Kings (38-44 last season) at Timberwolves (22-60)
Scoring: Kings eighth in the league last season (102.5), Timberwolves 26th (95.6)
Shooting: Kings 10th (46.4 percent), Timberwolves 18th (45.1)
Scoring defense: Kings 24th (104.8), Timberwolves 21st (102.4)
Shooting defense: Kings 22nd (46.6 percent), Timberwolves 27th (47.2)
Assists: Kings 29th (19.1), Timberwolves 26th (19.9)
Turnovers: Kings 30th (16.1), Timberwolves 17th (14.5)
Plus: Timberwolves coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press
This is when you're glad Spencer Hawes is a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, someone who welcomes emotional combat and has been known to choose the opposite side in a debate just because he likes a good argument. Tonight, as the Kings open the season. The next five games in all, as Brad Miller serves a suspension and Hawes opens at center without a body of work to say he's up for it.
Nice guy, funny guy, smart guy, hardworking guy -- but first-team All-NBA cocky within 50 feet of a court. Thinks he knows it all, thinks he's already great. That's the vibe.
This is a good thing. It's a good thing because the Kings tried the whole lovefest thing before with one of the great locker rooms in the league in the last 20 years and they would have beat the Lakers and won a championship if a couple of them had the personality of Rick Fox. And it's a good thing in October of 2008 because Hawes was called out early in preseason and pushed back.
That's how exhibition games become relevant. Focus, intensity, sharpening, approach to the season ahead. Not the final score as coaches use the fourth quarter to experiment with lineup combinations or for long looks at players who may get cut.
Hawes had a series of bad reviews from the first days of camp through that memorable first game, the night in Portland when Greg Oden turned him into a tackling dummy. That did it. Hawes got drilled from all fronts.
But from there:
*Twenty-one points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes against the Thunder, which has no threatening center.
*Six points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes against the Lakers, with Andrew Bynum playing 22 minutes.
*Thirteen points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes against the Clippers, with Chris Kaman playing 25 minutes.
*Six points and five rebounds in 19 minutes against the Rockets, with Yao Ming playing 27 minutes.
*Fifteen points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes against the Mavericks, with no threatening center.
*One point and two rebounds in 17 minutes in the rematch against the Trail Blazers, with Oden playing 30.
*Twenty-five points and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes against the Rockets, with Yao playing 33.
Coach Reggie Theus said he was simply being honest when he criticized Hawes after the first Portland game, not trying to light a fire under Hawes via the media. Same difference. Honesty works. Honesty works very well to get confrontational with Hawes.
He's not going to wilt in the challenge, and that's a good starting point for a 20-year-old who would be a college junior and instead now gets Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard and Samuel Dalembert in a four-game trip. This must be some sort of extended hours on rookie hazing. Jefferson, Howard, Dalembert -- if Hawes makes it back to Sacramento without tire tracks up his chest, it will have been a successful loop around the Midwest and East Coast.
It's not a run through a Howard / Yao / Tim Duncan / Shaq fantasy-league grinder. But for four actual games in a row? To open the season? With eight games of starter's experience of his own?
Tonight at Minnesota: Jefferson. Last season averaged 21 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.45 blocks and shot 50 percent from the field.
Friday at Miami: Mark Blount or Udonis Haslem. Hawes' best chance to win an individual battle, although Haslem did average nine rebounds.
Saturday at Orlando: Howard. Twenty-two years old and already snacking on adults. Last season averaged 20.7 points, 14.2 rebounds (No. 1) and 2.15 blocks and shot 59.9 percent.
Monday at Philadelphia: Dalembert. Averaged 10.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.34 blocks, shot 51.3 percent.
That's the Hawes lineup for the trip, 80 percent of the time he's assured as a starter, although Theus may let him go six or seven to give Miller a couple outings to build back to game shape. Hawes has his matchups. Hawes has his challenge.