The Timberwolves (22-13), who have also won four straight on the road, held off the Denver Nuggets 128-125 in overtime Wednesday night to match a season high for consecutive wins established from October 27 to November 5.
Jimmy Butler scored 12 of Minnesota’s 14 points in the extra period as he carried the Wolves after they squandered a nine-point lead in the final 2:54 of regulation before recovering in overtime. Andrew Wiggins added 21 points and Taj Gibson added 20 as the Wolves put six players in double figures while shooting 52.2 percent.
The win came at a cost, though, as point guard Jeff Teague suffered what appeared to be a sprained knee late in the fourth quarter. His status for this game is uncertain, but Minnesota would miss his 13.4 points and 7.3 assists per game.
Milwaukee (17-15) has dropped back-to-back games to Eastern Conference lightweights, including a 115-106 setback at home to Chicago on Tuesday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points and Eric Bledsoe added 22 for the Bucks, who committed 17 turnovers that led to 24 points for the Bulls.
The Bucks’ defense has been a sore spot as they have dropped five of their last seven, giving up 113.0 points per game while opponents are shooting 48.0 percent overall and 39.9 percent from three-point range. Milwaukee have allowed 100 or more points in their last 13 games.
Three keys to the game
Milwaukee need to fix their leaky defense - The Bucks have struggled on the perimeter all season defensively, allowing a league-worst 39.8 percent from three-point range, but are now allowing more three-pointers. Milwaukee have given up 11.9 three-pointers per game over their last seven contests, up from the 10.6 mark they have allowed per game overall.
The Butler will do it if the Wolves need him to - Wednesday night's victory was the reason the Wolves acquired him in the offseason. Butler's will to win is believed to be the missing ingredient for a talented but young Timberwolves team that coach Tom Thibodeau needed for his team to take the next step.
It was the third time in the past eight games Butler has set a season high in scoring and the last two times have resulted in a victory for Minnesota.
Jones at the point - Jones has averaged 4.1 points and 2.6 assists as Teague's understudy, but he has definitely delivered when asked to be the star. Jones has averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 assists in his three starts for the Timberwolves this season, totaling 20 assists with just one turnover in those contests.
Minnesota are 2-1 in those games, with the lone road contest a 120-102 rout of New Orleans in which Jones had 16 points and six assists while hitting six of nine from the field, including two of three from beyond the arc.
Matchup to watch
Jimmy Butler vs. Tony Snell - Butler has averaged 28.1 points over his last eight games, and he is most effective when he gets to the foul line. He sank 16 of 18 against Denver on Wednesday night and has converted 59 of 63 from the foul line over his last eight games.
Snell has a +2.3 net rating, but that is more due to his offensive proficiency as the Bucks are still giving up 107.4 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. He has been hit-or-miss since coach Jason Kidd restored him to the starting lineup, totaling 19 points on six-of-19 shooting in the last three games.
Considering how Butler nearly matched that total in his last five minutes Wednesday night, Snell will have to deliver on the offensive end to keep Milwaukee in this contest.
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Tyus Jones | SG - Jimmy Butler | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Andrew Wiggins | PF - Taj Gibson
Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup
PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG Tony Snell | C - John Henson | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Towns posted double-doubles in both games against Milwaukee last season, totaling 53 points and 30 rebounds while hitting 21 of 33 shots. He has averaged 20.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in four games against the Bucks while shooting 54.7 percent.
Butler, who is familiar with the Bradley Center from his days with the Chicago Bulls, has recorded five straight 20-point games there while averaging 24.2 points and 6.8 assists on 51.9 percent shooting. Overall, Butler has averaged 17.0 points in 11 career games in Milwaukee and 14.3 points in 21 lifetime matchups.
Wiggins has reached double figures in all six of his games against the Bucks, averaging 17.5 points, but has shot just 38.4 percent in those games.
Antetokounmpo has just three double-doubles in his last six games after recording four in the previous five. The "Greek Freak" averaged 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists in his last six matchups with the Wolves, shooting 52.6 percent.
Bledsoe has averaged 22.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds in his last four games while shooting 54.2 percent. He has scored 19.4 per game in his last nine versus Minnesota, averaging 5.8 assists but also 4.1 turnovers in that span.
The Bucks are 2.5-point favorites and have won six of the last seven games against the spread between the teams. They have struggled of late, going 2-5-3 against the number in their last ten home games and 1-4-1 in the last six at the Bradley Center versus a team with a winning record.
Minnesota, meanwhile, have covered in their last four road games and are 4-1 against the spread in their last five road games versus teams with winning home records. The Timberwolves are 1-5 against the spread in their last six versus Central Division teams and 6-19-1 in their last 26 inter-conference games.
The over/under has jumped 2.5 points to 213.5, and the Timberwolves have gone over that mark in eight consecutive games. Milwaukee have hit that mark in seven of their last eight, with the lone miss checking in at 213 points.
Playing on back-to-back nights will do the Wolves no favors after winning an overtime game, but winning overshadows fatigue. This is the Minnesota team realizing their potential that people expected when they landed Butler from the Bulls, averaging 116.8 points while shooting 51.1 percent during their current winning streak.
They are catching the Bucks at the right time given their defensive struggles. That defense gets no help when committing turnovers and Milwaukee committed a season-high 20 last time out.
Antetokounmpo will get his points, but the key for the Wolves is preventing Bledsoe and Middleton from getting theirs. Wiggins has picked up his game over the last three of this winning streak, averaging 18.0 points after totaling 16 in the first two and will give Middleton all he can handle.
The Wolves are 2-3 playing on the back end of back-to-back games, but look for them to even that mark and win a season-high sixth straight with a 120-110 victory over Milwaukee.
The game will be televised nationally in Canada on NBA TV and locally on Fox Sports Wisconsin and Fox Sports North. Tip-off time is 8 pm EST.
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