Coming into this game, I suppose you could still say that the Timberwolves are riding that 15-game losing streak that painstakingly ended the 2010-11 campaign, however, I don't see it that way. As far as I'm concerned this is a completely different Timberwolves team. With additions; Ricky Rubio, Malcolm Lee, Derrick Williams, Brad Miller & possibly, most importantly: Rick Adelman, the Wolves are poised for a breakout season...let's just hope the bar hasn't been set too high for such a young inexperienced team...
The Wolves will be facing battling the Bucks in a little preseason border battle. The Bucks, somewhat like the Wolves, made a few big changes to their lineup. Before the NBA draft (and thus--the lockout) the Bucks were involved in a three team trade that gave them Stephen Jackson, Beno Udrih & Shaun Livingston--while sending away Corey Maggette (CHA) & John Salmons (MIL). After the lockout they signed veteran guard-forward Mike Dunleavy for a scoring punch off the bench They also drafted forwards Tobias Harris & Jon Leuer.
The Timberwolves on the other hand, signed 2009 draft pick Ricky Rubio, drafted Derrick Williams & Malcolm Lee, traded Lazar Hayward to the Thunder & signed NBA champion J.J. Barea. Both teams with some significant moves that definitely change their teams from the 2010-11 season.
Let's take a look at the projected starting lineup...
PG: Ricky Rubio vs. Brandon Jennings
SG: Wesley Johnson vs. Stephen Jackson
SF: Michael Beasley vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
PF: Kevin Love vs. Drew Gooden
C: Nikola Pekovic vs. Andrew Bogut
Certainly a little different for the Wolves from their usual starting lineup last season. The first, obviously is Ricky Rubio starting over veteran Luke Ridnour. Ricky has been ultra-impressive in training camp--and while most (including myself) believed that he'd move into the starting lineup later, were simply wrong. There's a very good chance Ricky's your starter. Secondly, your starting center: Nikola Pekovic. I genuinely believe Pekovic will starting in this one. He's been doing well in training camp, Rick Adelman says he's an incredibly strong player (literally STRONG). There is some talk of Kevin Love starting at center allowing Derrick Williams or Anthony Randolph to start at power forward, however, I just don't see Adelman trotting out Kevin Love to go head-to-head with one of the top-tier centers in 7-footer Andrew Bogut.
Ultimately this starting lineup doesn't mean squat and ultimately the outcome of the game (basically) doesn't mean squat. It's a preseason game, Adelman will shuffle lineups--get different looks at different sets of players out there. Sure, it'd be nice to grab a win, but it's not the end of the world if they don't.
INJURIES for MIN: The only injury for the Wolves is to guard-forward Martell Webster who hasn't been able to participate in training camp at all, because of a herniated disc he had to have surgery on in late-September. The Wolves have listed him as "out indefinitely".
INJURIES for MIL: I'm unsure of any injuries for the Milwaukee Bucks. As far as I know, everyone is healthy and ready to play, but because this is just the preseason and injuries are not reported nationwide, I just can't be sure.
KEY PLAYERS for MIN
-Ricky Rubio: This is his first NBA game and not just regionally, but nationwide, people are curious to see what the kid can do. I'm beyond excited to see some of those flashy yet effective passes first-hand.
-Kevin Love: Arguably the Wolves' best player, last year's league-leading rebounder, the Most Improved Player of the Year. He's dropped 20+ pounds and it'll be interesting to see whether that helps or hurts him in the paint. Can we expect a 20-20? Possibly. But I'll just chalk up the double-double right now.
-Michael Beasley: Beas! I'm curious to see how he'll play in Adelman's system. No longer does he have the freedom to chuck up 20-footers, isolate and slack on defense. If that's the case and he does those very key elements in even an 'average' fashion, he'll be fun to watch!
KEY PLAYERS for MIL
-Brandon Jennings: Jennings is the Bucks' best player and he's finally got help in the scoring department with the addition of Jackson. No longer will they rely on Jennings to take 20+ shots a game, just to compete. It'll be fun watching Ricky & him battle.
-Stephen Jackson: Jackson is back with a playoff-hopeful team. With him, Jennings and a healthy Bogut there's no reason they can't be. He'll be a key cog in their offensive gameplan, which he won't mind one bit. The will have to find somebody to guard him, or he'll go off for 20-25 no problem.
-Andrew Bogut: Bogut is one of the NBA's best centers--when healthy. That's of course the biggest concern, is Bogut finally healthy after that nasty spill he took the season before last, when he broke his arm/elbow. Last season he was limited and didn't have a very good year, which was likely the main reason the Bucks were a lotto team last year. If he's healthy they're playoff bound, if not....lotto!
This will be Rubio's first NBA action (Derrick Williams & Malcolm Lee's as well) and he's facing Brandon Jennings. Who of course played in Europe after high school for a year, rather than going to college. Jennings was selected 10th in the 2009 draft and is considered to be a top-10 point guard in this League. Rubio was drafted 5 spots higher (5th overall) and will be a rookie this season--just beginning his NBA career. Jennings is a quick, flashy, scorer, who--like Rubio--has regressed slightly since coming into the League (Ricky has regressed slightly while playing in Europe for two extra years). Both are looking to strong starts and although this is just a preseason game, both will be out to show they're ready to play.
PROJECTED FINAL OUTCOME: Minnesota 98, Milwaukee 87
That's all I've got for now. Gametime is set for 7pmCT at the Target Center. You can find a full gameday recap on this site following the final horn! Thanks for reading and enjoy the game! GO WOLVES!