Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings

The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Sacramento Tuesday for the third game of their present road trip and take on a Kings squad fresh off a win against the Utah Jazz. Minnesota, who is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, has had a tough time acclimating to the return of All-Star Kevin Love, who has played well despite regaining strength in his right shooting hand. On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, Love threw his protective black glove to the sidelines in frustration and played the remainder of the game with no restrictions on his right hand, and it appears that he is officially done with the protective glove.

Andrei Kirilenko was a main component of the Timberwolves unexpected 5-2 start, but has had a tough time getting in a rhythm since the return of K-Love. In the past three games, AK-47 has shot a tough 9-29 from the field after starting the season red-hot. Kirilenko sat out practice on Monday due to back spasms, but states that he is fine to start tonight against the Kings.

While many have begun to panic due to the Timberwolves continued losing despite the addition of Love, the notion that this team is better without Love in the lineup is absolutely unjustifiable. Yes, the team has seen poorer defensive efficiency numbers from their star in the middle and K-Love has had a tougher time shooting due to his strengthening wrist, but it is obviously going to take time before the offense and defense gains the appropriate chemistry they missed out on when Love sat out the preseason and start of the season.

An important thing to note is the success that the Timberpups had when playing without their main offensive focus, and how they used good ball movement and cutting to beat tougher opponents. With Love back in the mix, there has been less ball movement and more one-on-one basketball, and this has likewise caused players like AK-47 to play a much different kind of basketball than they were used to. This adjustment will unquestionably take time, and a few losses, in order to get back up to speed.

I have no problem with Love taking 20 shots a game, for he is certainly the best scorer on the team and gets to the free throw line at a very effective rate. However, within Adelman’s corner offense, I would really like to see more passing out of the superstar PF. Love is a more than capable passer and sees the floor as well as anyone on the team, and the success of the offense relies on passing and cutting from the high post, where Love is used to getting the ball. Just as Kobe has begun to adjust with the Lakers new offense, when the focus of the opposing defense is to shut Love down, there will be many more backdoor cutting opportunities for players like AK and Dante Cunningham which could create for an increase in high-percentage scoring chances.

Since I am a Timberwolves fan, I am ultimately going to constantly compare Kevin Love to our former superstar, KG, whether it is unfair or justified. The main difference I see in their games at this stage in their development is that Garnett started to become a world-class passer and was better at identifying when to score and when to find his teammates.  Love is averaging just 1.7 assists per contest, while Garnett averaged 4.3 in his fourth season in the league. In order to truly be a complete offensive force, K-Love must follow KG and evolve from a high-usage scorer to a true floor general. As we have seen from the effects of Ricky Rubio, a main key to the Timberwolves winning games lies in passing and ball movement, and the Wolves have certainly not done a good job of that since getting Love back in the lineup.

Tonight, the Pups face a vastly inferior opponent and should benefit from the opposition’s immaturity and lack of confidence. I want to see better rotations on defense and for Love to get AK more involved in the offense. Here is my prediction for the three stars of the game:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Tyreke Evans