Friday night brings a meeting between the West and East’s fifth ranked team. The Milwaukee Bucks and Oklahoma City Thunder finish their two game season series tonight but unlike the Bucks, OKC are suddenly in red hot form. Winners in 12 of their last 14 games, the Thunder seem to have worked out how they can best utilise the multiple new pieces they acquired in the off season.
During the hot streak the Thunder have beaten the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors, proving that they may well be a team soaring into contention in the Western Conference.
Milwaukee on the other hand continues to struggle despite completing a scintillating fourth quarter comeback to beat Minnesota last night. The Bucks were uninspired, lazy and appeared disinterested as they fell behind 54-74 with 7:13 remaining in the third quarter. From that moment on, Milwaukee went on a 48-22 run, outscoring the Wolves by 15 in the last quarter to snatch an unlikely victory.
A curious and to be frank ridiculous takeaway from the game was Jason Kidd’s bazaar move to leave 6th man Malcolm Brogdon on the bench until the 3:19 minute mark of the second quarter. Averaging 13.1 points per game off the bench, Brogdon has been the one reliable source of offense on a team that struggles with the starters off the floor. Not surprisingly once on the floor, he was excellent, finishing with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a +20. When questioned after the game about the peculiar move, Kidd simply said he saw Sterling Brown first so brought him in. Insane.
In the first meeting between these two teams earlier in the season it was the Thunder who blew the disappointing Bucks off the court, winning 110-91. The Thunder shot 44% from deep and completely destroyed the Bucks on the glass. Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony all registered 8+ boards as the Thunder won the overall tally 46-31.
Milwaukee on the other hand couldn’t make a shot to save themselves, finishing 41% from the field overall and only having one player, predictably Giannis Antetokounmpo finishing in double digits with 28 points.
As with most teams playing the Bucks for the first time in awhile, Milwaukee had not yet acquired Eric Bledsoe who had arguably his best game as a Buck last night finishing with 26 points, 6 assists and 5 steals. Crucially for Milwaukee, Bledsoe stepped up in crunch time, knocking down the go ahead three pointer with 2:25 left in the game to give Milwaukee their first lead of the night.
In a blow for the Thunder, perennial All-Star Paul George has been ruled out of this one with a sore left knee. The Thunder have taken the cautious approach on this one but will undoubtedly miss their star wing, who is averaging 20.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists on the season.
Given how poorly the Bucks played last time against the Thunder they will be hoping to carry last nights momentum from the fourth quarter into this one. The reigning MVP Westbrook and a raucous OKC crowd will have other ideas.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Contain The Kiwi: An unsung star in a Thunder team loaded with superstar names is the man in the middle from New Zealand, Steven Adams. Averaging 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, Adams is a force down low and even more impressive is the efficiency in which he scores. With a field goal percentage of 64 percent, Adams gets in good spots and makes you pay. Grabbing 11 boards last time these two teams met, he was a force in the paint and the then starting Thon Maker and reserve John Henson were no match for the physical nature of Adams. Watch Westbrook, and fear Melo on offense, but don’t lose sight of Adams. He’ll make you pay.
- Bledsoe v Westbrook: As mentioned above, Bledsoe wasn’t around last time these two teams met and he quite possibly could have the biggest job of the night. It’s to the surprise of no one that OKC’s surge up the standings has coincided with Westbrook going on a tear. Averaging 30 points, 10 assists and 8.4 rebounds over his last five games, Russ has started piling up box score stats on a similar level to last season. With Bledsoe beating up on a much weaker point guard combination last night, the Bucks will need him to step up and contain the reigning MVP.
- Common Sense Rotations: Playing your best players seems too simple to write about but yet it is so relevant with Kidd and the Bucks. The Milwaukee rotation has been laughable for the last two years with any player being thrust into a key role on any given night for no reason in particular. With Sterling Brown coming off the bench first last night and key 6th man Brogdon sitting until nearly half time only to then play the entire rest of the game, the memo needs to get to Kidd. Stop being cute or just flat our ignorant. Play your best players and you’ll give yourself a chance.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus