By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Minnesota Timberwolves (32-22) are back home to face off against the Milwaukee Bucks (27-22) Thursday night. This is the second of two matchups this season, with the Bucks up 1-0 in the series following a 102-96 victory in late-December. The Bucks storm into Target Center on a four-game winning streak (albeit against lackluster opponents), while the Wolves look to bounce back and win their 11th consecutive home game after an ugly 0-2 road trip in Atlanta and Toronto.
Now, some things to consider this evening as we approach the All-Star break.
Why aren't the Wolves feeding their All-Star big man?
A fascinatingly terrible development over the last seven games is the lack of touches Karl-Anthony Towns has received.
Towns is averaging 11.1 field goal attempts over the seven-game stretch. There are 82 players who have averaged more field goal attempts per game over that span. To name a few: Ish Smith, Darren Collison, and Justin Holiday. Like, are you kidding me? In what world does Ish friggin Smith deserve more shots per game than Karl-Anthony Towns? NOT IN MY WORLD.
There are a few reasons for this. Tom Thibodeau needs to do a better job utilizing KAT to the fullest, Jeff Teague has to be more aware of his presence on the court and go out of his way to feed him the ball, and Towns needs to stabilize his positioning longer in the post.
The Wolves are at their best on both sides when Towns is thriving offensively because 1) Towns is a phenomenal offensive player who has the ability to take over a basketball game and 2) Towns exerts more energy defensively when he's locked in on the other end.
Andrew Wiggins shooting the ball nine more times per game than KAT isn't a good recipe for sustainable, quality offense, making this a worthy storyline to keep an eye on over the upcoming stretch.
Defense taking steps backward
Towns' lack of touches and Jeff Teague's uninspiring play at point guard have certainly contributed to Minnesota's recent skid. However, the narrative lost throughout it all has been the defense returning to early-season form.
Over the past eight games, the Wolves rank dead last in defensive rating at 115.1. This is much worse than their December numbers, where they defended at a respectable 107.8 defensive rating, good for 21st in the league. Some of the decline can be traced to Jimmy Butler missing four games with a knee injury, but most of the team has looked disinterested defensively during the stretch.
Having Butler back in the lineup should help the defense considerably, but they'll need to turn it around quickly if they want to maintain their current playoff position in the West.
Race for home-court advantage
The Wolves have outperformed expectations through 54 games, playing well enough and avoiding long losing streaks to place them at the 4-spot in the West.
Minnesota currently sits 2.5 games back of San Antonio for the 3-seed and a slim 0.5 games ahead of Oklahoma City for the 4-seed. Sitting most favorably regarding toughness of schedule for the rest of the season is Minnesota, who has 13 (of 28) remaining games versus teams currently in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Spurs have 20 (of 29) and the Thunder have 19 (of 31) games of the same category.
Unfortunately, if you've payed attention to the Wolves this season, you should know that the quality of their opponent has played almost literally no factor in the outcome of any game.
Looking at the Thunder's next five games (@ DEN, NOP, LAL, @ GS, @ LAL), the Wolves may have to go 4-1 in their upcoming five-game stretch (MIL, NOP, @ CLE, @ CHI, SAC) to uphold that 4-spot. Nonetheless, the Thunder are breathing right down the Wolves neck, making the next ten games crucial for a home-court hungry Minnesota squad that faces an 8-game stretch of death at the beginning of March.
Defeating their border-state rival at home tonight would be a good start.