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Game Preview #28: Wolves at Kings

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves will hit the road in Sacramento looking to avenge Minnesota’s In-Season Tournament loss to De’Aaron Fox and the Kings.

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves avoided their first losing streak of the season after dropping a depleted Los Angeles Lakers team. The Timberwolves head to Sacramento to take on the Kings and their prolific offense. Karl-Anthony Towns will miss the game for the Wolves with left knee soreness, but according to our friend Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, Towns’ first absence of the season is merely precautionary and shouldn’t be long-term by any means. Meanwhile, Sacramento will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back, as they host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (21-6) at Sacramento Kings (16-10)
  • When: Saturday, December 23rd at 9:00 PM CT
  • Where: Golden 1 Center — Sacramento, CA
  • TV: Bally Sports North
  • Radio: Wolves App Radio, iHeart Radio
  • Line: Wolves +2.5 | Total: 233 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Saturday at 8:30 PM CT

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Josh Minott (G League assignment)
  • Daishen Nix (two-way contract)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (left knee soreness)

Sacramento

OUT:

  • Alex Len (right high ankle sprain)
  • Malik Monk (right foot irritation)

What to Watch For

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Don’t Rush Things

Transition offense hasn’t been a calling card for the Timberwolves this season. They’re eager to run off of steals, but when opponents miss, Minnesota ranks 28th in transition frequency, per Cleaning the Glass. By trying to sure up their defensive rebounding inconsistencies, the Timberwolves have steered their offense more towards a half-court focus. Interestingly, the Kings have one of the worst half-court defenses in the league.

Currently, the Kings have a half-court defensive rating of 103.7, which ranks 26th in the league. For comparison, the Timberwolves rank first at 89.9. The Kings have done a terrific job of defensive rebounding and ending possessions, but everything that leads up to the shot has been far from ideal for them.

Like the Wolves, Sacramento’s defensive scheme encourages opponents to feast on mid-range shots. The Kings are allowing the fourth lowest frequency of at-rim shot attempts and the eighth lowest from three. That’s an encouraging distribution for modern basketball. However, the defensive execution has far from matched the intent.

Head Coach Mike Brown’s squad is currently allowing opponents to shoot 68.3% at the rim (26th), 45.2% in the midrange (24th), and 39.8% from deep (28th). The schemes that the Kings have implemented are steering opponents to the proper areas, but they don’t have anyone on their team who can defend at a high level in any area of the floor. If the Wolves are patient, run their stuff, and move the ball, they should get any shot they want.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Could No KAT Hurt the Wolves… Defense?

With Karl-Anthony Towns out for this game, the Wolves’ offense is clearly going to take a major hit. Towns has been on a tear this season and offers an offensive punch that very few centers in the league do. However, the three-time All-Star has also been much better on defense this season. If he can’t play, things could get tricky for the Timberwolves’ defense.

From tip off, there shouldn’t be a major issue as Rudy Gobert can pretty seamlessly matchup against Domantas Sabonis. The 2023 All-NBA Third Team center is incredibly skilled, but he doesn’t stretch the floor at all. While Gobert has been much better defending in space this season, it’s still a much better idea to keep him around the rim. The concerns arise when Sabonis isn’t in the game.

On the surface, this feels like a ridiculous “problem” to have because the Kings obviously aren’t going to significantly lessen the minutes of one of their offensive focal points. While the Kings won’t choose to do that, they may be forced to. Over the last five matchups between these teams, Sabonis has averaged 5.4 fouls and fouled out in three of them. There is a high possibility that Sabonis yet again sees limited minutes because he can’t stay out of foul trouble.

That’s where the issues come in. While Gobert has been better in space, we’ve seen the Kings play him off the floor with a five-out system. By not having Towns to seamlessly fill in that spot, the rotation gets a bit trickier. Obviously, Naz Reid will have to step up yet again, but he has his own defensive inconsistencies.

Whether Towns plays or not, but especially if he doesn’t, it would be surprising if the Timberwolves folded and limited Gobert’s minutes. Instead, I would imagine we see more of what they implemented against the Oklahoma City Thunder. When the Thunder incessantly tried to pull Gobert to the perimeter, the Timberwolves simply switched to a pseudo-zone/heavy switch concept. They constantly passed off opponents in every attempt to keep Gobert around the rim. It worked pretty well, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw a heavy dose of it against the Kings.

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

Trying to Contain Fox

De’Aaron Fox is playing some of the best basketball of his career this season and has been on a tear recently. Over his last five games, Fox is averaging 28.5 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals on 50/48.5/73.3 shooting splits. Fox has always been a terror getting to the rim, but now that he’s added a consistently reliable outside shot, he’s grown into one of the best guards in the league.

In the first matchup between these teams, Fox had his way with the Timberwolves’ defense. He scored 36 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds while shooting 43.8/42.9/83.3. He also finished with a game high plus/minus of +19. It was a rough watch.

On the bright side for the Timberwolves, though, Jaden McDaniels was hurt. Historically, McDaniels has been the lucky one to pick up Fox. Fox didn’t necessarily struggle to fill up the box score against the Timberwolves last season either as he averaged 28.8 points, 5.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals on 46.2/21.1/78.1 shooting splits. However, most of that production came when McDaniels wasn’t matched up directly with him. In the just under 21 minutes that McDaniels was matched up on Fox across four games last season, per NBA Stats, Fox recorded 28 points, 11 assists, four turnovers, and shot 36% from the floor and 11.1% from three. Fox did rack up 12 free throw attempts as well, but the McDaniels effect is rather evident. Right now, there isn’t a way to stop Fox. However, the length and defensive prowess of McDaniels is their best shot at containing him.