Coach Rick Carlisle’s squad has dropped its past three contests to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, all likely playoff teams. Even though there have been encouraging signs, such as Dennis Smith Jr. pouring in a career-high 27 points in a 97-92 home loss to the Spurs on Tuesday night, the team still has the worst record in the league at 2-13.
The Timberwolves and Bucks have emerged from the cellar of the standings thanks to their recent draft successes. Minnesota appears to have found two foundational players in third-year forward Karl Anthony Towns and fourth-year forward Andrew Wiggins, as well as coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Bucks might be further away from claiming the Eastern Conference crown, but they also might have the league’s most talented player in 6-foot-11 guard-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Here’s a look at the Timberwolves and Bucks:
It’s no secret that swingman Jimmy Butler had a frustrating five years in Chicago. So, many expected big things when he was traded to Minnesota during the 2017 NBA Draft. Compared to his past few seasons in Chicago, Butler hasn’t quite put up the same type of numbers on the offensive end.
Then again, with a diverse set of offensive talents such Towns, Wiggins and point guard Jeff Teague, the three-time All-Star doesn’t have to carry his team every night. More important, Butler’s pedigree and competitiveness have catapulted a team that won only 31 games last season to third place in the uber-deep Western Conference.
The primary calling card from Thibodeau’s tenure as head coach of the Bulls was a deep, some have said insane, commitment to defense. Thibs is still running grueling practices in Minnesota, but the Timberwolves’ results have been encouraging.
Through 14 games this group ranks last in opponents field goal percentage and field goals per game, as well as 25th in points allowed. Those numbers have been even more surprising because Wiggins, Towns, Butler and forward Taj Gibson all have above average capabilities on the defensive end of the court.
About last time ...
When these teams met almost two weeks ago in Minnesota, the Mavericks were done in by a particularly lethargic third quarter. Already trailing by 10, the Timberwolves outscored the visiting team 34-20 in the third period.
By the end of the quarter, Dallas faced an insurmountable 24-point deficit. Much like LaMarcus Aldridge (32 points), Kevin Love (29 points) and Anthony Davis (30 points), Towns (31 points and 12 rebounds) exposed the Mavericks’ inability to defend elite post scorers.
Right now, almost everyone who watches professional basketball agrees that Antetokounmpo is having the best season in the NBA. Statistically, the offensive production is approaching historic levels. In his fourth season, the “Greek Freak” is shooting 57 percent from the field while averaging the third-most attempts per contest. With an average of 30 points per game, Antetokounmpo barely trails the Rockets’ James Harden for the league lead in scoring. He also leads his team in points, assists, rebounds, and blocks per game.
And when you watch him blend his frame with an absurd ability to drive to the basket and knock down jumpers, you start to understand why Antetokounmpo has become must-see TV.
It took only three disastrous losses for Eric Bledsoe to tweet that he no longer wanted to be a member of the Phoenix Suns. It’s fair to call his actions immature, but the talented point guard had been forced into less-than-ideal situations with the Los Angeles Clippers and Suns.
In response to the tweet, Bledsoe was deactivated and eventually traded to a Milwaukee team that desperately needs a secondary scorer. And even though Bledsoe is only averaging 13 points a game through his first four games with the Bucks, he still has the ability to create his own shot.
As a result of Antetokounmpo’s giant leap, the Bucks have transformed into one of the NBA’s most economical offenses. The Bucks (8-6) trail only the Golden State Warriors for the best field-goal percentage in the league. The players have also combined to shoot the fifth best 3-point percentage in the NBA, while remaining in the middle of the pack (23rd) for attempts.
Peter Dawson: 817-390-7657
Mavericks vs. Timberwolves
7:30 p.m. Friday, FSSW