in back-to-back games against two of the most dynamic guards in the league. With the news breaking that Jaden McDaniels is out for a couple of weeks with a Grade 1 lateral right ankle sprain, the Wolves are down their best perimeter defender. However, basketball is a ‘next man up’ mentality and Nickeil is just that in this case. While Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch did say that McDaniels’ replacement in the starting lineup (either Alexander-Walker or Kyle Anderson) would be matchup based, it makes too much sense to have Alexander-Walker in to check these such a great and explosive point guard in De’Aaron Fox.

Alexander-Walker made his mark on this Wolves team and put the league on notice with his defense on Jamal Murray in last year’s playoff series vs. the Denver Nuggets. He will be asked to take on this role yet again with guarding Fox for the majority of the game on Friday. Fox has been banged up this year, but when healthy has been a force on the offensive end. NAW will have to be locked in on defense to attempt to slow him down in this matchup. The good news is that Alexander-Walker does a great defensive job against these types of players in Fox and Tyrese Maxey, like we saw in Wednesday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Nickeil is a physical defender who does well when he is able to get into the other player and use that to knock his man off their game. He will be able to do that to Fox on Friday and it will be key in stopping the potent Kings’ offense.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Sacramento’s 3 Point Shooting

Last year, the Sacramento Kings had one of the most lethal offenses in the entire NBA. They led the league in offensive rating at a 119.4 and used their elite spacing along with Fox and Sabonis’ offensive abilities to blitz other teams with their shot-making ability. While they have started a little slower this year in that regard, mostly because of De’Aaron Fox’s injury, they have a lot of guys that can fill it up from beyond the arc.

They have shooters all over the floor — Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Malik Monk, Trey Lyles and Co. While Murray is having a slower start to his 2023-24 campaign on the offensive end he is still a great shooter that can knock them down at a high clip. With Fox (who is a near 37% 3-point shooter in his own right) using his playmaking ability and Domantas Sabonis using his passing skills to work out of the high post and set up all of these shooters, it will be a great test for the Wolves’ elite half-court defense to make sure that they are able to keep up with all the shooting and off-ball movement that the Kings have. Sacramento has a lot of guys that can get hot quick from the top down and managing that defensively will be a key thing to watch for in this high profile Western Conference matchup.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Exposing Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray on Defense

Editor’s Note: Keegan Murray was ruled out with lower back soreness after this article was published.

We took a look at the defensive side of the ball for the Wolves now let’s see what they can do on offense. The Kings starting lineup has been a little bit in flux because of some injuries but generally speaking they roll out a lineup of Fox, Huerter, Barnes, Murray and Sabonis. While that lineup is lethal offensively, there are some gaps to it on the defensive end. Huerter, while a great shooter and offensive player, is the guy they try to hide the most on that end of the floor. He is the weak link that the Wolves should be looking to attack in this matchup in an attempt to neutralize his high caliber shooting. If my memory serves correct, Huerter mostly guarded McDaniels in last year’s matchups. Because Jaden is out, Huerter will most likely shift his focus to Alexander-Walker in this game. This might give NAW a few extra opportunities on the offensive end of the floor because Huerter is checking him. Nickeil could be in for a big night as he will guard the Kings best player in Fox and be guarded by their worst defensive player.

The other player to keep an eye on for on the defensive end is Keegan Murray. Now, I am not saying that Murray has been a bad defender by any means (he has actually had a few games this season where he has been great on that end of the floor), but he is a very young player going against one of the most formidable front courts in the NBA right now. It will be interesting to see how Murray and Sabonis navigate matchups between Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns but either way Minnesota has the ability to give Murray fits on that end of the floor. If he checks Towns, KAT will body him up and shoot over him to continue his fantastic play. If he guards Gobert, I can see him losing the Frenchman for more than a few lob jams - and maybe a post up or two. Minnesota did choose to ‘unlock’ Rudy on offense for a nice spin move bucket against Philadelphia on Wednesday - Whether or not that was planned is neither here nor there. These are the two players that the Wolves need to zero in on to get some easy buckets on offense.