Time: 5:00 PM CST
TV: ESPN & FSOK
The Thunder’s (30-18) four-game winning streak will be put to the test tonight in Oklahoma City, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (35-12) will make their only appearance at Chesapeake Energy Arena this season. Led by their superstar MVP candidate, the Bucks are the number one team in the Eastern Conference and tied with Golden State for the most wins in the NBA. The game will feature two of the league’s top three defenses and another guy getting some MVP buzz — the Thunder’s Paul George.
Tip-off is at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 1-point home underdogs according to Odds Shark.
- Alex Abrines: Active?
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Donte DiVincenzo: Out — Heel
Bucks: Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
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What to Watch For
Defensive Showdown. Both teams have a top three defense in terms of defensive rating — the Bucks at number one (103.6) and OKC in third (104.4). The Thunder lead the league in steals and force far more turnovers. Milwaukee gives up the fewest amount of second-chance points, transition points, opposing points in the paint, and leads the NBA in defensive rebounding. The Thunder will need to force turnovers, get out in transition, and attack of the offensive glass in hopes of creating scoring opportunities that Milwaukee typically limits.
Greek Freak vs PG13. Antetokounmpo enters as a surefire MVP-candidate, posting 26.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 58 percent shooting. He’s a match-up nightmare and there’s no true way to stop him. The Thunder will lean on their dark horse MVP-hopeful in George, who is averaging 26.9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2.3 steals on a 39.4 percent clip from long range.
The Point Guards. Russell Westbrook has slowly been rounding into form as of late, averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 11.3 assists over the four-game winning streak — shooting 44 percent from the floor and taking just 3.8 three-pointers per game. Eric Bledsoe is having an underrated season in Milwaukee (15.8 PPG, 4.4 APG), and possesses the defensive ability make life difficult on the former MVP. If he can keep Westbrook out of the paint and force him into jumpers, that’s a big win for the Bucks.
Escaping Splash Mountain. Brook Lopez isn’t scaring anyone with his per-game average of 12 points and four rebounds. However, the 7-footer is absolutely torching teams from long range — hitting 38.3 percent of his 6.6 attempts per game. He’s made five or more on seven different occasions, and simply can’t be ignored on the perimeter — which means Steven Adams will likely be stretched all over the place throughout this one. It will be interesting to see how the Thunder defense handles this, as they’ll likely need offensive rebounding and second-chance scoring to break through the Milwaukee defense.
Brodgon & Middleton. Malcolm Brogdon is having an excellent season for the Bucks, averaging 15.7 points per game and well on his way to a 50-40-90 shooting season. Khris Middleton is very good and posting 17.3 PPG on 37.5 percent shooting from long range. With Antetokounmpo putting so much pressure on the defense as a whole, the key is not allowing these guys to enjoy open looks from three as a result. Terrance Ferguson will be busy, and though it seems unlikely, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot would probably be more useful than Abdel Nader in this particular match-up.
Hitting the Three. While the Bucks are fantastic defensively, their Achilles heel can be found along the perimeter. Opposing offenses are hitting 36 percent from long range this season, which is tenth-highest in the league. This doesn’t bode particularly well for a Thunder team that comes in 26th in three-point shooting — but things have been turning around as of late. OKC is hitting 39.5 percent from three in 12 January games, tied for fourth-best in the league this month. That starts with George, but Ferguson could again make a sizable impact in a key game if he can get rolling again today.