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Third quarter egg leads to Timberwolves loss to Bucks under national spotlight

Fresh out of the all-star game in which their top two stars played — one scoring 50 points — and their staff coached the Western Conference side, the Timberwolves had a chance to strut their stuff in front of the nation Friday at Target Center.

Their bout with Milwaukee was nationally televised. Throughout the day, in the leadup to the game, ESPN went “all access” with Minnesota, featuring a number of Timberwolves-centric interviews and segments to highlight the top team in the Western Conference.

Three days without NBA action this week led to a number of national pundits spouting off their list of conference and title contenders as the Association transitioned into the final third of the regular season. Minnesota was repeatedly dismissed by many.

No matter, Friday would provide an easy opportunity to remind every just how dominant the Wolves have been this season, particularly at Target Center.

Instead, Minnesota laid one giant egg in the third quarter en route to a 112-107 home defeat.

Milwaukee (36-21) blitzed the Timberwolves in the frame that has proven so kind to Minnesota this season, outscoring the Wolves 36-13 in the quarter. Minnesota had more turnovers (7) than made shots (5) in the frame where the Wolves shot 5 for 19 from the field.

“Our offense collapsed in the third quarter — thirteen points,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We missed some good shots, but we didn’t have a lot of movement. A lot of ball movement. Body movement was super static. That led to turnovers, really. Those turnovers led to runouts and threes and that kind of stuff.

Minnesota rallied to make it interesting in the fourth, cutting the Bucks’ lead to six with five minutes to play thanks to a pair of Karl-Anthony Towns triples. An Anthony Edwards triple with 31 seconds to play to trim the deficit to three.

But Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo made enough plays down the stretch — whether it be difficult shots or clutch offensive rebounds — to seal the deal. Lillard finished with 21 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, while Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 13 rebounds.

Lillard’s final highly-contested jumper with nine seconds to play put the Bucks up five to put the game away for good.

Meanwhile, ahead of those late-game threes, Towns and Edwards largely struggled on the offensive end against a previously struggling Milwaukee defense. Edwards chalked up some of that to potential rust coming out of the all-star break.

“We took a break. You know how it goes after the break?” Edwards asked. “I know I was out of shape tonight, for sure.”

The loss ended Minnesota’s four-game winning streak and tightened up the picture atop the West standings. Minnesota (39-17) is now in a dead heat with Oklahoma City for the No. 1 seed, with the Nuggets and Clippers each a game and a half back.

The Timberwolves figure to remain in the limelight — as they were Friday — in the coming two months as the race for that top seed heats up. How that handle that could go a long way toward determining where the team ends up at season’s end.

“I think right now, we’re trying to just take it in stride. For a lot of guys, it’s new having this type of attention and expectations,” Wolves guard Mike Conley said. “For a lot of guys who haven’t done it before, it’s just about being consistent and disciplined right now. And I think we have a group of guys that can do that. We’re going to win some, we’re going to lose some, but we’re going to be as consistent as we can be to be the best team we can be when it comes playoff time.”