For the first time in a very (very) long time, the Milwaukee Bucks will head into a regular season contest with nearly their entire playoff rotation intact as they hit the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves this afternoon.
Where We’re At
For much of this season we’ve all essentially pinned our hopes on the Bucks being able to do a Voltron impression and assemble their pieces at just the right moment. With the news that Pat Connaughton has been upgraded to probable for the first time since fracturing his finger against the Phoenix Suns on February 10th, it looks like Milwaukee’s moment is now. Having won 8 of their last 10, the team sits merely 2.5 games back from the East’s top seed helped in part by the first road win in Utah since time began and a big offensive night from Giannis, Khris, and Jrue who combined for 89 points against Sacramento. A game against a Timberwolves squad that has already nearly doubled their win total from a year ago (including a 113-108 road win over the Bucks) will be a good test to see how coach Mike Budenholzer is able to push and pull a fuller rotation into winning basketball against stiff competition. Still, the oddsmakers are granting Milwaukee an edge as -3 road favorites.
While the Bucks have been flying, the TWolves have done them one better having won 9 of their last 10 by an average margin of 17.5 points a game. To be fair, that stretch includes two wins over Portland (tank job), one over OKC (tank job), one over the Lakers (tank job), and a loss to the Magic (tank job?); but you can only play the competition in front of you! For years Minnesota has been a big question mark, primarily around whether a trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell could function on both ends of the floor. Those three have pulled through for the Wolves on the offensive end with some gaudy numbers (KAT averages 24.9 ppg and 9.9 rebounds, Edwards is a volume-everything and has lifted both his 3P% and 3PAr, Russell hasn’t been all that efficient but can set the table with 7.1 assists a game and a 33.6% AST%). Around them, role guys like Patrick Beverly and Malik Beasley have helped smooth the rotation, and second-year coach Chris Finch has somehow managed to create a top-11 defensive unit out of these parts (110.4). Their latest effort included humbling the Lakers last Wednesday, 124-104, and to get a sense for why they’ve been better than the sum of their parts, read some of the post-game quotes. They’ve been great all year:
Pat Connaughton is listed as probable for Milwaukee, while DeAndre’ Bembry (ACL/MCL tears), Sandro Mamukelashvili (G-League assignment), and Lindell Wigginton (G-League assignment) are all out for Milwaukee.
Well, this is a bummer having no Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Whoa. Bucks say Giannis is OUT today with knee soreness— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 19, 2022
The Wolves are missing Jaden McDaniels (leg) and Naz Reid (back) is day-to-day.
Player To Watch
Is it cheating to simply keep picking guys who have recently returned from an injury layoff? Assuming Pat Connaughton gets a few minutes, I’ll be curious to see how he is able to lift some of the bench offensive production. He was having a career offensive year prior to the finger break, and the Bucks bench has collapsed to one of the most moribund scoring groups in the entire NBA without him. Minnesota works extra hard to trap ball handlers and hunt passing lanes, so Connaughton’s off-ball positioning and ability to hit catch & shoot threes would be a boon for the Bucks.
Patrick Beverly has long been a hybrid of genuinely frightening defensive talent and hubris — when the two align, he’s extremely hard to get around. “Mr. 94 Feet” hasn’t been a slouch on offense this season, either, though for our purposes we’ll be looking to see how he’s able to disrupt Jrue Holiday’s flow as a ball handler. If Beverly can jam up Holiday or Khris Middleton, will the Bucks be able to adjust off those guys on the fly, or is shutting them down at the point of attack enough to knock Milwaukee off its rhythm?
Game 71: Against Minnesota, the Bucks will...
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