MILWAUKEE – When the Timberwolves played their final preseason game in Milwaukee a year ago, Jimmy Butler had made his now infamous grand entrance to the season two days prior, showing up at his first practice, taking on the starters with the third string, cursing out anybody within earshot and going on ESPN to tell all about it.
That cast a pall over anything the Wolves tried to accomplish early in the season, including in that game in Milwaukee, where the Bucks ran them off the floor in a 22-point victory. That week was a harbinger of things to come for the Wolves — chaos off the court, more losses than wins on it.
This is supposed to be a fresh start for the Wolves, with a new coaching staff and new front office and less discord. So where does the team stand headed into Wednesday’s opener at Brooklyn?
For their sake, the Wolves are hoping Thursday’s 118-96 loss — another 22-point defeat — isn’t foreboding of what’s to come.
The Wolves are a work in progress, and five preseason contests aren’t likely to get them running on all cylinders with the new offense and defensive schemes Ryan Saunders and his staff are installing.
“I’m glad we got a number of days of practice right here. I’m glad we played Milwaukee in our last preseason game,” Saunders said. “Because they’re a great measuring stick for us. They’re a very good basketball team. So some of your concepts and the way you do things will be tested.”
The Wolves didn’t earn high marks on Thursday’s exam. They shot 15-for-48 from both three-point range and inside the arc.
Those who were hoping for an immediate renaissance to Andrew Wiggins’ game might not want to look at Thursday’s tape. Wiggins missed his first seven shots and was only 1-for-10 in the first half. Only two of those attempts were from three-point range, where the Wolves are centering their offense. Wiggins finished the night with 4-for-18 shooting and 10 points. Saunders made a concerted effort to keep Wiggins engaged, helping design a roll to the basket for a layup on the first possession of the second half, trying to keep Wiggins in the game.
“He got a layup early. He was able to get a couple long-range shots to go. So it’s just like that,” Saunders said. “It’s trying to find that growth and handle not being overcome by what the events were leading up to the current moment.”
Karl-Anthony Towns — who had a less efficient night against Milwaukee’s army of big men than his 33-point performances against the Pacers on Tuesday — shot only 3-for-9, but he was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line for 16 points. Towns wasn’t all that upset after the game, professing that the Wolves are still on the right track despite the result.
“We continue to get better and trust our style of play,” Towns said. “Continue to trust our system and every single night we go out there and play as hard as we can, execute it as best as possible. I see us winning a lot more games than losing.”