• After another tough road trip the Wolves are ready for some more home cooking. The Wolves have been dominant at the Target Center lately riding a 12-game home win streak, the longest active streak in the NBA.

    Their defense has slipped considerably in recent games. The issues from the early season, the lack of communication (especially on screens) and slow in getting back in transition, are creeping back up in spurts.

    While on the road these have been exasperated as they commonly occur, but at home they have been able to bring the defensive intensity on a more consistent basis.

    The opponent hasn’t particularly mattered in either instance, they’ve allowed many poor offensive teams to torch them on the road (Chicago for instance), but lock down the best offensive teams at home (Oklahoma City for example).

    The reason for such a stark contrast remains a mystery. In the long run they’ll learn the hard way if they can’t figure out how to consistently defend on the road like because come playoff time, they’ll have to win a few away from the Target Center.

    They’re capable of doing so after having a stretch among the top-10 in defensive rating for a 20-game stretch in December and January.

    In the interim they’ll look to get back into some good habits versus a Sacramento Kings team that is embracing a youth movement. The Kings are talented and can come at teams from a number of different looks, making them tough to guard in a way.

    They can run in transition with the speedy De’Aaron Fox, while Willie Cauley-Stein and Bogdan Bogdanovic make ideal running mates. They can slow it down and post up with Zach Randolph. They’re a good 3-point shooting team, ranking second in percentage.

    Their problem is they don’t quite have a solid identity, a preferred go-to method of offense. Therefore they haven’t yet mastered a trait and the results are typically inefficient offensive sets.

    The closest they come to a go-to method is posting up with Z-Bo, but he’s just one player and isn’t the post-up force he once was. He shoots 47.3 percent from the post, but is drawing fouls just 10.3 percent of the time. Randolph doesn’t command the attention he use to down low.

    The rest of the Kings have been disastrous in post-ups.

    The Kings seem to be at their best when they’re allowed to run. Fox is one of the fastest players in the league and is shooting surprisingly well at the rim for a rookie. Cauley-Stein is a mobile big and excellent rim-runner. Bogdanovic makes smart decisions in transition and is a good passer and shooter.

    Of course it’s tough to be a running team with Randolph in the fold.

    Defensively things are just as bad. They rank at towards the bottom in defensive rating and struggle to slow down teams in most areas. They give up the highest 3-point percentage and the third-highest 2-point percentage. They struggle stopping the pick-and-roll and post-ups.

    They do hold up somewhat okay in transition, perhaps another reason they should speed up the game.

    The crux of their issues on defense lie in the pick-and-roll where they get absolutely destroyed, where Z-Bo is the main culprit. He was never a good defender, but teams are targeting him and getting whatever they want. The Wolves rank towards the top in pick-and-roll attempts.

    This basically sums up the issues with the Kings. They don’t know who they really are. Their main source of offense on the team is their biggest problem. It’s a microcosm of the grand picture for the franchise. They have a nice collection of young players but are seemingly gun shy about setting them free, instead opting for the vets at most signs of demise, which in turn furthers their own downward spiral.

    Despite all this they have shown an ability to turn it on at any point and play with the best of them, as shown with wins over the Warriors, Cavs and Sixers (twice). If they remove the shackles and let the kids run, they can be dangerous. If they hold anchor and feed Z-Bo, they’re easy to beat.

    Key Matchup:

    – Taj Gibson vs. Zach Randolph

    In an uncommon instance where the opponents’ go-to player is the source of many of their own problems, this matchup pertains more on the Wolves attacking Randolph as a defender than slowing him down offensively. The Wolves are a pick-and-roll heavy team, and Randolph is among the worst in the NBA helping there.

    In the last meeting between these teams it took the Wolves longer than it should have to attack Z-Bo, though the Wolves still came out comfortably on top. If the Wolves find themselves in dire need of offense, as unlikely as that may be, the pick-and-roll should reap big rewards.

    Lineups:

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    De’Aaron Fox – PG

    Bogdan Bogdanovic – SG

    Justin Jackson – SF

    Zach Randolph – PF

    Willie Cauley-Stein – C

    Injuries:

    Harry Giles (rehab) – OUT

    Skal Labissiere (shoulder) – OUT

    Frank Mason (foot) – OUT

    Iman Shumpert (foot) – OUT

    Where to Watch:

    7:00 ET/6:00 CT on Fox Sports North

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