The Milwaukee Bucks look to continue their recent dominance of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday when they open a four-game road trip in Minneapolis.
The Bucks enter the contest on the strength of back-to-back wins, the second of which came in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals against Toronto.
While Milwaukee’s 115-105 victory over the Raptors on Saturday is small solace for losing the last four contests of a six-game series in May, the Bucks finally might have learned a valuable lesson going forward.
Milwaukee nearly squandered its third sizable lead of the young season, although Giannis Antetokounmpo prevented the club from sustaining its third loss after erupting for 36 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks on Saturday.
“We’ve got to get better — it’s happened three times so far,” the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player said, referring to the Bucks squandering a 21-point lead in the third quarter of a 131-126 overtime loss to Miami on Oct. 26 and a 19-point advantage in the first half of a 116-105 setback at Boston on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to be in the moment; we cannot stop playing, we cannot relax. People are coming after us; nothing’s going to be given to us. It doesn’t matter if we
made the Eastern Conference finals last year and we won 60 games — nobody’s going to give us 60 games,” he said.
Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo agreed with Antetokounmpo’s assessment.
“I think there’s a little bit of lackadaisical once we get a lead,” DiVincenzo said. “We’ve just got to keep our foot on the pedal.”
Khris Middleton matched a season low in points (11) on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. The 28-year-old also failed to make a 3-point shot for the first time this season.
Middleton, however, led the Bucks in scoring in both wins over the Timberwolves last season, with Milwaukee improving to 8-2 in its last 10 meetings with Minnesota.
The Timberwolves are off to a 4-1 start for the fifth time in franchise history and first since the 2012-13 season, although they’ll have to contend with Antetokounmpo without Karl-Anthony Towns. The two-time All-Star center will serve the second contest of a two-game suspension for his altercation with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid on Wednesday.
Minnesota fared well in its first game without Towns, as Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points to lead six players in double figures in Saturday’s 131-109 victory over Washington.
“We knew we were missing KAT,” the 24-year-old Wiggins said. “KAT’s not somebody you can replace, so everyone had to step up, and that’s what everyone did. “You’ve just got to remember, we play a certain way. You don’t want to get out of character.”
Gorgui Dieng did his best to replace Towns by chiming in with an 18-point performance, which was impressive since the 29-year-old had played just six minutes in the team’s previous four games.
“It says a lot about him as a person, it says a lot about him as a player and his ability to stay ready. I think he deserves a lot of credit – all the credit – but we had guys that helped him stay in, too,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said.
“Gorgui is a great presence for our team and that’s a nice luxury to have when you have a guy out of Karl’s impact, you can put a guy like Gorgui in who is a great ball-mover (and) he defended. I’m really happy for him.”
–Field Level Media