I arrived very early at Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin campus for the Bucks-Wolves tilt for a couple of reasons. First, never having attended a game as a member of the media, I frankly had no idea what I was doing. Second, I didn't want to miss anything; I wanted to take in everything from up close.
It turns out that getting my credential and getting in was a piece of cake--thanks to the Bucks and to the Kohl Center staff who actually had things quite well organized. Mostly, I loitered around the court taking crappy photos on my phone.
Anyway, nobody cares about my personal experience.
Pregame, head coach Sam Mitchell implied that they are looking at Andrew Wiggins as the shooting guard to start, though of course he'll slide down during the course of the game. "...I've really liked Andrew starting at guard. I think it gives us an advantage defensively at that position because of his size."
He also indicated that LaVine would probably see most of his minutes at point guard, which, yikes. He did serve as the back up point guard tonight, to once again predictable results. I have a hard time seeing LaVine getting minutes at the point once the real games start, especially with a veteran like Andre Miller (DNP) available, to say nothing of Tyus Jones.
As for the game, perhaps the less said the better, but since I was there and watched it all, I'm gonna make you read about it.
There are always multiple reasons for the results of a basketball game. One can't simply say "This and only this" is the reason the team won or lost very often.
One thing is true, however: It's very hard to win when you shoot under 33% from the field. The Wolves were atrocious shooting the ball tonight, especially in the 2nd half, and it left them with no chance to compete.
The first quarter featured eight Wolves turnovers, which allowed Milwaukee to race out to an early lead, 28-20 after one. The Wolves tightened things up in the 2nd quarter, and were able to get back into the game behind a ferocious performance by Shabazz Muhammad, who had by far his most impressive outing of the preseason. Overall Muhammad scored 18 points in 26 minutes, including 11-11 from the free throw line, where the Wolves found themselves repeatedly.
There were a ton of whistles throughout the game, and the Wolves finished with 45 FTAs, making 36, while the Bucks went 15-22 from the line. Frankly, we could have done without some of the whistles; it didn't strike me that they were particularly favoring either team, but there were several play-on situations that got whistled.
At any rate, the third quarter is where things really fell apart. The Wolves quickly grabbed a small lead in the first couple of minutes thanks to a couple of Towns jumpers that were his only baskets on a very quiet night, but then they went ice cold. Ricky Rubio, who had three assists on the night but realistically could have been near double figures, grabbed a steal and fed Wiggins on the wing for a wide open three. Clank. Next possession, he found Rudez with a beautiful cross court pass in the corner. Clank. Next possession, he fed Towns in space rolling toward the basket. You guessed it. Clank.
After that sequence you could see them deflate, lose their defensive focus, give up some transition points, and the game got out of hand. The Wolves were down by 20 at the end of three, and the fourth quarter was garbage time.
While I'm still not enamored of their offense (They really force the ball to a big on the elbow too often--the pressure can lead to turnovers, and the hand off action that often follows is only intermittently effective), the truth is they got a reasonable number of good looks tonight. Their inability to make them is what stands out from this one.
- Ricky Rubio, even not playing at his best, is the best player on this team by a country mile. He was credited with one steal, but caused several other turnovers with his defensive intelligence. He drew an offensive foul, then forced MCW into a travel a couple of possessions later. As noted, he was credited with three assists, which is a joke. He gets guys open shots. First quarter, looks off defense to get Dieng a 12 foot baseline jumper which he missed. Next possession his penetration and vision get Prince a wide open corner 3 look. Miss. Alley-oop to Wiggins. Miss. That was all early. The third quarter sequence I already discussed.
- The Andrew Wiggins vs. Khris Middleton battle was a good one. They matched up most of the time, and really went at it. Middleton looked better tonight. Made 7-10 shots and finished with 17, while Wiggins struggled with his shot (3-11) but did get to the line enough to finish with 14. It was a fun match up to watch, and they both like to use their physicality in post-up situations. Middleton is older and more physically mature than Wiggins, and it showed at points tonight.
- Rebounding. Yikes. The Wolves got pushed around inside by Greg Monroe, who finished with 12 rebounds, six on the offensive end. He just muscled Towns and Dieng wherever he wanted. The Bucks also used the length and athleticism of guys like the Greek Freak and John Henson to control the boards. That's going to be a problem all year.
- Kevin Martin looked a mess. 0-10 from the field, and some really ugly looking shots. Obviously, Kevin Martin can shoot the ball, but he looked particularly bad tonight.
- Gorgui Dieng is so interesting. He led the team in minutes (35), was one of the few who shot it well, (6-11), finished with 15 points, five boards, and was credited with four steals. But the effect he has in person is the same as on TV--all those numbers seem to come from what feels like underwhelming play. It's hard to make sense of it,