Scouting Report: Wolves at Kings

Wolves (25-29) at Kings (18-34) - 9 PM Power Balance Pavilion
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO

*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.

Ravaged by injuries and challenged with an intense road schedule, the Minnesota Timberwolves enter tonight’s game hoping to regain the winning formula they used through much of the regular season.

But it won’t be easy. Facing a Sacramento Kings squad that beat them in their last meeting, the Wolves need to shore up their recent defensive struggles in order to stay in the running for a victory tonight. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. at Power Balance Pavilion.

Tonight’s game will be Minnesota’s 11 road game in its past 13 contests, a stretch dating back to March 12 that has taken Minnesota to the East Coast and to the West Coast twice. Along the way, the Wolves lost several key members due to injury. Center Nikola Pekovic (right ankle) has missed eight of the last nine games, forward Michael Beasley (toe) has missed six of the past 11 games and guard JJ Barea (right thigh) has missed the last five contests. Guard Ricky Rubio is out for the season.

As a result, Minnesota has lost 10 of its last 14 games—including a 119-106 defeat at Portland on Sunday night. The loss nullified the Wolves’ shot at sweeping the season series with their division rival.

“It makes it a little bit different, obviously missing some guys that have been a big part of what we’ve been doing,” guard Luke Ridnour said. “But that’s part of the NBA. You lose guys. You have to find ways to win games. Right now we have 12 or 13 games left. We have to find a way to dig some out.”

The Wolves might be catching the Kings at just the right time. Unlike their last meeting on March 18, when Sacramento was on a season-high three-game winning streak, the Kings have lost four of their last five games. They’re coming off a 111-99 loss to New Jersey on Saturday.

Last time out

Minnesota won the first two meetings of the year with the Kings, 99-86 on Jan. 16 and 86-84 on Feb. 7, but on March 18 Sacramento reversed that trend with a 115-99 victory at Power Balance Pavilion. The Wolves finished the game being outscored 25-17 in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to a big game from Kings guard Marcus Thornton. Thornton finished with 24 points on the night, while fellow guard Isaiah Thomas hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range to finish with 18 points. Jason Thompson finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. For the Wolves, a combination of 21 turnovers resulting in 32 Sacramento points and a 6-for-25 effort from 3-point range were too much to overcome. Love led the team with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Derrick Williams chipped in 16 points and Martell Webster had 14.

Key matchup: Love vs. Cousins

Wolves Minute with John Focke

In Pekovic’s absence, the Wolves have rotated Love to the center position while moving Williams into the starting power forward spot. Tonight against the Kings, Love will likely be matched up with powerful center DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins has been a force for Sacramento, averaging 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game during the month of March. The key will be containing Cousins, who hasn’t put up big numbers in the teams’ previous three meetings—he’s averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game against the Wolves this season.

Love put up another big game against Portland on Sunday, scoring 26 points and adding nine rebounds and four assists. He led the league with a 30.7 points per game scoring average in March and has continued to be productive both in the paint and from the perimeter. Love’s reached the free-throw line 33 times in the past three games, hitting 29 of those 33 attempts from the stripe. But tonight against Cousins, he’ll again need to produce offensively while helping contain the Kings’ aggressiveness near the basket.

Evans’ impact

The Kings will likely have guard Tyreke Evans available for tonight’s game; he was inactive in the Wolves’ last game against Sacramento in March. Evans is coming off a 23-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist effort against the Nets on Saturday and is a dynamic player on the offensive end. He’s averaging 17.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game this season.

Defensive struggles

Since Rubio’s season-ending injury on March 9, the Wolves haven’t looked like the same team defensively. Minnesota allowed 100-plus points on Sunday for the eighth time in their last 13 games. In the previous 41 games, the Wolves allowed 100 points or more 17 times. Part of that is an inability to contest shots and disrupt the flow of the opposition’s offense. The Trail Blazers and Celtics have combined to shoot 50 percent against the Wolves over the past two games. Against the Kings, that means controlling the paint—Sacramento had 54 points in the paint in their last meeting—and getting back in transition defense. The Kings scored 27 of their 115 points against the Wolves on March 18 on the fast break.

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