Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (5-7) @ Sacramento Kings (4-9)


Since the Wolves hosted the Kings in their season opener, they’ve seen their share of trials and tribulations by injury and inefficiency. The Kings have had their own struggles in blending their roster’s mix of dysfunctional and functional players.

Losers of 5 straight, the Wolves would normally be happy for a visit to Sacramento to cure what ails them. But since switching up their starting lineup last Wednesday, these Kings are winners of 2 of their last 3 over the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.

Kings probable starting lineup:

PG Aaron Brooks

SG Tyreke Evans

SF John Salmons

PF Jason Thompson

C DeMarcus Cousins

The player who hurt the Wolves the most last time was Isaiah Thomas, with 20 points on 7-13 shooting. Thomas has since seen his playing time dwindle to just 7 minutes and a DNP-CD over the last two and ceded his starting point guard spot to free agent signee Aaron Brooks.

Though Brooks has proven every bit as poor a distributor (2.4 assists per game over the last 5) as the man he replaced, he has done his part to fit in with the Kings on the whole — garnering a $25,000 fine for throwing his mouthguard into the stands following their loss in Utah.

Earlier this month, Cousins approached San Antonio announcer Sean Elliott in a hostile manner after their game and was suspended for two games without pay, totalling $70,500, which he is appealing to recoup.

Also earlier this month, rookie Thomas Robinson elbowed Detroit pest-forward Jonas Jerebko in the neck and was suspended for two games.

Tyreke Evans has been on a tear, shooting over 51% from the field over the last 5 games, producing 19.8 points per, while leading the Kings in assists with 3.8 over such time. Watch for AK47 to put an end to that nice little run.

The other starting lineup adjustment that has paid dividends for the Kings has been swapping small forward defensive specialist James Johnson for John Salmons. The defensive contributions of Johnson were being negated by his lack of offensive prowess. Salmons play is proving a net positive move by the Kings, allowing them to at least play 5 on 5 on the offensive end. Which brings us to…

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Malcolm Lee

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Kevin Love

C Nikola Pekovic

The offensive struggles of Malcolm Lee have drawn the ire of many a Wolves fan. Possibly not as much as the overall play of Luke Ridnour, but both are big problems tonight against another quick backcourt in Brooks and Evans.

Lee’s struggles (24% field goal percentage over the last 5) have been forcing the Wolves to forge ahead 4 on 5 on offense, with opponents basically leaving Lee wide open in the corner in every half court set. After receiving a DNP-CD the first go around with Sacramento, Lee could see some bigger minutes tonight on Brooks. Because, you know, he’s quicker than Ridnour.

The largest matchup looms large, as Pekovic and Cousins will tangle down low. Cousins was a non-factor in their first meeting this season, scoring 11 points on 13 shots and being limited to 25 minutes with foul trouble. The strongest limiter being his reaction to every call drawing his focus away from the game and onto the referees, who obliged by heaping, by his perspective, even more injustice upon him. Pek v. Boogiemonster should prove to be the most entertaining matchup of the evening.

The long jump shots the Wolves have been settling for since Love’s return would pick a good night to turn into forays to the hoop: Sacto is 26th in the league in blocks per game, with just over 4 a game. Here’s hoping Pek, Love and AK live at the line.