May 21, 2018

The Milwuakee Bucks were trying to extend their win streak to five, a streak that started when the team fired polarizing head coach Jason Kidd, despite the team being in the playoff picture.

Heading into Minnesota on Thursday night under interim head coach Joe Prunty, the Bucks tried to draw closer to Indiana and the sixth seed in the East. Minnesota came in hungry for a win, dropping four of their last five games. It showed in the first quarter, as the Timberwolves fed Karl-Anthony Towns the ball early.

Towns shot 4 for 7 from the field in the first, dropping nine points on the outmatched John Henson. The game started off sloppy for both teams, despite Towns’ early dominance, as Minnesota struggled to find spacing for much the start of the game leading to turnovers and easy transition points for Milwaukee. The first of the Wolves’ two first quarter turnovers came off of a Wiggins iso on the wing, which led him to dribbling towards the center between four defenders. This allowed for a Sterling Brown steal that led to an absolute hammer on the other end, which was iced nicely with an unnoticed stare-down and a tech.

The next turnover came off of a miscommunication between Towns and Jimmy Butler, who seemed to have expected his big man to roll to the basket instead of attempting to set an informal screen. This would be one of the few mistakes Minnesota would have during the entirety of the game, but it shows the little wrinkles in the offense that need to be ironed out.

The quarter ended with a six-point Wolves lead, but it felt as though it was slipping away from the Bucks. Minnesota’s talent in the front court outclassed Milwaukee for much of the first and there was nothing to signal a change.

Sure enough, the lead ballooned quickly for the Timberwolves in the second quarter, as Butler made his presence felt by getting to the free throw line five times. Minnesota pushed a 17-10 run in the last five minutes of the half, outscoring Milwaukee by 10 in the paint for the quarter. This suddenly gave Tom Thibodeau’s squad a 21-point lead entering halftime.

The second half was much of the same, as Jimmy Butler closed out the game while carrying the load on offense. Towns struggled with foul trouble as the Timberwolves fended off small stints from the Bucks through the third and late in the fourth quarter. Minnesota seems to be back on track, while Milwaukee’s cloud of success post-Kidd has ended after four wins.

The Bucks suffered a beating down low, and while Henson is a viable option at center for short stints, Milwaukee may seek to strengthen their defensive presence down low. Being outscored 42-28 in the paint through the first three quarters is why they’ve been tossed in rumor mills for pricy names like DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside, which would likely put them in a grip for the next few summers financially. They could wait to see what Jabari Parker’s return will bring to the front court depth, as he’s slated to make his return Friday night against New York. The Bucks are trending upwards, but have glaring weaknesses for a team once touted as serious Eastern Conference contenders.

This trade deadline could be a key one for Milwaukee, especially with other playoff vying teams actively lurking the trade market.

Minnesota got great production from most of their regular rotation, and seem to be more in-sync than their early season struggles. The addition of Butler, although praised, may still have been overlooked by many during preseason predictions. The Wolves are safely among the Western Conference elites this year, and if they prove to continue to dominate down low, they could see themselves playing deep into the playoffs.

Thibodeau has instilled a winning culture in Minnesota. The once “promising” team is well on its way to become a perennial title contender, and tonight’s performance is proof that there are in the highest tier of the NBA that doesn’t include Golden State.

As mentioned, Milwaukee will try to bounce back against an inconsistent Knicks team on Friday, seeing the return of Jabari Parker. The Timberwolves will host a New Orleans Pelicans team that just added Nikola Mirotic after losing All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. Both teams are expected to find themselves playing beyond April, but it seems the realistic goals between the two are at a large gap.

 

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George Kondoleon

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