February 1, 2018, 7:02 pm
For the final time this season the Wolves and Bucks face off in what should be an entertaining game.
The Wolves are coming off a rough stretch, losing four games out of their last five, while the Bucks are hot, winning four in a row.
The win streak coincides with the firing of their head coach Jason Kidd. Joe Prunty has stepped in and will remain the coach for the rest of the season where the Buck will reevaluate the situation from there.
It wasn’t a terribly surprising move. Kidd has been unable to harness the young talent on this roster, and frankly hasn’t been highly regarded as a coach throughout his tenure.
The Bucks were 23-22 before parting ways with Kidd. Their offensive rating was 107.1 and their defensive rating was 107.6 at the time. It’s an extremely small sample size, but since then they are 4-0 with an offensive rating of 115.5 and a defensive rating of 97.4 for an astonishing net rating of 18.1.
The next closest team in that span has a net rating of 8.2.
Needless to say the Bucks are on fire at the moment and have seemingly responded to the firing productively, though perhaps not because of agreement. Giannis Antetokounmpo in particular was apparently hoping Kidd would be able to stay, going so far as to contact Kidd and see what he could do, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
Of course that didn’t happen, and whether Giannis is mad or not, he’s certainly leaving it all out on the court. In the past four games (only playing in three) he’s averaging 33.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers on 57.4 percent shooting from the field, 50.0 percent from the arc and 80.6 percent from the line.
The man with as many nicknames as letters in his last name is by far the best player on the Bucks, and one of the most unique, dynamic players in the NBA. He is able to chip-in across the board, often initiating the offense, guards any position and stands at 6″-11″ while seemingly still growing. He’s truly a special player.
His supports cast has also grown stronger as well. They added Eric Bledsoe via trade, have last year’s rookie of the year and will soon welcome back former second overall pick Jabari Parker, though not in time for tonight’s game.
Thanks to the mismatch Antetokounmpo commands offensively, the Bucks already have a major advantage on most teams, but being able to surround him with the right combination of players has been key. Namely players confident in the deep-ball, and Khris Middleton, Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon have provided exactly that.
Bledsoe is also a talented scorer though has struggled to find his shot this year. If he’s able to sort things out, with Parker returning soon, this Bucks team has plenty of room to grow, making them a dangerous team hovering in the playoff picture.
In fact the Bucks already beat the Wolves while Bledsoe had one of his best games of the year. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Bledsoe is doubtful to play with an injury.
Neither team shoots the deep ball well, though each side has capable shooters. This one will come down to whoever can lock down the paint and slow down the drives. It’s possible neither happens and this one turns into a dunk contest. Either way it should make for an interesting battle between two similarly built teams.
– Jimmy Butler vs. Khris Middleton
Middleton has been the key player for the Bucks in terms of being an x-factor. When Middleton is shooting the ball well and scoring, the Bucks win. When his shot is off, they lose. It’s not terribly surprising either as Middleton is the teams’ best shooter and biggest perimeter threat.
He’s shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range, 51.5 percent overall and 21.8 points per game in wins, compared to 26.8 percent from 3-point range, 40.7 percent overall and 18.7 points per game in losses.
With Giannis and John Henson not huge perimeter threats, defenses can key in on Middleton beyond the arc and sag off on everyone else. If Middleton isn’t hitting his shots, defenders and cheat even more.
When Middleton hits his perimeter shots, it forces the defense to stay honest and opens up space for the rest of the team to work. A combination of Butler and Wiggins will have the assignment of keeping Middleton cooled off.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Malcolm Brogdon – PG
Khris Middleton – SG
Tony Snell – SF
Giannis Antetokunmpo – PF
John Henson – C
Eric Bledsoe (ankle) – OUT
Jabari Parker (knee) – OUT
Mirza Teletovic (knee) – OUT
Jason Terry (personal) – OUT
Where to Watch:
8:00 ET/7:00 CT on Fox Sports North