Good morning (or afternoon, if you had a lively evening yesterday), and welcome to the new year. 2020 has big things in store, and we’ll kick things off with the Milwaukee Bucks welcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves to town.
Since the Christmas Day coronation of the Philadelphia 76ers (who then proceeded to drop three straight games, but that’s none of my business), the Bucks have gotten back to business as usual and thoroughly vanquished each foe that has crossed their path. The post-holiday schedule is pretty light, to be sure, but truly great teams need to take care of business and avoid losing focus against weaker competition. These Bucks are built to do exactly that, and Milwaukee will seek to build up another lengthy win streak over the course of January.
For tonight’s game, Giannis is listed as probable with his pesky back soreness, while Wesley Matthews is questionable with his sore thigh.
Player to Watch: Brook Lopez
With Giannis Antetokounmpo having missed some time and Eric Bledsoe working back from a lower leg injury, big Brook Lopez has stepped up and augmented the team’s scoring by reaching into his bag of post moves to get buckets inside the arc. He had a tidy four-game streak where he shot over 50% from deep (0.522, on 12/23 shooting) that has cooled off some, so it’ll be interesting to watch and see if he bumps up his so-far disappointing season average of 30.6% on threes.
Minnesota was primed to break back into the playoff picture this season, after having moved on from the short (but eventful!) Jimmy Butler era and the Western Conference seemingly opening up for new blood. But as is often the case, the Timberwolves have thoroughly disappointed; they’re middle-of-the-pack in all of the meaningful metrics, and just capped a 2-12 December stretch. Therefore, as is also often the case for a small market NBA team, a disappointing stretch means that their star wants out and other teams need to figure out how to trade pennies on the dollar for him. From The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss:
Every plausible team is keyed on Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose future may be determined by whatever happens in these upcoming playoffs. The Warriors have been monitoring Karl-Anthony Towns’ situation in Minnesota. He’s under contract until 2023-24 but has less reason than Antetokounmpo to be thrilled with his team’s trajectory. This was a topic among multiple team executives at the recent G League Showcase, with a few relaying word that Towns is unhappy in Minnesota. The Wolves currently sit at 13th in the Western Conference, two spots ahead of the gap-year Warriors, looking at another lost season.
KNICKS: we are here to bid for Karl-Anthony Towns— I Think You Should League Pass (@nbaleave) December 26, 2019
In terms of this game, well...
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are both OUT against Milwaukee tomorrow night.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) January 1, 2020
Giannis Antetokounmpo is PROBABLE with back soreness and Wes Matthews is QUESTIONABLE with the thigh contusion that kept him out against Chicago.
Missing both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins means that the Wolves have a ton less talent available tonight, but as Gorgui Dieng implies here that just means that the remaining roster players need to play that much harder. You could even say that they need to bring maximum...energy and effort. They’ll also be without Jake Layman and Traveon Graham, leaving coach Ryan Saunders with a short bench to work with.
Player to Watch: Robert Covington
Speaking of popular trade targets, RoCo might be one of the NBA’s most popular names between now and the February deadline. Just last year he was earning praise for his defensive performance, and at 6’7” he can play both SF and PF while stretching the floor (career 0.358 shooter from deep). He’s having a down season so far (just like everybody in Minnesota), but with an $11.3M cap hit he’s one of the more affordable players who could reasonably make an impact on a new team. How will he perform against the league’s best team?
Game 36: Against Minnesota, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)