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Wolves 96, Bucks 85: No rebound to be found in Minnesota

Box Score / Recap

On Wednesday afternoon there was ample room for optimism. The Bucks were finally getting healthy, and with the opener in New Orleans that night, it was just in time. But 72 hours later it's obvious that putting on the jersey and being ready to perform are two very different things.

For the second straight game, the Bucks again looked the part of a team that has neither practiced together nor realized it's time to play at full speed, losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves 96-85 in a game that will no doubt make Scott Skiles a rather unpleasant guy to be around on the flight back to Milwaukee. Fortunately (?), they get a chance to bounce back immediately with the home opener Saturday night against Charlotte, but in the meantime they've given Skiles plenty of things to think about.   

Questions like: how are points scored in basketball? And when someone misses, do you have to actually go retrieve the ball? I'm being cynical of course, but sometimes you wonder. Like in New Orleans, the Bucks simply couldn't make shots (36% shooting), though on Wednesday they at least made their share of threes to keep things close. Tonight they missed their first 13 from deep, many of them wide open, which only further encouraged Kurt Rambis' squad to double Andrew Bogut (4/7 fg, 8 pts in 29 min) and force the Bucks' bricklaying jump-shooters to do their thing. No threat from deep, no ability to use the post...yeah, you can tell how this is going to end. Notably, John Salmons was slightly better but still ineffective, Ersan Ilyasova seemingly hasn't made a jump shot in the last month, and Keyon Dooling continues to make Luke Ridnour look like Steve Nash.

Meanwhile, Minnesota also missed their share of shots (38%), but they made up for it by utterly annihilating the Bucks on the glass to the tune of 62-39, including 20-9 on the offensive end. A whopping 40% of Minny misses were recovered by the home team, well above the 23.6% Milwaukee allowed last year, with Kevin Love (17 pts, 16 rebs) and Michael Beasley (21 pts/10 rebs) doing most of the damage both on the glass and the scoreboard.   

How did it all go so wrong? Well, believe it or not things actually started off reasonably well. Brandon Jennings was looking aggressive AND effective going to the hoop--how many times have we been able to say that?--scoring three times around the bucket in a 10-point first quarter. The Bucks led by as many as eight, until Love began to inflict his will down low and made six free throws in the final 2:30 of the first period. The zebras might have been a bit quick with the whistles, but you don't complain about that when you're the more aggressive team, and Minnesota rallied to within one despite shooting just 28% in the period. Funny how much second chance points help (10 offensive boards), huh?  

Minny's aggression became the predominant theme of the second quarter, which in the end proved decisive--while every other quarter was decided by a single point, Minnesota took the second 28-18. The young Wolves were inaccurate and out of control much of the time, but the Bucks couldn't keep their hands to themselves as Bogut, Gooden, Brockman and Ilyasova all picked up three fouls in short order. The Bucks racked up a whopping 19 fouls and conceded 28 FTA in the opening 24 minutes alone, as Minnesota stayed aggressive and turned a 38-33 deficit into a 55-46 halftime edge. 

You'd have hoped that might be the wakeup call the more veteran Bucks needed. But as we saw with disappointing regularity last year, the Bucks started to settle for jump shots and they simply didn't make any, putting the young Timberwolves under little pressure. With his team trailing by 17, Skiles then went into full "send a message" mode with Earl Boykins playing next to Jennings and Luc Mbah a Moute seeing his first action of the season next to Corey Maggette and Jon Brockman.

That lineup had no business working--Mbah a Moute is too small to guard Love, Boykins is Boykins, and Brockman didn't even grab a rebound in 14 minutes--but Maggette powered his way to a pair of three point plays to end the period and Milwaukee had clawed back to within 10 going into the fourth. Unfortunately Maggette was more or less going it alone on offense, scoring 23 points on 16 shots while no other Bucks had more than 14. Still, a bad giveaway by the Wolves allowed Boykins to walk in uncontested for a layup that trimmed Minny's lead to six with a full 10 minutes remaining.

But that was as close as things got. Beasley punished the Bucks every time he got an open look, stroking three more midrange jumpers down the stretch to keep the Bucks at arms' length, and Ridnour punctuated the night with an alley-oop to Corey Brewer that got the normally reserved Frodo high-stepping back to the bench.  

Three Bucks

Corey Maggette. The Bucks as a team have yet to deliver on their offseason expectations, but don't blame least not yet. He was a scoring machine off the bench for the second time in as many games, delivering a much-needed shot in the arm with 23 points in 30 minutes. Sure, he takes too many jump shots, but when he gets the ball on the move few guys are tougher to stop. Maggette pretty much always goes right, but he's great at attacking the defense before it gets set, forcing defenders to use their body, and then finishing through contact. It's all about knowing how to put the defense in compromising positions and then bulldozing through them, giving the refs no choice but to make the call.

Andrew Bogut. Bogut gets second honors tonight, not because he actively helped the Bucks win so much as he wasn't directly responsible for them losing. He dropped in a couple of early shots--including his first basket with his right hand of the season--but like much of the Bucks front line he missed most of the first half with foul trouble. Bogut showed better discretion in the second half, staying out of foul trouble while swatting three shots, but he struggled to find deep position and was easily neutralized by the Wolves' aggressive doubling. Funny how teams will double your big guys when your little guys aren't making shots from outside. Also of note: Bogut took two charges, suggesting that post-injury he's not afraid to put his body in harm's way. Or maybe it's just an instinct he can't shake...

Michael Redd. Sitting at home in Columbus, Redd was the furthest Buck from the Target Center on Friday night and thus I can't think of any way to implicate him in the loss. You win, Michael.

Three Numbers

13/18. How often do teams win with just 13 assists and 18 turnovers? I'm guessing it's pretty rare, but the Wolves got so many second chances and trips to the foul line--activities which don't require much assistance--that it didn't matter.

28. You can blame the refs a little, but 28 free throw attempts by the Wolves in the first 24 minutes is downright unacceptable no matter what the circumstance.

86.5. The Bucks' defense hasn't been good--it's more the case that their opponents have shot poorly--but the reality is that their points/100 possessions in both games (102.8, 97.7) has actually been better than their season average from a year ago (103.1). The bigger problem is still on offense. Milwaukee was bad a year ago (104.9, 23rd) and has been even worse in the first two games (98.4 vs. NOH, 86.5 tonight). 

Three Good

Bottoming out. "It can't get any worse" isn't exactly the way I like to lead off the "good" section of the recap, but the reality is that this is where we are at the moment. Salmons is clearly not at full strength after less than a week of practice, and you'd also hope that Brockman and Mbah a Moute--both ineffective in their season debuts tonight--will start to look like rotation players once their ankles have healed up.

That's why I'm having a hard time getting too riled up about the Bucks' 0-2 start. Don't get me wrong, they've been bad and have already squandered two very winnable road games, so there's no positive spin to be found on that front. These games are frustrating, particularly given the level of anticipation coming into the year. But the 46-win Bucks of a year ago had plenty of ups and downs as well, and there are plenty of new and injured pieces that Skiles is trying to integrate into a functional unit. It may take a while to get everyone on the same page, but tomorrow night will also be a key early test of character. While it's somewhat understandable if the Bucks are rusty, getting outhustled and outworked in the home opener would be a decidedly bad sign.

Health. Hey, at least no one got hurt...

Sanders actually scored. Sanders has looked nervous around the hoop in his brief NBA career thus far, but he used a short banker and a P&R catch-and-dunk from Jennings to score the first points of his NBA career in the first half tonight. He also grabbed three boards and generally looked more at ease than in New Orleans, though Skiles again went with Brockman and Ilyasova as the first bigs off the bench. Baby steps. 

Three Bad

Hustle board. No rebounding, half the blocks, and half the other words the Bucks got what they paid for.

Shooting. In particular, there was little hint of improvement from a trio of key veterans: Salmons, Dooling, and Ilyasova. Gooden was also pressing and trying to do too much offensively, missing nine of 13 shots in less than twenty minutes of foul-plagued action. 

Jennings' vanishing act. There was a lot to love about Jennings' start to the game--aggressive finishing, getting to the line, good distribution and good care of the ball. But Jennings didn't make a shot after the first quarter and couldn't buy a shot from deep all night, finishing 0/6 from distance.

Comment of the Night

"God, the Bucks look like puke."

- eloquently stated by the appropriately named puremisery