Here we go!
We’ve been waiting months to see how this whole thing would work in a real game that counted. The dead weight from last year has been excavated from the site and now the Wolves will have a bevy of competent and actually good players to run through Rick Adelman’s system, which they’ve been able to learn for over a month now.
The matchup against the Kings is an interesting one. The Kings have a lot of young talent that is awkwardly matched together. Sound familiar? With DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas, and Thomas Robinson on the roster, it’s hard not to get excited about the ability that permeates through this roster. However, it’s a little awkwardly put together and Keith Smart has a tough task to figure out how to make it work night in and night out.
The return of good Tyreke Evans (he was awesome against the Bulls) shows they have one of their most dynamic scoring weapons back at their disposal. Finding a balance between him and the rest of the Kings perimeter, and finding a way to get that to complement their strength inside could be tricky. In regards to the Cousins-Pekovic matchup, we saw fireworks last year with Pek wiping the floor with him when the Kings visited. When asked about the matchup today, Pek said this:
“I will never surrender.”
GET EXCITED! WE MAY SEE A DEATH TONIGHT!
For today’s 3-on-3, I’ve brought on a couple of Kings experts in Jonathan Santiago and James Ham from CowbellKingdom.com. I actually founded CowbellKingdom.com in 2009 and ran it for essentially two seasons before turning over complete control to James and Jon. Now it’s arguably the best Kings coverage you can find on the internet, and that’s including the local newspaper there. These guys get fantastic interviews, have a great podcast, do great video work and the writing is awesome. It’s like I’m Darko and they’re Love.
1. These are two franchises who are seemingly try to turn their fortunes around and yet keep running into obstacles every step of the way. Is there reason to believe this season will be different one team or even both?
James Ham, Cowbell Kingdom: I think there is modest hope that one or both of these teams could begin the long climb up the standings. If I had to choose one, it would be the Kings and not because we cover them on a daily basis. The teams are comparable in talent, but the T-Wolves are banking players like Love and Rubio getting healthy and Brandon Roy staying healthy. The Kings come in 100-percent and very deep.
Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: I like everything that Keith Smart has done this past offseason to prepare the Kings for the upcoming season. Will the off-the-court team building translate to wins on the court? We don’t know, but it’s certainly a positive step. For the Timberwolves, the start of this new year has been derailed by injuries. But when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio return, I don’t see why Minnesota can’t continue on the upward trajectory they were on last season.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: I feel better about the Wolves’ chances than the Kings’ because they showed they were a playoff caliber team before Rubio’s injury last season. Yes, Love and Rubio are out for one and probably two months to start the season, but this team replaced all of their terrible wing players with competent playmakers and energy guys. If they can survive the first month around .500, they should be in good position for Love’s return. The Kings seem to have a lot of talent, but I don’t see how it fits together at this point.
2. The Kings have a logjam on the perimeter with almost too much depth. How do you see that rotation shaking out this season?
Ham: Smart will use a tight rotation on the perimeter. Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans and James Johnson will start, with Aaron Brooks and Marcus Thornton playing the bulk of the bench minutes. Once Salmons returns, he may get some time, but I see Evans as the back-up small forward when Thornton and Brooks enter the game. Sorry Jimmer fans.
Santiago: Considering how deprived of talent the Kings have been in recent years, it’s a logjam this team is happy to have. Keith Smart has told us that he’s going to regularly play 10, maybe even 11 guys on a nightly basis. There will be nine players who’ll see action in practically every game – his starters (Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, James Johnson, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins) and the the first four off the bench (Aaron Brooks, Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes and Thomas Robinson). At small forward, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons and Travis Outlaw will battle for scraps. Closing out games, I think we’ll see the Kings go small, sliding Evans over to small forward to make room for Thornton in the backcourt.
Harper: I think I’m more comfortable with the idea of Evans, Thornton, and Thomas on the floor together because I believe in putting your best talent out there and creating mismatch problems for the other team. But the defensive ability of James Johnson is probably something you can’t ignore. The Kings using Salmons when he’s healthy worries me for them because I don’t really see the point. And even though he hit a big shot and knocked his tooth out the other night, I think playing Aaron Brooks is a mistake right now.
3. I know how Kings fans feel about DeMarcus Cousins and his toughness. I know how Wolves fans and pillaged villagers feel about Nikola Pekovic. Which guy walks away with the better performance Friday night?
Ham: Cousins had a bad first game and rarely does he have two in a row. I love how Pec runs the floor and establishes his position early, he’s a tough cover. This should be a good match-up of two of the NBA’s rising young centers, but my money is on Cousins.
Santiago: Cousins had a horrible season debut against the Chicago Bulls. He turned the ball over a team-high seven times and he battled foul trouble all night long. Pekovic did give the Kings center fits when the Timberwolves and Kings clashed last season, so I don’t expect a good game to come easy for Cousins. But, I think he’s come into this new year too prepared to have another ugly performance like the one we saw Wednesday.
Harper: Pekovic said Cousins is good but he’ll “never surrender.” Cousins seemed completely frustrated by Pekovic last season when they played, and I’d imagine a lot more of the same will happen. I can see Cousins flopping a bit early to get calls against Pek. If it works and Pek gets into early foul trouble, DMC will feast the rest of the game. If they go against Cousins, Pek should dominate that matchup.
Place: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: 7pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: Tonight’s game will be on My29 locally here and you can listen to the radio call on 830 WCCO.
Records: Wolves are 0-0 and Kings are 0-1.
Four stoic Kirilenkos and a T-Hud! I feel good about tonight’s game. I think we’ll see some really good offense and opportunistic defense. I don’t think the Wolves will force a ton of turnovers, but I think the Kings will naturally get loose with the ball, which will allow the Wolves to pounce on it and take it the other way.
The big key will be keeping Pek out of foul trouble. If Pek can be in there to punish the Kings for 30-34 minutes tonight, the Wolves will have a great chance to win this game. If Kirilenko can slow down Tyreke Evans, the Wolves should definitely be able to control the tempo and pace. However, the Kings have some serious firepower in the backcourt that the Wolves don’t have to match but they have to hover around that area. Can’t let them get hot.
Defense will win this game. The Wolves’ defense was great in the preseason, but it rarely faced a full squad. I’m excited to see what happens!