The Minnesota Timberwolves began the night with what can only be described as a practice in reverse psychology. Fans found Howl Towels on their seats, which is standard for big games. But I found it inexplicable that they would opt to provide green towels against the Milwaukee Bucks. What better way for the Bucks to feel at home than looking up to an endless sea of green in the stands? That really set the scene for the night.
The Wolves looked totally overwhelmed by Milwaukee.
The Bucks entered Minneapolis Friday night as the best team in the NBA. They looked elite to start the year, cruising to a 7-0 record. They’ve managed to do so without Khris Middleton, a critical factor in their offense. So, despite their offense, which ranks 15th in the league, the Bucks have been carried by the best defense in the league.
Milwaukee showed off its defensive chops from the jump. Jevon Carter was in D’Angelo Russell’s face when he touched the ball. DLo had to work the ball up every possession, navigating his way around carter’s tight defense. Clearly, Russell was bothered by the pressure and finished the game 3-of-15 from the field.
On the other end of the floor, he started the game matched up defensively against Jrue Holiday. DLo provided little resistance as Holiday scored eleven points in the first quarter, missing only one shot. From then on, he was hot and finished the night with 29 points.
Overall, the Wolves played a competitive first half. After battling back from a first-half deficit of 13, the Wolves finished the second quarter down seven.
But then came the dreaded third quarter. It seems that third periods have haunted the Wolves for as long as I’ve followed the team. After last night’s game, the Timberwolves have been outscored by a woeful 64 points in the third quarter this season. Their -25.8 net rating in the third is the worst in the league — by a lot. This continued as the Bucks burst into the second half and ballooned their lead to as much as 22 points.
The saving grace of the second half was Naz Reid. Before the season, I was convinced we would watch the fanbase turn on Reid. But this season as he worked to find minutes in a rotation behind two All-League centers. I couldn’t have been further from wrong.
From the beginning of the night, there were folks in the stands clamoring for Naz to enter the game. He made the most of his minutes, spending much of his time matched up against Giannis Antetokounmpo. He held his ground defensively and was unafraid to attack him on offense. Naz even got an extended run in the second quarter when Towns checked back in the game, subbing out Rudy Gobert. He ended the night with eight points and five rebounds, but his impact on the game was much more significant than his numbers in the box score.
Playing the two best teams in the NBA in consecutive games was a wake-up call for the Wolves. It’s clear that they are nowhere near the level of the Suns or the Bucks. When the pressure was on in the 4th quarter, those teams executed. The Wolves did not. Chris Finch made it clear that nine games into the season, it’s time for this team to start figuring some things out.
“We gotta start narrowing down our rotations,” he said. “You know, we gotta start figuring out some better lineup combinations out there right now.”
Clearly, Towns, Gobert, and Edwards are fixtures in the rotation, and their minutes should remain unaffected. For the rest of the roster, including Jaden McDaniels.
McDaniels played only 17 minutes tonight. Finch pulled him early in the third quarter, and he didn’t return to the game until late in the fourth when it was clear the game was out of reach. McDaniels led the team with four turnovers as he played a sloppy game. The defensive pressure he was supposed to provide has yet to manifest in any game-changing fashion, and his position in the rotation maybe be at risk. Most concerning is that he is yet to find his stroke from deep. Meanwhile, in Utah…
Any way you slice it, McDaniels struggling this mightily out of the gate is a bad look for Tim Connelly, who sold the farm to get Gobert while betting on McDaniels’ upside.
The Wolves play the 1-8 Rockets next, an excellent chance to catch their breath before they go on a run against the New York Knicks, Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Cleveland Cavaliers. If Finch can’t figure out some rotations that work, the Wolves could be staring down the barrel at a 5-9 record. It’s time for them to kick things into gear.