Milwaukee’s season-high fifth straight victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, 99-85, put them at 31-33 and firmly in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Additionally, it secured the playoff tiebreaker against Indiana for the season. They welcome in another surging team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, to the BMO tonight after they beat the Golden State Warriors last night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton provided the usual firepower for a MIlwaukee team that struggled to create good looks for most of the night. Lucky for them, the Pacers looked just as out of sorts. Both of Milwaukee’s stars notched 21 points, with Giannis grabbing familiar stats to fill out his box score with eight rebounds, five assists and five steals.
The game followed a familiar script to their previous one against the New York Knicks, with the Bucks taking over late in the third before wiping the opponent away in the fourth. Milwaukee shot its lowest amount of 3-pointers (17) since they only attempted 15 against Brooklyn in mid-February. The Bucks made the most of those attempts though, knocking in seven of them and finishing 51.6% from the field overall on the night.
Both Mirza Teletovic and Malcolm Brogdon were late scratches from the game, forcing Rashad Vaughn and John Henson into spot minutes. Vaughn was typically forgettable, but Henson had a decent contributory night with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Jason Kidd said they needed two big men to matchup with Indiana, which I don’t totally buy, but they did need bodies and Henson provided that much at least. If Teletovic can’t go tonight either, I’d expect some of the same given Minnesota rolls with Karl Anthony-Towns and Gorgui Dieng at the 4 and 5 quite often.
Milwaukee got rolled by Minnesota on December 30th, 116-99, with Andrew Wiggins going off for 31 points. They’ll have to hope to avoid a repeat performance tonight. No word yet on whether Brogdon or Teletovic can go tonight, but otherwise it’s the usual Beasley and Parker out for Milwaukee.
The Timberwolves got off to a very rocky start to the season, falling 14 games behind .500 at one point. Of late though, things are looking up for the Timberpups, as Tom Thibodeau has his crew of youngsters humming. They just eeked out a win against the suddenly dipping Golden State Warriors, 103-102. Not only has their only loss in their last four games come in overtime to the San Antonio Spurs, but their three victories are over the class of the West: Golden State, LA Clippers and the Utah Jazz. That last one was a humdinger of a game too, with Minnesota blowing out Utah by 27 points.
Since Minnesota lost Zach LaVine to an ACL injury in early February, the team has gone 8-6 in that stretch. Similar to Jabari Parker’s injury for the Bucks, some may assume the loss of a prominent scoring punch would hurt the Wolves. That hasn’t been the case though, and Minnesota has redistributed LaVine’s 15.1 field goal attempts per game to Towns and Wiggins, who haven’t sacrificed their efficiency in the process. Additionally, the defensive stature of the Wolves’ big three was less than stellar this year, a peculiarity given the reputation for Towns and particularly Wiggins coming out of school. Thibodeau’s Wolves have been a bottom-ten defense all year, but they’ve jumped to the 12th ranked defense (105.2) since Lavine’s injury. Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote a great piece yesterday breaking down both Minnesota and Milwaukee’s reinvention since their key injuries. Check that out if you’re interested in learning more.
Minnesota’s overwhelming reliance on its two star players is similar to Milwaukee’s reliance on Giannis and Middleton. That sets up for what should be a fascinating two-way battle on both ends, with Giannis presumably matching up with Towns at points to contain the shifty giant and Middleton attempting to curtail Wiggins. Expect Tony Snell to get plenty of cracks at Wiggins too if the Bucks want to alleviate Middleton’s toll on defense.
Minnesota should just be without Nikola Pekovic and LaVine, both of whom are out for the season.