After securing a comfortable victory to extend their winning streak to four games against Philadelphia, the Milwaukee Bucks now hit to the road to meet their closest Western Conference rival. Their opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves underwent a major overhaul during the off season and have taken little time in figuring it out.
Sitting 32-22, good for the 4th seed in the Western Conference, the Wolves are attempting to place themselves amongst the small group of teams hoping to contend with the Golden State Warriors juggernaught come playoff time. Despite the impressive record, Minnesota have in fact lost four of their last five games and will be desperate to right the ship on their home floor.
The Bucks on the other hand, could not be feeling any better about themselves after winning all four games under interim coach Joe Prunty. The last three of those wins coming by double digits against Brooklyn, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The Milwaukee defense is beginning to regain some respectability, climbing from the 25th ranked defense when Prunty took over, to now sit 19th.
The only negative to arrive on Monday night, was the flare up of a lingering ankle injury to point guard Eric Bledsoe. Lasting less then 3 minutes before succumbing to the injury, Bledsoe sat out the rest of the night and remains listed as probable for tonight.
Fresh off his two best performances of the season, veteran Jason Terry will miss tonights game for personal reasons.
The Bucks will be looking to keep an eye on the prize and not become distracted by what lies ahead tomorrow night. Jabari Parker announced his return to the court will occur on Friday night at home against the New York Knicks. In what has been yet another gruelling 12 month rehab process for Parker, the Bucks coaches, players and fans alike can hardly contain their excitement for the return. Nonetheless, for the coaches and players at least, there is a job to do beforehand.
Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins form a trio just as formidable as the Milwaukee top three. Towns in particular is having a monster year despite getting less shots per game then the other two. Averaging 19.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 40 percent from downtown, he presents a mammoth challenge for a team that has struggled to contain opposition big men.
These two teams have already met once this season, the Bucks coming out winners on their home floor 102-96. Milwaukee had to overcome a 20 point deficit and boo’s from their own crowd as a lacklustre performance ended with a furious rally. 26 points from Bledsoe and a 22 point, 10 rebound double-double for Giannis ensured the Bucks snuck home, as they held the Timberwolves to a season low 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota hold an imposing 20-6 record on their home floor so far and will be desperate to get their season back on track at the expense of the Bucks. Milwaukee are looking to extend their winning streak to a season long 5 games. With both teams posturing for playoff seeding heading into the All-Star break, this one figures to be hotly contested.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Deny Towns: It was touched on earlier but for some reason, Minnesota don’t run their offense through Towns nearly enough. He is averaging near on 20 points per game on only 13.7 field goal attempts. He is averaging 54 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. The last time these two teams met, Towns threatened to blow the Bucks out of the water but he somehow became ignored. He finished 8-12 from the floor, including 4-8 from deep for 22 points. Both Wiggins and Butler took more shots for less production. The Bucks will need to ensure Towns doesn’t get deep catches in the post and open looks from the perimeter. They would also appreciate a little help from the Timberwolves offense again.
- Keep The Bench Hot: In continuing the theme from the last couple of games, the Bucks second unit needs to remain hot. Averaging 32 points per game over the last three, the bench squad is finally starting to show signs of life. One of the key instigators Jason Terry will be missing, but Sterling Brown, Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell need to keep firing away from deep and relieving the pressure on the starters. One night out from Jabari Parker’s return, it’s been perfect timing for the arrival of some added offense.
- ‘Khashing’ In: Khris Middleton’s up and down season has been well noted by Bucks fans and media. Despite the excellent numbers on paper, Middleton has at times struggled against top opposition. Last time out against Minnesota, Khris only managed 14 points in 40 minutes. Shooting only 32 percent from deep since the turn of the New Year, it’s time Middleton broke out of his slump. In the last four games however, Middleton is 7-14 from three and is beginning to show signs of life. His minutes load has been reduced under Joe Prunty and perhaps that is allowing him to remain fresher for longer. Either way the Bucks know they need Middleton up and firing if they are to continue rolling in the East.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus