The Minnesota Timberwolves (37-26) passed their first test without injured All-Star Jimmy Butler with flying colors as they beat up on the over-matched Chicago Bulls, 122-104. The Timberwolves had a well-balanced attack despite missing Butler as five players scored at least 19 points.
Point guard Jeff Teague continued his impressive play of late as he went for a team-high 25 points, and added seven rebounds and seven assists. Andrew Wiggins had an efficient 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Karl-Anthony Towns (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (19 points, ten rebounds) both recorded strong double-doubles. Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford chipped in with 19 off the bench.
The Timberwolves will have another relatively easy contest coming up as they visit the Sacramento Kings (18-41). The Kings dropped their fifth game in the last six following a 113-108 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last time out. On the bright side, the Kings got another impressive outing from their shooting guard duo of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield, who each had 21 points and went a combined 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, big man Willie-Cauley Stein was a menace all over the floor as he came up with a terrific line of 18 points, 15 boards, two blocks, and two steals.
Three keys to the game
Jeff Teague - Teague is in the midst of one of his most consistent stretches of the entire season. Over his last four games, he’s been averaging 22.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists while shooting a blistering 58 percent from the field. He took charge with Butler out against Chicago and will have to continue carrying a lot more offensive responsibility, particularly in terms of playmaking, for the foreseeable future.
Kings wings - Bogdanovic and Hield have stepped up their respective games for Sacramento in recent games. Bogdanovic has now scored 19 or more points in three of his last four games while the inconsistent Hield has scored at least 16 points in five of his nine games this month. The Kings will need both of those players to be at their best against Minnesota, who will see a significant dip in their wing defense without Butler.
Battle of Kentucky big men - Towns has gotten the better of his former college teammate Cauley-Stein in their first two meetings this season. And with Butler out, Towns is expected to assume a larger role in the offense. It’ll be WCS’s responsibility to be much more competitive against KAT this time around if the Kings are to stand any chance.
Matchup to watch
Taj Gibson vs Zach Randolph - Gibson vs Randolph will be about as physical a matchup as there is in the entire league. Both are tough-nosed veterans who will not give an inch to the other. Z-Bo will be looking to bounce back from a quiet seven-point outing against the Lakers, but Gibson will obviously not make things easy.
Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Kings projected starting lineup
PG - De’Aaron Fox | SG - Bogdan Bogdanovic | SF - Justin Jackson | PF - Zach Randolph | C - Willie Cauley-Stein
As previously mentioned, Towns has been terrific against the Kings this season. He’s averaging 29.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 4.0 steals in two meetings against them. That includes an impressive line of 29 points, eight boards, six assists, and three blocks just before the All-Star break. Teague will also be an obvious pick since he’s playing so well of late and will be having a lot more of the ball with Butler out.
Meanwhile, Bogdanovic and Hield are both worthwhile pickups on the Kings side. Bogdanovic had 13 points and eight assists and Hield added 16 points, four boards, two steals and a block in their most recent outing against the T-Wolves. Rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox will also be a strong candidate to bounce back from his slightly muted production of late. He popped up with 23 points and three steals in the recent meeting against Minnesota.
As they showed just a couple weeks ago in Minnesota, the Kings are feisty. They still give a lot of effort and have managed to make a lot of their games close. And while the Timberwolves looked impressive against the Bulls, they’re still an unknown quantity without Butler and could finally show some signs of weakness against the Kings. Look for the Kings to cover as 5.5-point home underdogs.
With the help of Bogdanovic and Hield, the Kings successfully overcome the Butler-less Timberwolves, 107-103.
This game will be broadcast on NBA TV, as well as NBC Sports California and Fox Sports North. Tip-off is at 10:00 pm Eastern.