- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-19) at Milwaukee Bucks (22-12)
- When: 7:00 PM CT
- Local TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and )
- Radio: 830 AM WCCO
- Line: Wolves +5.5 | Total 229.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Border Battle.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 30, 2022
Wolves at Bucks
7pm CT, Fiserv Forum
Preview » https://t.co/mziwRwMouJ pic.twitter.com/RkByOKqnvn
What to Watch For
Minnesota and Milwaukee are just about as diametrically opposed in conference standings as can be, but their one common trait is that both have lost their last four games.
Both teams are missing star players, but Milwaukee will be without their second and third scoring options in this one. Let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses of both ball clubs, and how the Timberwolves can exploit their matchups to pull away with a victory.
The most crucial element of Milwaukee’s lineup is their ability to control the inside of the court. Due to their length and athleticism, they sit atop the NBA with 36.4 defensive rebounds per game, and rank No. 6 in blocks per game at 5.4.
Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch will be burdened with creating opportunities for his players inside, seeing that Minnesota thrives close to the basket, scoring 47.7 percent of their points in the paint, good for No. 6 in the association.
D’Angelo Russell and Rudy Gobert have found a groove out of the screen-and-roll in many games, and without Karl-Anthony Towns in the lineup, Gobert has averaged 13.7 points per game — on par with his season average — but on north of 71 percent shooting from the field, well above his season metrics.
In the same span that Towns has been out, Minnesota has gone 1-4 when Gobert failed to corral 10 or more rebounds, and as a team, their rebounding average is down, sitting at No. 27 league wide. That will get tougher tonight as Gobert was downgraded to questionable late this afternoon with a non-COVID illness.
Especially if Gobert is out, it will be incumbent upon every player suited up in a Timberwolves jersey to box out their man, battle hard on the glass, and make quick decisions once they slash inside. Pat Connaughton is extremely good at coming in flying from the top of the circle for rebounds and put-back dunks. Watching him play consistently lets you know just how athletic he is, and how great of a glass eater he is for his size. Brook Lopez fancies blocking shots from behind, so when D’Lo and Ant get the step, they must find creative ways to finish over the trees, and do so with a purpose.
And let’s not gloss over the efficacy of Milwaukee’s playtypes. The one they will have to give most onus to is the post, where the Bucks are No. 2 with 8.9 post points per game. Bringing a second defender to trap Portis, Lopez, Giannis will have to be strongly considered, especially if they get a hot hand early. Even Holiday and Middleton get busy with the bully ball, so that must be kept in mind.
What to Do With the Greek Freak?
Defending Giannis Antetokounmpo will determine the offensive rhythm that Milwaukee is able to establish. Seeing that (hopefully) Gobert and Naz Reid will be manning the inside, Minnesota has an abundance of bodies they can throw in front of the two-time league MVP. But after seeing what Zion Williamson just did to the Wolves in their last matchup, there must be a concerted effort to prevent a 40-piece, or anything close to it.
Of course this is easier said than done. It is generally commonplace for great players to get theirs, no matter how good of a defender is on them. And to add insult to injury, Giannis is putting up career-high video game numbers on offense, scoring 31.7 points per contest. He has scored 40 or more points in three of his last five games, and despite their four-game skid, has been devouring opponents.
A wall could be effective against the Greek Freak, but he has developed his game so much from that series against the Toronto Raptors in 2019 that, he is adept enough at rising up from 18 and out to add variance to his offensive repertoire and keep defenders on their toes. Playing him in man might spell disaster, especially if Jaden McDaniels is the man for the job. It might behoove Finch to go to a 2-3 zone in spurts, which will give defenders enough leeway to help when Giannis gets a head of steam from the top of the key, while also providing enough time for those selfsame defenders to retreat back to their men when Giannis looks to kick to the corners in traffic, which he almost always does.
Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell Must Own Their Matchups
We’re talking about two second-unit players who both make quick and easy decisions with the basketball. Especially in the case of Reid, he just does it all. Whether he’s spotting up from distance or showing off his footwork, Reid has been one of the best breakout players of the season, and can do much to draw those lengthy Bucks defenders out of the paint.
Reid will be matched up against Bobby Portis, who is infamous for getting under opponent’s skin. This will be a perfect opportunity for him to own his matchup, and make the bench a serious x-factor, as both teams are pedestrian at best in second-unit offensive output.
- Kyle Anderson (back spasms)
- Rudy Gobert (non-COVID illness)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain)
- Taurean Prince (right shoulder sublaxation)
- George Hill (non-COVID illness)
- Jrue Holiday (non-COVID illness)
- Khris Middleton (right knee soreness)