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2013-2014 Game 37 Preview: Thunder See Apocalyptic Bucks

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With the Thunder in an absolute freefall, do the Bucks present a real chance to recover?

Help us Russell Westbrook, you're our only hope!
Help us Russell Westbrook, you're our only hope!
William Bennett Berry
2013-2014 NBA Season
Lost 4

Lost 2
January 11th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Wisconsin
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WTMJ 620 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), John Henson (Questionable), Zaza Pachulia (Doubtful), Carlos Delfino (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 16th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Brandon Knight
Thabo Sefolosha SG Luke Ridnour
Kevin Durant SF Ersan Ilyasova
Serge Ibaka PF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kendrick Perkins C Larry Sanders
2013/14 Advanced Stats
93.9 (25th) Pace 98.9 (5th)
95.6 (30th) ORtg 106.4 (6th)
104.5 (20th) DRtg 98.3 (3rd)

Two straight losses by more than 10 points to two teams that aren't in the playoffs.

That's the state of Thunder basketball right now. It's not like the Thunder are facing the type of problem that's easily explainable. You could point to Westbrook's injury as a reason for both losses, and that might be true, but it still doesn't explain how poorly everyone not named Kevin Durant has performed over the past two games.

The best explanation I can come up with is that this team has hit their mid-season wall. Every year, the team hits a streak of games (usually around the All-Star break) where they just don't seem to perform as well, and drop a few winnable ones.

Still, it's hard to chalk up the Thunder's recent failures exclusively to that, because the Thunder have had an easy schedule thus far, and very rarely drop two straight games in such a drastic fashion. I wouldn't go so far as to call the loss in performance an anomoly, but I would refrain from sounding the alarm. The team, as it's currently constructed, still has the capability of competing with any team in the league. The problem, right now, is figuring out how that team can be competitive on every single night without succumbing to one of their weaknesses.

What are those weaknesses? If you have to narrow it down to two main points, I'd argue that the Thunder have struggled because their defense does a poor job of covering shooters, and their offense is hampered by a lack of shot creators. There are other issues (small and big) in the fold, but generally, if the Thunder can successfully cover up at least one of these faults, they'll be competitive. If they can cover up both, they'll dominate. And if they cover up neither, then they suffer more nights like Tuesday and Thursday.

Of course, all of that will more than likely be irrelevant tonight. For no matter how hard the Thunder play, it would take a Herculean effort for them to fall victim to the lowly Bucks. If that doesn't describe the situation well enough, here's 4 oints:

  • Milwaukee has beaten no team remotely close to .500 this season.
  • They just got finished getting destroyed by the Dengless Bulls, the Jazz, and the extremely exhausted Warriors.
  • They have 7 players averaging 9 PPG or more. Only two of them are shooting over 40%, and one of them (John Henson) is injured tonight.
  • If one issue doesn't affect them, it's another. For example, they shot 54% against Phoenix, but lost the turnover battle 25 to 11. Conversely, they kept the turnover battle close and won the battle of the boards against the Bulls, but shot a ghastly 31.8%.

Simply put, the Bucks aren't a terrible team consisting of players that shouldn't be in the NBA. But they're a team without a Top 100 player, a team that sports a lot of raw players, and, most importantly, a team with no identity. They're at the mercy of the play style of their opponent, and just kinda hope to beat you at your own game.

That being said, the Bucks were semi-successful at slowing down the Thunder during the last time these two teams met. They did a good job of keeping the Thunder away from the rim, and the Thunder didn't do a very good job of moving the ball for open shots. It is worth noting that the Thunder were without noted transition afficianado Thabo Sefolosha, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms that night. In his place was Andre Roberson, who wasn't much more than a extra body on offense, and could have contributed to the slowdown.

Speaking of Roberson, he was assigned to the 66ers last night, playing in a home game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He had an acceptable performance, but it will be more interesting to see if he re-joins the team today. If he does not, it would leave the Thunder with only 11 active players and Hasheem Thabeet as their lone non-rotation player. It shouldn't be a problem against the Bucks, but you've got to believe that some sort of roster move is on the horizon....

In any case, even if this is the end to the Thunder as we know it, we still should be able to have fun against the Bucks tonight. There's no way they can blow out the Thunder, and there's definitely going to be a certain charm in watching Giannis Antetokounmpo's freakishly huge hands go up against Serge Ibaka's raw athleticism. Most importantly, a win tonight would give the Thunder a winning record against the Bucks for the first time in the rivalry's entire existence. Considering how bad the Bucks have been over the past few years, it's about time.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Milwaukee Bucks 72.

What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!