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Strong Thunder meet the Bucks, masters of the upset

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Westbrook and Durant should be in for big games, if they can hold onto the ball.

Bango wants your soul. Doin' it his way!
Bango wants your soul. Doin' it his way!
W. Bennett Berry

It's been a rough season for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were expected to be a playoff team, especially with the  off-season acquisition of Greg Monroe. And there have been marquee wins this season, like the famous upset of the unbeaten Warriors on December 12th. Another big Bucks win was the the upset of an 8-1 Cavalier team on November 14th. Despite these improbable victories, the Bucks sit at 12-20 on the season, and 13th in the Eastern Conference.

Why are the Bucks so bad?

The number one reason for the Bucks struggles has been their lack of ability to defend the three point line. From Aron Yohannes' recap of the Bucks recent loss to the Raptors (Courtesy Brew Hoop):

The Bucks are now 1-12 when allowing their opponent to hit more than 10 treys.

"Some of it was the ball movement side-to-side, some of it was keeping the ball under control," Prunty said of the Bucks' struggles defending the 3-point line. "There were a few situations where we might've pulled over early, whether we didn't communicate or didn't recognize it and then react on the backside. There were a few things that took place."

The Bucks defensive problems don't stop there. Milwaukee fouls the most out of any team in the league, at 22.8 fouls per game. Milwaukee is also playing the league's fifth slowest pace, meaning that they have less possessions than most teams in which to foul. In other words, it's going to be easy for KD and Westbrook to get to the line tonight.

I'd also like to point out that Milwaukee's defensive rebounding percentage is the lowest in the league. This is mostly evidence of Milwaukee's all or nothing style on defense. The Bucks will commit defenders to any shot initially, sometimes ignoring the offensive rebounder. This is great news for Adams, Ibaka, and Kanter. The Bucks also like to try for perimeter steals as much as they can, often overloading one side of the floor. OKC will have to be careful not to lose the ball on the perimeter, because the Bucks have some of the best transition finishers in the game.

Offensively, the Bucks aren't stellar either. The shot percentages certainly are there, as all of the players on the team are selfless and have specific roles. But the ball movement isn't there. The Bucks have the league's fifth worst turnover percentage. And Milwaukee is lower middle of the pack when it comes to offensive rebounds and getting to the line. So really, all Milwaukee's offense is good at is hunting for good shots.

There are definitely players who can get it done. Currently, 7 players are averaging double figures for the Bucks. But there's no clear focal point to Milwaukee's offense. It really depends on who's going to be advantageous against a particular type of opponent. Middleton, Bayless, and Mayo will be the players to watch against Oklahoma City, as they all average at least 4.5 attempts from three per game. But pretty much every Thunder player will have a formidable assignment that could go haywire.

One last thing: Jason Kidd will be out due to hip surgery. Joe Prunty, Kidd's assistant, has been running things for the past two games as interim head coach. That will continue tonight, as Prunty coaches his third game ever as a head. For the past 13 years, Prunty has been an assistant for 6 different NBA teams.

Anything new with the Thunder?

It's been an exciting couple of weeks. Despite a rough loss to the Bulls on Christmas Day and a loss to the Cavaliers back on December 17th, the Thunder are 10-2 over their past 12 games. Generally speaking, this Oklahoma City team has been very good at closing out teams they should beat. Defensively, OKC guards shots and keeps teams off the free throw line, but also struggles to secure rebounds and generate turnovers. Obviously, the team also generally struggles with Durant and Westbrook off the floor. Accordingly, the duo has seen their minutes staggered a bit lately. But they also obviously benefit from playing next to long-time teammate Serge Ibaka, an effective pick setter and floor spacer.

One exciting development from Sunday's blowout win against the Nuggets was the emergence of Cameron Payne. Fans have been practically begging Donovan to let Payne into the rotation, and it seemed Sunday was the breaking point. In the first half, Payne played in place of Morrow during bench time. In this role, Payne got a couple of assists to Kanter. Then, in the second half, Payne played true point guard in lieu of Augustin. It was here that Payne really thrived, hitting three pointers from Durant and Morrow. Payne's defense wasn't too shabby, either. How Donovan chooses to serve out minutes tonight could be very telling for Payne's future.

How will tonight's game go?

The Bucks actually match up with the Thunder extremely well on paper. Giannis Antetokoumpo is long enough to bother Durant's shot, while Michael Carter-Williams is the type of long point guard to keep Westbrook out of the paint. But a closer look reveals that the Thunder should have no problems. An injured Durant shot 7-11 against Antetokoumpo in a blowout win last year. And in Westbrook's lone matchup with Michael Carter-Williams last year (when MCW was with the Sixers), Westbrook shot 8 of 14 from the field.

If the Thunder want to win tonight, all they've got to do is defend the rim and make sure to take care of the ball on offense. Sure, three point defense could be an issue. But the Bucks probably don't have the firepower to outdo OKC in that area. In terms of effectiveness, the Bucks are much more likely to beat their opponent inside the arc.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, Milwaukee Bucks 92.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 32
(Lost 1)

(Won 1)
December 29th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7 PM Central Standard Time
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Wisconsin
Injury Report: John Henson (Doubtful), Greivis Vasquez, Damien Inglis (Out)
Last Season's Matchups: Nov 11 (L 78-85), Dec 9 (W 114-101)
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Russell Westbrook
Khris Middleton SG Andre Roberson
Giannis Antetokoumpo SF Kevin Durant
Jabari Parker PF Serge Ibaka
Greg Monroe C Steven Adams