The turnaround for the Bucks (27-22) following the coaching change from Jason Kidd to Joe Prunty can be simply summed up by one word: Defense. Milwaukee, who are yielding 105.3 points per game on the season, have allowed just 96.8 per contest while going 4-0 with Prunty running the show.
Milwaukee limited Philadelphia to two-of-26 shooting from 3-point range in Monday night’s 107-95 victory. The Bucks extended that perimeter advantage offensively, hitting 11 of 28 from beyond the arc as Tony Snell hit three of five. The main offensive thrust came from All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who totaled 31 points and 18 rebounds to go with six assists.
The Bucks have not won five consecutive games since a six-game run from March 3-11.
Minnesota (32-22) have dropped four of their last six games as their lead atop the Northwest Division over Oklahoma City has dwindled. The Timberwolves were on the short end of a 109-104 scoreline in Toronto on Tuesday night, squandering a 13-point first-half lead and failing to respond after the Raptors opened the fourth quarter with a 14-4 spurt.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points to lead six players in double figures, but Minnesota were outscored 50-42 in the paint and also missed nine of 24 free throws as they capped a busy January schedule with a 9-8 mark.
The Timberwolves are seeking their first 11-game home winning streak since a franchise record-tying 14-game run from March 16-November 11, 2015. It would be the first 11-game single-season streak since one from January 28-March 9, 2009.
Three keys to the game
Wolves struggling in defensive transition – Minnesota are not among the best defensive units in the league, though they are still a young team. But they have given up 98 fast break points in losing four of their last five games. While that number is somewhat skewed by Golden State lighting them up for 48 points in transition, they have given up 50 points in the other four contests and have scored just 37 fast break points in transition over their last five contests.
Antetokounmpo moving on from losing Kidd – The Bucks All-Star forward may have been the most disappointed player on the Bucks after the firing of Kidd, but he’s quickly realized there is still much work to be done for his team to make the playoffs. Antetokounmpo has averaged 33.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the three games he has played since Prunty took over while shooting 57.4 percent.
Wolves howling at home – Minnesota’s 10-game run at home has come in large part due to an aggressive offense. The Timberwolves are averaging 116.1 points during this run and have gotten approximately 18 percent of their scoring from the foul line, sinking 20.9 free throws per game during that run. They have run their offense well, shooting 53.7 percent from 2-point range.
Matchup to watch
PG Matthew Dellavedova vs PG Jeff Teague – Dellavedova gets thrust into the spotlight for this game as he likely will start since Eric Bledsoe is doubtful with an ankle injury suffered early in Monday night’s victory. He had ten points, three assists and two steals without a turnover in 26 minutes against the 76ers and is averaging 4.6 points and 3.9 assists overall. He presents a different skill-set than Bledsoe, who has more pace, but the positive tradeoff is that he is aggressive enough defensively that he can certainly slow down Teague, who gas averaged 10.4 points and 6.9 assists while playing in seven of Minnesota’s ten straight wins at home.
Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup
PG – Matthew Dellavedova | SG – Malcolm Brogdon | C – John Henson | SF – Khris Middleton | PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG – Jeff Teague | SG – Jimmy Butler | C – Karl-Anthony Towns | SF – Andrew Wiggins | PF – Taj Gibson
Towns has recorded four straight double-doubles, averaging 23.3 points and 13.3 rebounds in that span, and double-doubles in 17 of his last 18 contests overall. One of the nine times he failed to record one this season came in the first meeting between the teams, when he was held to 22 points and five rebounds in a 102-96 setback December 28.
Overall, Towns is averaging 20.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in five lifetime matchups with Milwaukee, shooting 56.6 percent from the field and eight of 16 from 3-point range.
Butler has a streak of six 20-point games, averaging 24.2 points in that span, and averaged 9.7 free throw attempts in that span while sinking 46 of 56 from the foul line. His scoring average ticks higher to 25.6 per contest while playing nine of Minnesota’s ten games during its home winning streak while shooting 16 of 27 from 3-point range and 51.1 percent overall.
He has averaged 14.6 points in 22 lifetime matchups with Milwaukee to go with 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Antetokounmpo has an eight-game streak of 20-point efforts, averaging 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds with four double-doubles in that span. He has scored in double figures in his last seven games versus Minnesota and had 22 points and ten rebounds in the first game between the teams.
Bucks small forward Khris Middleton has averaged 23.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his last seven games, shooting 53.2 percent while posting a 2.06 assist-to-turnover ratio. He had 14 points and seven rebounds in the previous meeting and has averaged 14.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 10 career matchups with the Wolves.
There are no betting lines established because of Bledsoe’s ankle injury, but someone is going to have a winning streak snapped with regards to gambling lines. The Bucks have covered in their last five road games when facing an opponent with a home winning percentage better than .600, while the Timberwolves have covered in eight straight home games.
Milwaukee are 7-1 against the spread in the last eight meetings in the teams, but Minnesota are trying to extend a win streak of the home team covering to five games. The Timberwolves, though, are 4-9 against the spread in their last 13 games versus Central Division rivals.
Without Bledsoe, this may be too big an ask for the Bucks to stop Minnesota from recording an 11th consecutive home victory. After a busy January, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is looking forward to actually having practice time to help his young team come along, especially after the All-Star break.
The Timberwolves are eager to be home, and the Bucks will present a tough challenge as they are riding the wave that comes with a coaching change. Thibodeau will have an interesting choice between using Towns or Taj Gibson to check Antetokounmpo since Andrew Wiggins should be able to match up well with Middleton.
Look for Minnesota to find their mojo with a 110-100 victory for their 11th straight home win against a determined Bucks squad that will come up short and sorely miss Bledsoe.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin. Tip-off time is 8 pm EST.