Milwaukee yet again find themselves desperately needing to respond to an extremely disappointing performance as the pressure continues to mount. In what seemed like an identical game to the horrific performance only 11 days earlier against the lowly Bulls, Milwaukee again lost to their Central Division rivals at home. The loss dropped the Bucks back to 17-15 on the season, not where they wanted or expected to be heading into a very difficult part of the schedule.
The challenge is in front of Milwaukee with a calendar year ending back to back set against Minnesota and Oklahoma City, both teams in sensational form. First up the Bucks host the Timberwolves in their only visit to the Bradley Center for the season. The Northwest Division leading Wolves come in on a five game winning streak, their latest, an overtime victory against Denver 128-125 last night.
Given the tough victory they ground out last night, Minnesota would have arrived in Milwaukee in the early hours of Thursday morning. After a night off and plenty of soul searching the Bucks should come into this one ready to run the weary Wolves off their legs.
In a big blow for Minnesota, point guard Jeff Teague has been ruled out indefinitely with an MCL sprain. This will likely bump young point guard Tyus Jones into the starting spot in a direct matchup with Eric Bledsoe. Jones figures to see a big jump in his usual 16 minutes per game and likely will also move veteran Aaron Brooks into the backup role.
An even spread on offense has been the key for the Wolves with multiple weapons on that end of the floor that can cause major headaches for their opposition. Former Bull and long time foe of the Bucks, Jimmy Butler leads the way in scoring with 21.2 points per game but is ably backed up by Karl-Anthony Towns with 20.3 and Andrew Wiggins with 17.6.
When you think of Tom Thibodeau coached teams you think defense right?
Well, as mentioned above its the offense that is fueling this Wolves team to victories with the 4th ranked offense in the NBA and an offensive rating off 110.2. They do this with high percentage shots and protecting the ball. The Wolves give the ball up a meagre 12.6 times per game, good for second in the league.
For Milwaukee the less we speak about the Bulls game the better. Crushed on the offensive glass (again), a virtual lay-up line given up to the Bulls and inability to make big shots killed the Bucks. Milwaukee fans have the pitchforks out and they are firmly aimed at coach Jason Kidd who must be feeling the heat in a major way right now.
The Bucks typically play better against higher ranked opposition, but after the other night this one will not be easy.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Butler v Middleton: The Bucks are often carried by their MVP candidate superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo but their fortunes are also just as dependent on Khris Middleton’s output. Shooting just 5-18 from the floor against Chicago, Middleton struggled to have a positive influence on the game and the Bucks offense faltered as a result. A bounce back performance is crucial in this one but it wont be easy with Jimmy Butler likely shadowing his every move.
- Bully Tyus: With veteran Jeff Teague out for the matchup, the Bucks gain a distinct advantage at the point guard spot. Jones has had an impressive season so far averaging career highs in multiple categories. At 42% from deep, he is a knockdown shooter that the Bucks cant afford to forget about. Having said this, the Bucks strongly built point guard trio of Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova will have the physical advantage and must use this on both ends.
- Attack Towns: Giannis especially should have a night out getting to the rim on the sleepy defense of KAT. As good as the young big man is on offense he is equally as bad at times on defense. Milwaukee should look to go at Towns on every possible occasion, both to get easy buckets but also potentially draw fouls and get him out of the game.
Follow Kane Pitman on Twitter: @mkebucksaus