Gamethread at 7, join in the massive online dance party/game discussion we're going to have!
Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (41-15) vs. The Milwaukee Bucks (28-28)
Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: The Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma in High Definition, Fox Sports Network Wisconsin also in High Definition
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), WTMJ 620 AM
Enemy Blog(s): BrewHoop, Bucksketball, Behindthebuckpass
Previous Meeting(s): None!
How do you define the post-Bogut Bucks? Personally, I find the combination of Mike Dunleavy and Monta Ellis hilariously ironic. But despite the departure of Bogut, the Bucks remain a defensively sound team. They can and will outscore you (their starting guards are Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, after all). But their faster pace generates more possessions, thus giving the other team opportunities to score. Yeah, they allow a good amount of actual points per game, but when you actually consider the Bucks' points allowed per possession, they rank 11th best in the NBA.
The reason I'm honing in on this team's defense is this: The Thunder will have to outscore the Bucks in order to win tonight. And it's going to be a serious test of our offensive might after four straight games of mediocrity. It is possible to shut down the Bucks offense, as the Grizzlies and Celtics did in March. But both of those teams play at a slower pace than the Thunder do. The Thunder are a team that will run with Milwaukee on the break, make stupid turnovers, and fire up too many threes. Even though that's the Thunder's natural game, the Bucks might be the one team in the NBA that can beat them at it. Here's why:
First of all, the Bucks are the fifth best team in the league when it comes to steals. They're fast, and they'll pressure. Westbrook will be taken advantage of several times after he's double-teamed off of a poor screen or heads into a painted area full of green bodies. Durant will get his pocket picked by the sly Mbah a Moute.
Second of all, their offense is highly effective without having to resort to getting to the free throw line. Jennings and Ellis are the type of guards who like to beat their opponents with quickness rather than strength, Ilyasova is mainly a shooter, and Gooden can work outside of the paint. The Thunder are generally a team that beats their opponents defensively with strength and get killed by agility (see Barea, Jose Juan) or bigs that can shoot (see Nowitzki, Dirk). So this plays right into the Bucks' hands.
Third of all, the Bucks are the best assist team in the NBA. They have excellent ball movement, and their blown plays often come down to execution. The Thunder like to pressure a lot, especially against teams that play at a fast pace or with high turnover rates. Since the Bucks know where their own players are, it's likely that the Thunder's pressure will backfire and result in some easy points for Milwaukee.
With all of that being said, what will it take to win tonight? For one, the Thunder need to go small at some point. Gooden will kill Perkins outside of the paint after a certain amount of time, and I don't see Ibaka as being terribly effective against Ilyasova. It doesn't need to be a constant thing, but it would be a nice tactic change. Secondly, the Thunder will need to take care of the ball. Scoring it on the break is okay, but pulling up for needless threes on the break isn't. Neither is watching Westbrook throw the ball away on a drive because he was so easily pressured. Lastly, the Thunder have to rely on guys like Collison and Perkins for second chance points. The Bucks are good at grabbing the boards, and rely on it in order to obtain more possessions. But in three of their four post-Ellis losses, the Bucks lost the rebounding battle by over 10 boards. Simply put, if you can't rebound against this team, you're screwed.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Milwaukee Bucks 103