The Milwaukee Bucks may have dropped a stinker to the Mavericks on Sunday, 109-105, but they remain fifth in the standings after Atlanta thud their way to a 91-82 defeat at the hands of a Brooklyn Nets team whose bookends to this season remain respectable. Milwaukee heads to Oklahoma City for a matchup with Russell Westbrook’s Thunder on national TV tonight.
Milwaukee’s merry March gave them quite the spoils in the standings. Not only did they reach the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference currently, but both Jason Kidd and Giannis Antetokounmpo are taking home awards for their efforts. Giannis’ award is the first for a Bucks’ player since Michael Redd in 2004, and by extension, the first of Giannis’ career.
Their 3-1 week included two impressive wins late, with Giannis and Thon commandeering a surprising victory over the Pistons that had fans seeing stars in their franchise crystal balls. Add in another close out against the East-leading Celtics, and it stacks up among the Bucks’ very best weeks of the year. Even with Harrison Barnes single-handedly tearing Milwaukee apart with clutch buckets courtesy of karma for his dreadful NBA Finals last year.
Milwaukee last faced Oklahoma City back on January 4th, and Giannis led the Bucks with a 26-point, 10-rebound, five assist game where he went merely 5-10 from the free throw line. With only 19 three-point attempts on the night, Milwaukee did most of its damage inside, ending with 54 points in the paint. They barely edged out the Thunder in that area, who ended with 46. These two teams lead the league in terms of percentage of points in the paint, so it’s no surprise it featured heavily on the stat sheet.
Neither Matthew Dellavedova (injury) or Thon Maker (coach’s decision) played in their previous game. How Maker defends against Steven Adams in his pick and rolls with Westbrook will probably determine how much run he’ll get to start. Maker struggled noticeably with Noel rolls to the rim in the second half of the Mavericks’ game. Whether he can slow Westbrook’s slaloming attack down while still recovering to protect the rim should be an intriguing test for the rookie.
Tony Snell guarded Westbrook incredibly well, even poking the ball loose for a timely steal late. It stacks up among his finest defensive performances of the season, as he goaded Westbrook into taking (and missing) jumpers. Malcolm Brogdon’s absence is a troubling development for a Bucks’ team sorely in need of backcourt help defensively and offensively. Gary Payton II may have hit a three and yammed on Nerlens Noel, but Kidd ought to match any of his and Vaughn’s minutes right in line with Semaj Christon and Alex Abrines.
Brogdon and John Henson are still listed as out for tonight.
The Russell Westbrook show thunders on. His triple-double extravaganza remains fully intact, his latest being a 40-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist game in a losing effort to the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. Of course, he also had one-third of the teams’s 24 turnovers that led to 35 points for Charlotte. Such is the ying and yang of the Westbrook experience, and the fact Milwaukee is just one of three teams that’s held him without a triple-double may give him extra incentive to tornado through the Bucks’ defense. Additionally, he sits just one triple-double shy of tying Oscar Robertson’s single season record of 41.
He’s surrounded by a few new partners this time around too. A trade deadline acquisition with Chicago netted OKC Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. Neither is having banner seasons in Thunder Blue, but they’ve shored up a frontcourt that’s been relying on rookie Domantas Sabonis and Jerami Grant for much of the year.
Oklahoma City shoots the 18th-most threes in the league (25.7), but they’re also the third worst shooting team from deep in the league (32.8%). Much of that is due to Westbrook’s high volume (7.1 attempts/game) but relatively deficient shooting ability at just 33.9%. Despite their ninth-ranked defense (105.2), Westbrook’s carried the team to just the 17th-ranked offense (104.9). Their -0.3 net rating would seem to contradict their 43-33 overall record until you gawk at the team’s stellar clutch performance.
Positive results in clutch games have been a recent development for this Bucks team after a streak of putrid basketball to start the year. Milwaukee’s 7-1 record in their last eight clutch games has helped them recover, but they’re still ranked just 27th in terms of net rating for the year in the clutch. OKC meanwhile is ranked 2nd, with a 23-15 record due to an offense entirely powered by Westbrook’s relentlessness. He has an Atlasian 62.3% usage rate and their team has a 29.0% assist percentage in clutch scenarios.
No injuries for the Thunder tonight.