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Revitalized Thunder take on wild Bucks

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With the Thunder fully healthy, can they get rid of past demons and defeat the long-armed Bucks of the law? The Bucks are better than you think, and could have a serious scoring run from their bench....

KD. Salt n' Pepa. Pushing it. You know, in appropriate contexts.
KD. Salt n' Pepa. Pushing it. You know, in appropriate contexts.
William Bennett Berry

The Milwaukee Bucks have a very negative image among most NBA fans. When a friend of mine asked whether he was going to the Bucks-Thunder game tonight, his response was very frank. "Naw, the Bucks are straight up terrible. I'm not paying to see that team." Sadly, he and the rest of the misinformed will actually miss one of the most entertaining teams to hit the Peake all year.

What's so cool about the Bucks? They're a combination of some young talent and experienced veterans. Basically, up until last season, Milwaukee was run like a classical small market team. The Bucks would never be able to attract a big star, but they couldn't financially afford to tank in the lottery year after year. So they wasted their money trying to win with what they had, signing middling players to egregious deals. Last year, that small market structure collapsed as the Bucks had no real star and a slew of injuries. Some lottery luck and a change of ownership brought a new mindset to the team. This mindset focused on developing young talent, rather than signing quick fixes.

Still, that didn't change the fact that the Bucks still had plenty of veterans on the roster that were signed with winning in mind. The serviceability of players like O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, and Zaza Pachulia have combined with some successful young talent to form a rather exciting team. Of course, the Bucks aren't necessarily good by the NBA's standards. Despite showing an ability to be competitive against the Mavs and Grizzlies, there have still been other nights where Milwaukee's completely lost the plot and gotten spanked by a bad team.

Which Bucks team shows up tonight? We've seen them once before, back on November 11th during the KD and Westbrookless era. It was a really ugly, low scoring game with lots of turnovers and loose balls. Given the sheer amount of length on both of these teams, I'd expect the high turnover rate and helter-skelter nature of the game to return. However, I'd expect this game to be noticeably more high scoring. Durant and Westbrook simply change the speed of the game, and more speed means more opportunities for players like Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokoumpo.

Don't let the two big names on Milwaukee fool you, though. Their half court offense can be rather effective as well. Their main two threats in that area are Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. Knight can nail just about any shot you leave for him inside the arc, and does a decent job of managing the offense as well. Mayo is an extremely skilled one-on-one scorer, and took Jeremy Lamb to town a few times in this season's previous matchup. Mayo really has struggled against the Thunder historically, but OJ was more of an offensive focus for previous teams that he was on.

Milwaukee's center situation is particularly interesting. Larry Sanders is their starter, and was once considered to be one of the league's premier shotblockers. Sanders' numbers have gone down and fouls are a problem, but he's still a defensive presence and doesn't get careless with the ball.  Zaza Pachulia backs him up, and he provides some of the soundest post play in the NBA. Pachulia's sense of where to be on the floor is phenomenal, and he certainly provides a stark contrast to Sanders' defense-first game. The Thunder have a similar dichotomy. Starter Steven Adams and sometimes replacement Serge Ibaka providing a prime defensive presence, while backup Kendrick Perkins is more of an offensive boon because of his slow defensive speed and ability to set screens. As such, I'm expecting the game to open up a bit more offensively as the benches come in.

Speaking of the benches, the Bucks have a few players that can make things happen there as well. Jared Dudley spent a good portion of his career with the Phoenix Suns, and as such is extremely good at shooting threes. He's generally going to work in the fast break and on the weak side, which is where the Thunder can struggle to cover their assignments. Khris Middleton, his companion bench swingman, is very much a player in the same vein. Middleton comes off of screens constantly, and loves to catch and shoot. Even the Bucks backup point guard, Jarryd Bayless, represents a shooting threat. He had some success filling the weak side against the Thunder while playing with the Grizzlies in 2012-2013, and I could definitely see him shooting over a few screens.

In the end though, the Thunder have the talent to put this one away. Jabari Parker will certainly be able to generate some points against Serge Ibaka's help defense focused game, as well as grab some in transition. But he's nothing to focus your offense around yet. Meanwhile, we have KD, and his game has consistently improved since coming back from injury. And don't get me started on what Westbrook is about to do to Brandon Knight. With Giannis' long arms looming in the background, this one's sure to be a blast.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Milwaukee Bucks 98.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 21
@
11-11
(Lost 1)

7-13
(Won 2)
December 8th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Wisconsin
Injury Report: Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Johnny O'Bryant, Damien Inglis
Previous Matchups: Nov 11 (L 78-85)
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Russell Westbrook
O.J. Mayo SG Andre Roberson
Giannis Antetokoumpo SF Kevin Durant
Jabari Parker PF Serge Ibaka
Larry Sanders C Steven Adams