Timberwolves-Bucks Preview

The Minnesota Timberwolves can’t ask for much more offensively

from their starting lineup. But more bench production will likely

be crucial if the franchise is to end its league-worst nine-season

playoff drought.

Minnesota will try to build on a strong performance from its

reserves when it visits the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.

The Timberwolves got their usual solid numbers from their

starting five in Friday’s 120-98 home win over Washington. Kevin

Love tallied his league-leading 26th double-double with 25 points

and 11 rebounds, while Nikola Pekovic chipped in 18 points and

Ricky Rubio finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and eight

assists in just 27 minutes.

However, Minnesota’s starters have rarely been an issue all

season, ranking second in the league at 82.7 points per game. It’s

been the bench that has held the Timberwolves (14-15) back, ranking

28th with 23.3 points.

Friday’s 44 points from the reserves were one shy of a season

high for Minnesota. J.J. Barea – the team’s leading reserve scorer

with 8.3 points per game – scored 17 on 8-of-10 shooting, while

Alexey Shved chipped in 13.

“It’s not secret we need more production from our bench,” Love

said. “That really helps out some of the starters, especially when

every night isn’t going to be great for all our guys, one through

five.”

The Timberwolves are just 5-11 on the road and have lost three

straight away from home, but playing against the woeful Bucks – who

have lost seven of eight overall – might not prove to be much of a

challenge.

Milwaukee (6-23) trailed by as many as 23 points in the fourth

quarter of Friday’s 104-93 loss at Brooklyn despite getting back

both Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova from injury. Sanders had 10

points in 22 minutes in his first game since Nov. 2 after being

sidelined by a torn ligament in his thumb. Ilyasova had six points

and five rebounds after missing three contests with a sore right

ankle.

Neither interior player was the solution for the Bucks’ horrid

3-point defense, which allowed the Nets to go 12 of 26 from 3-point

range and has let its last six opponents shoot 44.0 percent from

beyond the arc.

“We had a couple of breakdowns defensively. We went under the

screens on the 3-point shooters and that was not the game plan,”

coach Larry Drew said. “Seemed like every time we tried to make a

run or get some stops, we would have a breakdown defensively and

Brooklyn would get up a 3.”

Brandon Knight struggled offensively, scoring 11 on 4-of-13

shooting after averaging 25.0 points and shooting 45.7 percent over

his previous four games.

The Bucks had won seven of eight at home in the series prior to

a 107-98 loss on April 3. The Timberwolves were 8 of 13 from

3-point range with Rubio hitting a career-best five 3-pointers on

six attempts.

Since 2009-10, Kevin Martin is averaging 26.3 points in four

meetings with Milwaukee – his best average against any team.