MILWAUKEE — To say this has been quite a week for the Minnesota Timberwolves would be an understatement. The Jimmy Butler saga has taken what has often been a young, quiet team and aired much of its dirty laundry for the entire nation to smell.
And that was even before Friday night, when the Wolves lost 143-121 in their preseason finale in Milwaukee, a shellacking that brought about an even worse stench heading into the regular season.
The Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s triple-double in just 25 minutes of work, canned 25 3-pointers on the night and logged 84 points by halftime. With the poor defensive outing, Minnesota concluded its preseason by finishing last in defensive efficiency, surrendering 112.8 points per 100 possessions, 3.5 points worse than the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We don’t got no more time to be here saying, ‘Aw, it’s OK; it’s preseason.’ This momentum we’re riding right now, this wave we’re riding, it’s not good. It’s not good at all,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished 2-of-9 shooting for eight points.
Towns said the nature of the loss bothered him most.
“I really don’t damn know,” he said when asked why the club has failed to put together solid 48-minute stretches this preseason. “But if you find out, let me know. You can get beat. Everybody in this league — I don’t care if you’re the Golden State Warriors my rookie year, the 95-96 Bulls — you’re gonna lose some games. But you can’t get embarrassed. That’s just unacceptable.”
While coach Tom Thibodeau has downplayed the absence of Butler, who stayed behind for conditioning work in Minneapolis for the trip, the team (1-4 in preseason) has floundered in his absence this month. Certain players looked out of sync on offense Friday in particular, with Towns in early foul trouble and Andrew Wiggins away from the team while expecting his first child. Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose were perhaps too aggressive, finishing a combined 9-of-30 and logging a combined minus-52 in the game.
Thibodeau and players alike harped on the need for consistent effort, regardless of the cloud that’s hovering over the team, as it figures out the Butler situation.
“Jimmy doesn’t have anything to do with how hard we play out there. He’s going to make up his mind soon, or they will make up their mind soon,” Rose said. “It’s our job to go out there and make sure that pressure and intensity is there throughout the entire game.”
That intensity lacked at times, as Antetokounmpo maneuvered his way into the lane and to the basket seemingly at will. The all-star forward repeatedly hit corner shooters — a key tenet of Mike Budenholzer’s offense — for open shots when Minnesota failed to slow him down.
“I’ve got nothing but love for [Antetokounmpo] and his talent, but we let him carve us up too much,” Towns said.
And while the Timberwolves have plenty on their plate, from figuring out how to deal with Butler’s trade request to fixing the gaping holes in their defense, they don’t have much time to come together to get on the same page.