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Wolves Run Out of Gas, Fall to Bucks 102-95

After an draining win Friday night, the Wolves couldn’t complete the back-to-back sweep Saturday in Milwaukee.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tall task for the Minnesota Timberwolves to earn a road win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.

Not only was it a road game against a playoff team, which are generally difficult, but the game took place less than 24 hours after the Wolves earned their best victory of the season over Golden State in front of a record Target Center crowd.

But to their credit, the Wolves battled throughout much of the contest as if Friday’s emotional win didn’t affect them. They hung tough with a solid Milwaukee team in their arena before the gas tanks ran out early.

Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a superb performance for the second straight night, tallying 35 points (14-for-21 shooting) and 14 rebounds to lead Minnesota. He flexed his muscles on both ends of the floor and shouldered the load while counter Andrew Wiggins (11 points, 3-for-13 shooting) struggled to find a rhythm.

Ricky Rubio continued what might be the best stretch of basketball in his career. His 22-point, 8-assist effort included a 9-for-14 shooting performance and a 2-for-3 mark from three-point range. Since Jan. 9, the Spaniard is averaging 12.5 points, 10.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game and hitting 41 percent of his field goal attempts. It’s also not a coincidence that Minnesota has found its stride and notched a 16-12 record in that time span.

After trailing by as many as eight in the third quarter, the Wolves used an 11-0 run to climb into a 67-64 lead with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter. Milwaukee countered with a 9-2 run to open the fourth quarter, and Minnesota was never able to find the energy necessary to make up the difference.

The Bucks registered seven (!) players in double digits scoring, which is difficult to do when barely reaching 100 points. Tony Snell’s 19 points and six rebounds led Milwaukee while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 18 points, seven assists and four rebounds.

The red-hot Bucks extended their winning streak to six games, which is the longest active streak in the NBA. Milwaukee also kept grasp of its hold on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, now a half game ahead of Miami and a full game up on Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Wolves took a tumble in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed thanks to Denver’s win over Sacramento. Now 3.5 games back, the Wolves will certainly have to earn their spot in the playoffs — and they’ll have to do so against the toughest remaining schedule of teams in competition for that final playoff spot.

Minnesota was in a tough spot Saturday night — it was the second night of a back-to-back on the road against a tough opponent and less than 24 hours after knocking off the top team in the league in gritty fashion. A win under those circumstances would have been mighty impressive -- and it’s understandable that the fuel tank would run a little low in the fourth quarter.

Nonetheless, the Wolves missed an opportunity to gain ground in the standings (Portand and Dallas both lost Saturday) and stay within 2.5 games of Denver. Instead, the Wolves have inched themselves closer to “Do or Die” time with regards to the playoffs at 3.5 games out.

The miraculous road to the playoffs begins Monday against Washington.

Quick Notes

  • Minnesota’s bench production dwindled Saturday night -- particularly from Nemanja Bjelica and Shabazz Muhammad, the leaders of that unit the past few weeks. The scoring punch that has shown up from these two players each game since the All-Star break didn’t show up against the Bucks.
  • The Wolves decided to attempt only 13 threes (making five), for some reason. If there’s one area the Wolves haven’t improved upon since the absence of Zach LaVine, it’s shooting beyond the arc. The Bucks made 8-for-20 from deep, essentially giving them a 9-point edge on the scoreboard.
  • It’s a little crazy to think we’re already at the point in Towns’ career where a 35-point, 14-rebound effort is normal. The young man is 21 years old and averaging over 24 points and 12 rebounds per game. It’s flat out absurd how good Towns is at the sport of basketball.
  • The biggest story of Minnesota’s recent turnaround is the defense. Tom Thibodeau’s complex schemes are finally starting to resonate and it’s showing. The Wolves own the best defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star break despite playing some powerhouse offensive teams. The rotations are much smoother and shot attempts from the opposition are contested at a much higher rate. Slowly but surely, what Thibs is doing is working.
  • I’ll have to check with Isaac Newton to see how this shot by Rubio dropped in, because I don’t think science as we know it can explain it.