Preview: Wolves at Kings
The Timberwolves had won nine of 12 in the wake of the Jimmy Butler trade to Philadelphia before losing their way defensively in 113-105 and 116-108 losses to Portland and Golden State, respectively, to open a four-game Western swing.
Minnesota was done in by the Trail Blazers‘ 47.0-percent shooting on Saturday and the Warriors’ 19 3-pointers on Monday.
Before those two games, the Timberwolves had held 11 of 12 opponents to 104 points or fewer, including five to under 100.
“We are not where we want to be, but we are definitely improving,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau insisted to reporters after the loss to the Warriors. “We have been in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed, but now we are starting to creep into the Top 10. I think a lot of it is getting deflections and we wouldn’t come up with the ball. I think now we are starting to come up with the ball and our reaction to the ball is a lot better.
“Dario (Saric) and Taj (Gibson) has added a lot of toughness to the team, and I think that has helped. Karl-Anthony (Towns) has gained valuable experience and has gotten a lot better. We have some pieces now to play tough defense.”
Defense was an issue in five straight losses that led directly into the Butler trade on Nov. 12. The fifth of those losses came at Sacramento, with the Kings scoring 29 or more points in each quarter of a 121-110 win.
The Timberwolves gave up 111 or more points in nine straight games, losing seven of them, before pulling the trigger on the trade.
In the Kings, they will once again see a vastly improved offensive team that already has gone over 120 points eight times this season.
It occurred only once all of last year.
The leader of the attack has been De’Aaron Fox, who recorded a 16-point, 10-assist double-double in the earlier win over the Timberwolves.
He worked his magic on the Chicago Bulls on Monday, going for 25 points in a 108-89 win that capped a 3-1 trip for the Kings.
The victory concluded a run in which the Kings faced the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Bulls, three of the losingest teams in the NBA, over a four-game stretch.
They now embark on a rough 24-day span in which they will see the Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers twice each, with Oklahoma City, Denver and Portland among those interspersed.
“We’re in the West,” Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein noted. “It’s always difficult in the West.”
Not always. The Timberwolves catch a break in the next 17 days, with two matchups with the Kings mixed in with contests against the Suns, Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.
Minnesota swept the season series from Sacramento last year, winning by an average of 15.3 points.