February 26, 2018, 3:26 pm
With 19 games left to go in the season, the Wolves continue to hang onto their playoff spot by a slim margin. As of now only 3.5 games separate the Wolves from playing deep into April or getting an early start to their summer festivities.
As such, each and every game matters from here on out. All the tie breakers the Wolves managed to wrap up early in the season, when they were playing at their peak levels, are looking more attractive by the day. On this road trip alone the Wolves can seal up two more advantages with wins over the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers.
First off, though, they can’t overlook the Sacramento Kings. This can be a trap game, of sorts, with two division rivals looming and a chance to get some wiggle room in the standings. It would be a mistake for the Wolves to take anything for granted against the Kings, despite the circumstances.
The Kings are one of six teams with just 18 wins on the season. They are in the chase for the best position in the draft lottery and have been among the worst teams in the NBA this season, ranking 29th in defensive rating and 30th in offensive rating.
Given all of that, these Kings took the Wolves down to the wire in Minneapolis just before the break. This time around without Jimmy Butler and on the road, things likely won’t be any easier.
Now that the Kings are relatively healthy, they seem committed to playing their young pieces more often and easing off a veteran player, or two, per night. Typically, depending on the veteran Head Coach Dave Joerger decides to sit, the Kings are a bit better off anyway with their young guys running the show.
Bogdan Bogdanovic proved to the basketball world that he is a player to be focused on after a spectacular performance in the Rising Stars over the All-Star break. Buddy Hield reminded everyone of his shooting prowess in that same game as well.
Willie Cauley-Stein has been a good defender all season and is beginning to come around offensively, while De’Aaron Fox shows flashes of his huge potential. Skal Labissiere is healthy now as well and has the tools to become a solid piece.
Many young teams struggle with typical growing pains and simple, correctable errors, and the Kings are no different. Even without Butler and on the road, the Wolves have a number of advantages around the court to be able to come out on top in the end. It will just be a matter of keeping their focus and some consistent defense.
Two gunners off the bench who play defense when it suits them, this matchup has the potential for some fireworks. Each team needs their sixth-man to provide major lifts off the bench and prop up the second unit scoring.
With Butler out and Bjelica shifting into the starting lineup, the Wolves’ bench loses some firepower, giving Crawford more free-roam to let it fly. Last time out, the first game without Butler, Crawford attempted eight 3-pointers, double his season average. Over his last six games, Crawford is taking six per game and making them at a 43 percent clip.
The Wolves need every bit of that offense as long as Butler remains out.
On the other side, the Kings look for Hield to give some punch to a second unit that relies more on an interior presence. Buddy is shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range on the season, leading the team in both takes and makes.
He’s a talented scorer from all over the floor, but is particularly dangerous from deep. With Crawford likely drawing the assignment, it could mean another big game for Buddy Buckets. The Wolves have struggled with these types of players coming off the bench and torching them, from Lou Williams, to Wayne Ellington and Troy Daniels, among others.
If Hield’s shooting is a factor throughout the game, and the Kings manage to keep it close late, the task could turn to Andrew Wiggins to slow down Buddy. Wigs was able to slow down LaVine the other night, and will have to fill Butler’s shoes in becoming the defensive stopper going forward.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
De’Aaron Fox – PG
Bogdan Bogdanovic – SG
Justin Jackson – SF
Skal Labissiere – PF
Willie Cauley-Stein – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – OUT
Harry Giles (rehab) – OUT
Iman Shumpert (knee) – OUT
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
When: 10:00 ET/9:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North