The Bucks took advantage of a depleted Thunder team back in early November, slugging out an ugly 85-78 home win against an OKC squad missing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, that sort of effort won't come close to being enough against a healthy Durant and Westbrook tonight in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder's returning stars have helped Scott Brooks' club win four of five games since a 3-12 start. The Bucks have of course been heading the other direction, losing four of five while compiling a record of just 1-8 against teams .500 and above.
Westbrook has been particularly spectacular of late, scoring an eye-popping 23.7 ppg and adding 6.5 rpg in just under 28 minutes per game -- good for a tidy PER of 31.2. Meanwhile, Durant hasn't been back to his MVP self quite yet, though his 21.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.0 apg in 29 minutes is pretty fantastic by mere mortal standards.
The other good news for the Thunder? Well, they're just four games out of the eighth seed in the hyper-competitive West, and with 62 games remaining they have plenty of time to claw their way back into the thick of the West playoff race. A chance at home court may seem like mission impossible, but anything is feasible with two of the league's most dynamic superstars doing their thing. Also encouraging: The Thunder still rank among the league's better defensive teams, with opponents shooting a miserable 29.7% from three (3rd) and just 42.3% overall (2nd).
Matchups. Much of the attention heading into the game will understandably center on Durant vs. the similarly-built Giannis Antetokounmpo, and with good reason. Antetokounmpo seemed to relish the two matchups with his idol last year, and Durant will no doubt be looking to remind Giannis that he's still the MVP until further notice.
Serge Ibaka vs. Jabari Parker figures to be another intriguing matchup on paper; Parker struggled against the Thunder in Milwaukee, but has been gaining confidence of late and will need to be at his best to score effectively against Ibaka and the rest of OKC's long lineup.