Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: Dec. 30 at Minnesota Timberwolves

Oct 23, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) looks at Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during a free throw in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Milwaukee Bucks 112-108. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks are in Minnesota next to take on the Timberwolves as the Bucks try to build momentum.

The Milwaukee Bucks are feeling good right now. They have one player who’s been a consensus All-Star starter in talks so far in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and another who’s been mentioned and voted for a whole lot in Jabari Parker.

In addition to those things, the Bucks got a very nice win in their last game! Milwaukee beat the Detroit Pistons in all four quarters of action, righting the ship after an ugly loss against the Washington Wizards threw it off course.

This is another winnable game for the Bucks coming up. Despite all the buzz about their potential, the Timberwolves are 10-22 this season. The Wolves have their moments, but this team is still too young and thin to rack up the wins just yet.

Minnesota has a top-ten offense this season as per offensive rating, but the Timberwolves defense has been near the bottom five for pretty much the whole season. We’re seeing that not even defensive ace Tom Thibodeau can stop young players from being bad at defense.

To find out how the Bucks can stop the Wolves, and vice versa, we’ll go through major keys for each team. After that it’s time for a Timberwolf to watch, and then it’s time for predictions!

Dec 28, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to drive the ball as Detroit Pistons(1) defends during the second quarter of the game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Milwaukee defeated Detroit 119-94. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Keep The Energy Up

These yo-yo pattern swings for the Bucks have to stop. Milwaukee will look fantastic one game and then flat the next. It’s time for this team to gear up and make a run to boost their playoff stock a bit.

The Bucks next five games are against the Wolves on Friday, then the team takes on the Chicago Bulls, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the New York Knicks twice. Those are all winnable games for Milwaukee.

Expecting to take all of them is wishful thinking, especially considering three of them are road games. But if Milwaukee can stay hot and build some momentum against the Timberwolves, it could help the team stay up throughout their upcoming games.

That means the Bucks need to come out swinging on Friday. Both of these teams are dynamic in the first quarter–the Bucks are sixth in the NBA in first quarter scoring, and Minnesota is seventh.

Things go downhill from there for both teams. The Wolves are 10th in second quarter scoring, 29th in third quarter scoring, and 20th in fourth quarter scoring. The Bucks, meanwhile, are 21st in second quarter scoring, 11th in third quarter scoring and 17th in fourth quarter scoring.

Milwaukee isn’t great at holding up late, but the Wolves are terrible at it. If the Bucks can come out and build a lead when Minnesota is at their best, it should help them seal the win in the second half.

Dec 28, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Minnesota: Stay Strong Throughout

The Wolves haven’t had trouble winning first halves this season. Minnesota is a top ten scoring team in the first two quarters! Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, that trend hasn’t carried over to the second half at all.

That rests at the feat of the young stars in Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the future of basketball for the Wolves. They combine to score over 64 points per game, an impressive mark for how young all three of them are.

That scoring punch has faltered after the first half. Over 19 of those points come in the first quarter, with another 15-plus coming in the second. The young Wolves then combine for roughly 15 more in both the third and fourth quarter, although both LaVine and Towns shoot under 40 percent in fourth quarters this season.

The Timberwolves come out hot, but they can’t maintain that level of play all game. Some of that may come down to the minutes load these guys carry. All of Wiggins, LaVine and Towns are among the top 15 in minutes played in the NBA this season.

Dec 28, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) spins towards the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Player To Watch: Karl-Anthony Towns

Despite his poor fourth quarter shooting performance, there’s no doubt Towns is the star here in Minnesota. LaVine is fun and bouncy and Wiggins sure can score, but Towns is the player this team is hoping can pull them into relevance again.

Towns is scoring 22 points per game this season on 48.4 percent field goal shooting and 33.9 three-point shooting. He’s a legitimate weapon from anywhere on offense, and Milwaukee will need to account for him and watch for trailing threes from him.

To go along with the bulk scoring, Towns is averaging 11.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. He hasn’t really taken the leap many in Minnesota hoped for in his first season under Thibs, but it’s hard to be too upset with Towns’ season so far.

This could be a game that showcases some extra effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. For a while now, many people have said Minnesota, not Milwaukee, has the more promising young core.

This game is a chance for the stars on the Bucks to prove that wrong. Giannis vs Towns should be a blast to watch for fans of both teams.

Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) passes the ball away from Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) in the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

If the Bucks win against Minnesota, the team could launch up to somewhere around the fifth seed in the East. Maintaining any spot above seven or eight without Khris Middleton is a fantastic start to the 2016-17 season for Milwaukee.

Getting home court advantage is likely out of the picture for the Bucks. It would take a team entrenched up there to fall off–right now the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets all are at least two and a half games above .500.

Milwaukee could join the over .500 club with a win in Minnesota. The first half will be crucial–the Wolves usually crumble late, so the Bucks just need a close game to have a good shot at a win on Friday night.

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Adam Coffman: Bucks by 6 — 20-9, 324 point differential

Rohan Katti: Bucks by 7 — 21-8, 330 point differential

Adam McGee: Bucks by 7 — 18-12, 339 point differential

Tom Pheister: Bucks by 8 — 19-11, 361 point differential

Jordan Treske: Bucks by 12 — 18-12, 400 point differential

Lukas Harkins: Bucks by 5 — 17-13, 353 point differential

Tim Wray: Bucks by 5 — 17-13, 366 point differential

Ti Windisch: Bucks by 7 — 15-15, 362 point differential

The game is on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. CT, and will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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