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Game Preview #9: Wolves vs Bucks

The Giannis Antetokounmpo show rolls into Minneapolis as his 7-0 Bucks are set to battle with Karl-Anthony Towns and the 4-4 Timberwolves.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Info

What To Watch For

Nothing says nightmare fuel quite like Giannis Antetokounmpo coming into town with an undefeated 7-0 Milwaukee Bucks squad to test a rocky, 4-4 Minnesota Timberwolves squad on national TV. The good news for the Wolves is that they can expect Anthony Edwards — the team’s most important energizer — to bring the juice for an ESPN matchup with the best player on the planet.

How the rest of things play out is yet to be seen, but if head coach Chris Finch can get an energetic, joyous Ant, that’s a damn good place to start.

2022 NBA All-Star - State Farm All-Star Saturday NightPreGame Team Photo Portraits - BTS Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

How Will Milwaukee Defend Karl-Anthony Towns?

The Wolves need a stellar night from their franchise cornerstone big man if they want to stave off falling below .500 for the first time this season. No one in the NBA is better suited to quell Towns’ hyper-versatile attack better than the Greek Freak, who is both quick enough to slide his feet and shut off Towns on the drive and strong enough to give KAT problems on the block.

While Giannis is more free safety and less shadow cornerback on defense, it wouldn’t surprise me to see head coach Mike Budenholzer stick Antetokounmpo on Towns in an effort to completely shut him down. It makes even more sense when you consider that Jrue Holiday is a great option for defending Edwards on the perimeter. Coach Bud opted against the Giannis/KAT matchup in the teams’ previous two contests in which Antetokounmpo played and paid for it. Towns scored 25 and 26 points on a combined 19/32 shooting. Now, KAT turned it over 10 times in those games in part due to Giannis’s impact in the passing lanes, but that’s still good damage to an elite Bucks defense.

If KAT can’t replicate those performances, it will be difficult for a muddling Wolves offense to kick into gear and topple the undefeated Bucks.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Can D’Angelo Russell Return to Form?

As our own Aidan Berg wrote today, the Timberwolves have struggled with Russell running the show so far this season. Minnesota’s PG1 is off to his worst start since his rookie season in 2015-16, averaging just 14.0 points on 39.4/27.9/78.3 shooting splits, 5.8 assists to 3.1 turnovers, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals across 30.1 minutes per game.

The offense slows with D-Lo on court in terms of pace as well as production. Minnesota holds an offensive rating of 105.5 with Russell on the floor (would be third-to-last in the NBA) and an 118.8 mark without him (would be second in the NBA by 0.2). The team’s defensive rating is also seven points better with Russell on the bench. To be fair, part of that is tied to Rudy Gobert playing most of his minutes with Russell; however, that tandem need to be far more productive offensively than they have been to this point.

Whether he plays well or poorly, Russell’s impact on the game is indelible. When he’s on, he’s on. And conversely, when it’s not his night, it’s not his night.

The one-time All-Star brought the goods when the Wolves last faced Giannis, a road win early in the season last year. D-Lo poured in 29 points, six dimes and five boards across 36 minutes. Given that Holiday is expected to guard Edwards and Towns will have Antetokounmpo’s attention, Russell will have to win his matchup versus one of Jevon Carter or Grayson Allen.

A big-time home game on ESPN would be a timely spot for Russell to right the ship.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Will Rudy Gobert’s Usage Change?

Gobert has yet to find his stride in the free-flowing, generally unscripted Finchian offense. As our Cooper Carlson pointed out on Twitter, Gobert’s usage is wildly different than it was as a member of the Utah Jazz last season.

While Gobert isn’t receiving too many more passes comparatively, the task associated with those passes is different. In Utah, many of those feeds were dump-offs or alley-oops in screen and roll, whereas in Minnesota, too many of the passes his teammates throw are to a sealing or posting Gobert.

In theory, it would make sense to feed a 7-foot-1 monster on the interior, but reality isn’t quite the same. Gobert has done well when he needs to just turn and go up; when dribbles enter the equation, it becomes an unbalanced one that Gobert struggles to solve. That’s not to say that Gobert can’t improve there, because I believe he can now that he’s consistently being asked to post up and score from that position. It’s just something better suited for practice at this point, given that the Wolves are 4-4 and can’t afford to lose games as part of a greater developmental plan.

Finch calling for more pick and rolls is something to keep an eye out for, in aims of engaging both Russell and Gobert where each is most comfortable. For better or worse, those two are tied together in this experiment. Russell is crucial to unlocking the highest returns of the Gobert investment, while Gobert’s partnership is key to helping Russell secure a lucrative contract next summer, whether that is to return to Minnesota or play elsewhere.

Injury Reports



  • Anthony Edwards (Non-COVID illness)
  • Rudy Gobert (Non-COVID illness)


  • Luka Garza (two-way contract)
  • Josh Minott (G-League assignment)
  • Wendell Moore Jr. (G-League assignment)



  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness)


  • Pat Connaughton (right calf strain)
  • AJ Green (nasal fracture surgery recovery)
  • Joe Ingles (left ACL surgery recovery)
  • Sandro Mamukelashvili (concussion protocol)
  • Khris Middleton (left wrist ligament surgery recovery)