The Timberwolves play their would-be rivals tonight, if the conference make-up made a bit more sense, in the Bucks. This is the Wolves first matchup with the Bucks this year and should be an exciting matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo aka the Greek Freak.
The Wolves are going to be coming into this game riding high after last night’s tight victory over the Denver Nuggets. I was lucky enough to be at that game as I am back in Minnesota for the holidays and it was an incredible experience to hear the chants of MVP for Jimmy Butler as he lined up for his final free throws in overtime.
The Wolves are also riding a five-game winning streak, which is not something that we have been able to say for a long time. The Bucks, comparatively, have lost five of the last seven games.
However, that is not to say the Wolves have any sort of definitive advantage coming into this game. The starters, particularly Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Taj Gibson all played over 40 minutes last night. Jeff Teague is also now out indefinitely with a sprained left knee, which is great news considering how bad his injury looked last night.
But the Wolves have not had time to address the roster issues due to this injury, which means that Tyus Jones will be likely starting with the backup point guard duties falling either to Jamal Crawford or Aaron Brooks. Playing Brooks, who is questionable with an illness, would be, let’s just say, a less an ideal scenario.
The Bucks are a good team in their own regard, yet one that provides an interesting parallel to the Wolves. It is easy to bemoan the Wolves and their lack of development and challenging roster construction. Yet, the Bucks were the supposed team on the rise in the 2014-2015 season when they went 41-41. They have only barely ended a season with a better record than 2014-2015 in the two consecutive years and this year are only on pace for 43.5 wins.
Even with Giannis, Khris Middleton, and now Eric Bledsoe, the team still has fit issues. They were able to relieve themselves of Greg Monroe in acquiring Bledsoe, but I’m not sure anyone knows how Jabari Parker will eventually fit in, not to mention how much the Bucks may have to pay to retain him in the upcoming free agency.
However, as Wolves fans are becoming familiar with, everything seems better when you have a superstar. The Bucks have one of those in Giannis.
After winning the Most Improved Player award last year, Giannis has elevated his game yet again. This season, he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
Outside of a three-point shot, there does not seem to be anything that Giannis cannot do. He is one of the most physically gifted players to ever grace an NBA court.
I mean, look at this:
He routinely makes layups and dunks while taking one dribble from the half-court line. There is nobody else, maybe other than LeBron James, who can match him in terms of athletic ability.
The Bucks starting lineup is chock-full of long-armed players who make life difficult on defense. Tony Snell is 6’7” at shooting guard, Khris Middleton is 6’8” at small forward, and Giannis is 6’11” at power forward. When they play those three with Malcolm Brogdon at point guard, who is 6’5”, the court shrinks an incredible amount. Tyus Jones is going to look quite undersized out there tonight.
The Bucks have not managed to find a way to translate all of that potential and athleticism into victories, but those days do not seem far off on the horizon.
It will be interesting to see how the Wolves defend Giannis. When the Wolves played the 76ers, Butler did a great job matching up against Ben Simmons, who is the most obvious facsimile of Giannis that the Wolves have played. Gibson will likely spell Butler on that matchup time to time.
This is one of those dreaded road back-to-backs and may end the Wolves winning streak, but at the very least it should be an amazing game to watch.
Projected Starting Lineups
Prediction - Wolves 102 - Bucks 99. After last night, I am never going to bet against Jimmy Butler, but this is going to be a tough one.