Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Bucks
Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko was officially ruled out for tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center as Kirilenko continues to recover from back spasms he battled during the four-game road trip out West.
Kirilenko sat in Minnesota’s last game against the Clippers, and Josh Howard moved into the starting lineup in his place. That will presumably be the case tonight against Milwaukee. Perhaps more surprising was Kevin Love’s absence at shootaround due to illness. He is listed as questionable for tonight’s game.
If both players sit tonight, it will add an extra unforeseen challenge for the Wolves hosting the Central Division-leading Bucks, a team that boasts a 4-2 record on the road but is 1-4 in its last five games. In Love’s absence to begin the year, Derrick Williams replaced him in the starting lineup for all nine games.
“It affects us, but for the most part it gives other guys opportunities,” Howard said. “That’s what this game is all about is opportunities. Other guys who haven’t been playing much get a chance to play and show what they can do. We’re going to have to stick together as a team and win this game as a team.”
The key to tonight’s game will likely be tempo. The Bucks favor a fast-paced style of play with extra offensive possessions thanks to their dynamic back court of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. They’re first in the league in fast-break points, according to TeamRankings.com, and they’re first in the league with 39.5 field goals per game. By comparison, Minnesota is last in the NBA with 33.6 converted field goals each night.
The Bucks are quick, they get out in transition and they have strong ball movement. They’re entering this game second in the league with 23.8 assists per game.
Wolves assistant coach T.R. Dunn said it’s important to control the game plan on both ends of the floor and not let Milwaukee dictate their style of play.
“We want to take [fast break points] away from them as much as we can by just taking care of the ball,” Dunn said. “Getting good looks each time down the floor.”
Both Howard and guard Alexey Shved said the Bucks’ back court provides a pretty significant challenge because of their speed and their athletic ability. Howard said in both Ellis and Jennings have the ability to get a lot of shots up, and in particular the transition game will be in important factor.
“Try to force them to do things they don’t want to do—that’s the biggest part of getting the win tonight,” Howard said. “On the offensive end, even on the defensive end, communicating a little bit more. Like I said, two fast guards like that are going to get up a lot of shots. We either got to challenge their shots late or rebound the ball well.”
Rebounding becomes a little more challenging if Love and Kirilenko don’t play. Love’s averaged 15.5 per night since returning to action, including a 24-rebound effort against the Kings on Tuesday. Kirilenko is second on the team with 7.8 rebounds per night.
But even with injuries affecting this team throughout November, they’ve found themselves in position to win in most contests during the fourth quarter. The challenge on the road trip was finishing out games, and they’ll try to accomplish that tonight against a Bucks team that has shown resiliency late in contests.
Milwaukee’s last win came in Chicago on Monday, a game in which the Bucks trailed by 27 late in the third before coming all the way back. The Wolves have led in four of their last five games heading into the fourth but are 1-4 in that stretch.
“They beat Chicago in Chicago and played great and never stopped,” Shved said. “They never stopped and they want to play until the end.”
Howard said that’s the same thing the Wolves have focused on as they return home tonight.
“We just have to continue to stay focused on the defensive end and rebounding the ball is still the biggest point for us,” Howard said. “If we do that, I think things will turn over and we’ll start winning those close games.”
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