Tip-Off: 7 PM CDT
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
F Giannis Antetkounmpo has bloomed into an absolute phenom in only his fourth NBA season. “The Greek Freak” is leading the Milwaukee Bucks in every major statistical category: 23.2 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game, 5.4 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game, and 1.9 blocks per game. When the Thunder played the Bucks in Milwaukee on January 2nd, Giannis racked up 26 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and only one turnover in a 98-94 win. Oklahoma City has to prioritize defending Antetkounmpo because slowing him down will force the Bucks to change their entire style of play.
Keys to the Game
- Prioritize the Paint: Both the Thunder and the Bucks are dominant teams when it comes to interior offense. Oklahoma City leads the league with 49.9 points in the paint per game, while Milwaukee is third with 49.1 points in the paint. In the only meeting between the two teams a few months ago, the Bucks outscored the Thunder 54-46 in points in the paint. Oklahoma City managed to outrebound Milwaukee 40-39, which is not surprising, because the Thunder also leads the league in rebounds with 46.3 per game. The Bucks, on the other hand, are 29th in the league with 40.4 rebounds per game. Oklahoma City needs to expose and exploit the Bucks down low in order to get a leg up in this home game in which the Thunder desperately need a win.
- Run in Transition: Just like with interior offense, both Oklahoma City and Milwaukee are excellent teams in transition. The Thunder has a slight edge, ranking 3rd in the league with 17.0 fast break points per game while allowing opponents to score only 11.1 fast break points per game, which is 5th. The Bucks score 14.1 points in transition (8th in the NBA), and they allow 11.6 fast break points per game, which is 6th. In the lone matchup so far this season, the Thunder edged the bucks 14-10 in transition, something they need to look to continue tonight.
- Help from the Bench: Oklahoma City is 2-3 in their last 5 games, but they could just as easily and realistically be 0-5. As a team, the Thunder has not played well. The only reason they managed to pull out 2 wins is because Russell Westbrook went full-on beast mode and carried them back from double-digit deficits. Milwaukee is on a hot streak having won 14 of their last 18 games, so Oklahoma City cannot afford to mess around and trail early. In order for the Thunder to win tonight, the second unit is going to have to come in with some energy and do whatever they can to take care of the ball and find a way to get points on the board. If Enes Kanter and the bench can put together a decent offensive outing, then Russell Westbrook and the starters should be able to put this game away by the end of the night.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.