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Bucks vs. Thunder Preview: Milwaukee squares off against the OKC Westbrooks

Milwaukee looks for its first back-to-back wins since mid-December

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After a New Years Eve thrashing of the Chicago Bulls, 116-96, the Milwaukee Bucks finished their four-game road trip at 2-2. They’re back in action tonight against an Oklahoma City squad fresh off a sound beating of the Los Angeles Clippers without their two stars, 114-88.

Bucks Update

It took some time, but the Bucks eventually pulled away from the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, defeating them handily to get some scrub/Thon time at the end. Giannis Antetokounmpo went off for 35 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and seven, that’s right SEVEN blocks. Five of those even came in the first half.

Jabari Parker felt his way through a quiet performance, and wound up with a plentiful 27 points, five boards and three assists on the night. Malcolm Brogdon was the other stalwart as he tallied his first career triple-double. Brogdon is merely the second second-round pick ever to have a triple-double as a rookie. H/T to Jim Paschke for the stat. It even elicited this thought-provoking quote from Giannis about his teammate that’s two years his elder:

Peculiar paternal implications aside, Saturday night was a bounceback game for a team that was whipped up and down against the Timberwolves the game prior. Milwaukee shot only 15 threes against Chicago, their lowest total for the season, but did make nine of those shots. They supplemented by getting into transition repeatedly and dominating the Bulls 38-10 on points in the paint during the second half.

Beyond deciding how they’ll attack Russell Westbrook defensively tonight, perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Bucks is how their rotation will shake out going forward. Delly is still TBD for tonight’s game, but Brogdon’s stellar play against Chicago and general statistical superiority may make it hard for Kidd to keep him out of the starting role. Frank and Eric discussed that very topic on today’s Locked on Bucks:

FWIW, I’m on team Bench Brogdon still. I think his chemistry with Greg Monroe is apparent, and I don’t think starting him on the bench precludes him from playing more minutes than Delly anyway. The team’s rotations were actually quite intriguing against the Bulls on the whole. Michael Beasley didn’t play at all and Greg Monroe played a season-high 34 minutes. The Monroe minutes were warranted with him meshing well on-court while Henson looked like a crane learning to walk. How those minutes shake out tonight will be something to watch, particularly with the Thunder’s dichotomous centers: defensive-focused Steven Adams and defensive turnstile Enes Kanter.

Delly is still TBD for tonight’s game, while Rashad Vaughn is also TBD as he works his way back from an ankle sprain.

Thunder Update

Oklahoma City put the 8” screws to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, albeit in a game without Chris Paul or Blake Griffin. That came right after the Memphis Grizzlies thunderstruck OKC in a 114-80 dominating performance. Russell Westbrook was ejected from that game after a pair of technical fouls, but took any pent-up frustration out on the Clippers with a 17 point, 14 assist, 12 rebound performance for his league-leading 16th triple-double of the season. That was in just 28 minutes. *fans self*

Any discussion of the Thunder begins and ends with their virtuoso point guard and city savior after re-upping with the team in light of his former teammate Kevin Durant’s exit. Westbrook’s raw numbers are outrageous, he’s averaging a triple-double currently with 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.7 assists. His absurd 41.2 usage is tops in the league by nearly four percentage points, and he sports the league’s top assist percentage at 55.8%. The drawback with Westbrook has always been that his shooting doesn’t quite match up with his athletic effectiveness, and that’s much the same this year with a 47% effective field goal percentage. He is shooting a career-best, but still suspect, 33.2 from deep on a career-high 5.2 attempts, but he’s hurt by a 46% two-point percentage on 18 chucks a game.

Long story short, he’s the fulcrum, pulley, lever, and screws of this Oklahoma City offense. This is a cut off the head of the snake situation, except this snake makes the one from the movie Anaconda look like a wimp for not dispatching the film’s entire cast. His dance partners include Steven Adams, who probably hasn’t taken quite the leap some expected after last year’s playoffs. He’s still a bruising brute on defense though who can rim-roll deftly through the paint to catch any of Westbrook’s absurd lobs. Victor Oladipo was also having a career year from three at 38% on good volume, but the Clippers game was his first time back after a nine-game absence.

OKC is middle of the pack on three-point attempts (25.9), but second to last on three-point percentage, owing mainly to the suspect shooting of Westbrook and Andre Robersen, and the uncharacteristically poor shooting year by Anthony Morrow at 29%. They’re an adept rebounding team though, ranking top-ten in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage off the backs of Adams and Kanter. They also rank second in the league in percentage of points in the paint (47.2) right behind the Bucks, so Milwaukee’s big men will have their hands full guarding the boards and defending penetration.

Despite the offensive fireworks, Oklahoma City’s defense has actually been better than their offense, ranked eighth in the league at 103.5, right above the Bucks. The Thunder will hope that Andre Roberson can bottle up one of Giannis or Jabari and the rest of their defense can contain the Bucks other star tonight.

For its part, Milwaukee’s has difficulty containing guards adept at penetrating without a pick and roll, and Westbrook is a deadly passer out to the perimeter. The Bucks rotations will have to remain stout to prevent easy shots from outside like they gave up in the Minnesota game.

No injury news for the Thunder tonight.