Thunder (21-13, 8-7 road) vs. Bucks (16-16, 10-7 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.6 (15th), Bucks – 107.2 (8th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.5 (8th), Bucks – 103.9 (9th)
As the Oklahoma City Thunder head into 2017, there are two things this team needs to continue on the track it is currently on: good health and continued improvement. The team you see on the floor now is much improved from the team that first stepped on the floor on October 26th against the Philadelphia 76ers. It took about a month and a half, but Billy Donovan finally has ID’ed some of the moving parts on this team. But as is the case with the NBA, parts are always shuffling in and out of lineups because of injuries and chemistry is sometimes affected by that.
Victor Oladipo came back in the New Year’s Eve game and the team didn’t skip a beat. He was hitting his shots and vibing with Russell Westbrook. Second year point guard Cameron Payne is due back in the next few games and that’s where the chemistry issues could come into play with this team. While current back-up Semaj Christon has done a good enough job handling the second unit, the play of the second unit has changed because of Christon. Instead of Christon managing the ball-handling duties on the second team, Donovan has instead put those duties onto Enes Kanter on the block. In old school fashion, the Thunder reserves play like a team from the late 90’s to early 00’s, getting the ball into Kanter early in the shot clock and allowing to dictate what the defense does. Double down on him and the Thunder usually has a shooter on the same side as him. Play him straight up, and he usually dominates reserve big men on the block. But with Payne coming back, will the ball once again reside mainly in Payne’s hands when he is out there with the reserve unit? It’s a big question that will likely be answered in the following weeks as he comes back from his foot injury.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings between the Thunder and Bucks. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning both games by 8 points.
The Bucks come into the game with a 16-16 record. The season for the Bucks has basically played out like their record. They look good for a couple games and then they look like a team that is trying to figure it out for the next few games. But the pieces they have are starting to gel into something that could be extremely fruitful. Giannis Antekounmpo is starting to become the player many have envisioned when the Bucks drafted him in the 2013 NBA Draft. Antekounmpo is currently averaging 23.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game. His physical attributes allow him to be a presence on both sides of the ball.
His partner in crime, Jabari Parker, is also starting to come into his own after recovering from an ACL tear during his rookie year. The third year forward has improved his outside shot (38.7% from deep) and is starting to become a favorable complement to Antekounmpo, who is still working on his outside shot. Parker is averaging 20.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. Once you get past those two, no one else on the team averages double figures in points. But they do have a balanced attack where seven of their rotation players average between 7.1 and 9.8 points.
Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Match-up Nightmares
Antekounmpo and Parker as the forward tandem for the Bucks poses a problem for most teams, and it’s no different for the Thunder. Andre Roberson is well equipped to guard Antekounmpo, but Domantas Sabonis is probably too slow to guard Parker consistently. It may almost be better to put Oladipo on Parker and let Sabonis guard Tony Snell.2. Turnovers
Russell Westbrook is known for making his pocket passes in the paint. But with the length the Bucks possess, those passes may be a little bit more difficult to make. And with the athletes that are on Bucks, those turnovers will likely turn into points pretty quickly.3. Westbrook
Opposing Westbrook tonight will likely be rookie Malcolm Brogdon. The 2nd round pick for the Bucks has been a pleasant surprise, even picking up his first career triple-double in the last game the Bucks played. But he’s a rookie. And he’s facing Russell Westbrook. That’s usually not a good combination for a good game.