The Sacramento Kings are finally back home after a long road trip. They're chipping away at the 6 game deficit they got themselves into but they're still four games back of .500. That's why games like tonight against a young Timberwolves team are important, even without DeMarcus Cousins, who will likely miss another game due to his lower back strain. Today's action tips off at 7:00 pm on CSN California and on KHTK 1140.
1. Why are the Timberwolves so good on the road? The Timberwolves have been a bit of a surprise early on this season, jumping out to a 7-8 start. Much of their success has come on the road, where they're 5-2 compared to just 2-6 at home. Why is that? One reason could be the fact that Ricky Rubio has been healthy for most of those road games and the team does better with him on the floor (see question 2). The other is that the quality of opponents at home has been better than on the road, although they have beaten good teams like the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
2. Will Ricky Rubio play? While Rubio isn't nearly as dominant a player as DeMarcus Cousins, the Timberwolves seem to suffer the same side effect without him as the Kings do without Cousins: losing. The Wolves have yet to win a game without Rubio this season in four attempts, and tonight might be the fifth, as he's currently dealing with a sore ankle. Andre Miller is more than capable of running the offense for Minnesota, but he doesn't bring the same defensive edge that Rubio does. That's where Rubio's biggest impact comes, as the Wolves are a full 12.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor per baskeball-reference.
3. Can the Kings dominate the three point line? Minnesota shoots the least amount of threes in the NBA and they're just 29th in makes. The Kings only shoot the 15th most, but they are 9th in makes and 5th in percentage. With DeMarcus Cousins likely out again, a solid night from the perimeter might do wonders for this Kings offense.
MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Kosta Koufos vs. Karl-Anthony Towns
The Timberwolves did a great job of getting assets for Kevin Love and the side effect of doing so was that they became bad enough to get the #1 pick last year in Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has a huge amount of potential and should be one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year. He's already nearly averaging a double-double to go with over 2 blocks a game. Koufos isn't going to give Towns fits like Cousins would have but he can do a decent job of slowing him down. Willie Cauley-Stein will also probably see some time against a former teammate that he's probably pretty familiar with.
I didn't know Flip Saunders, but I appreciated his skill as a coach. Those series between the Kings and Timberwolves were intense, and the matchup between Rick Adelman and Flip Saunders was just as important as Webber vs. KG. Flip has gone too soon, but he built a hell of a foundation here in Minnesota, and that's on top of the past success he's brought that team.
Well the Kings are currently 1-0 when I predict them losing, so let it ride! Timberwolves 104, Kings 94.