Updated, 12/29/2017, 3:59 p.m. cst.
The Oklahoma City Thunder go after the season series sweep and extending their longest winning streak of the season to 7 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks at Chesapeake Energy Arena, tonight at 7 p.m. cst.
On the 31st of October, the Thunder gave a glimpse of things to come when they pasted the Milwaukee Bucks 110 to 91 on the road. That game means little tonight as both teams have evolved since Halloween.
For the Bucks, the loss to the Thunder kicked off a 4 game losing streak that soured a promising 4 and 2 start. Eight days after the Thunder left town the Bucks traded Greg Monroe, a future first-round pick, and a future second-round pick for disgruntled Phoenix Suns’ PG Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks traded size for a PG that could run with Antetokounmpo and have become one of the most dangerous transition teams in the league. At 17.8%, Milwaukee trails only the Lakers (20%) and the Golden State Warriors (19.4%) in transition frequency. An amazing number considering they are one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA.
Coupled with the 5th best (14.6%) Opponent Turnover Percentage in the league, it is imperative for the Thunder to protect the ball and limit the Bucks ability to run.
Ironically for the Thunder, their win over Milwaukee touched off a 4 game losing streak and a month-long 4 and 9 identity crisis. Honestly, the identity crisis didn’t end when the calendar changed, but the Thunder found ways to turn ugly losses into ugly wins during the early weeks of December before coming to a season-changing crossroads following an embarrassing loss against Carmelo Anthony’s former team, the New York Knicks on Dec. 16th.
Carmelo Anthony spoke of players finding their roles in the post game interview but in retrospect, the 14-year vet was referring to himself. To his credit, it only took the 10-time All-Star a week to decide and accept the role he needed to fill in order for the team to move forward and anyone that has watched Melo throughout his career should recognize the moment that reconciliation occurred:
Anthony had Utah’s rookie guard Donovan Mitchell isolated in the post. With just over 6 minutes remaining the Thunder held a ten point lead but the game was far from over. In 14 years I have never seen Carmelo Anthony turn down that opportunity - but he did. After draining the 3 and pushing the Thunder’s lead to 13, Russell Westbrook, normally demonstrative in those moments, felt the power of the moment and stood stunned for a second before slowly turning and walking to the Thunder bench.
After the Thunder’s huge win over the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors, Melo shared his thoughts on his plans for the season moving forward:
When a player of Carmelo Anthony’s stature comes to town it is right and just for the younger players, even a reigning MVP, to allow him to find his niche. The Thunder have their defense on lock, now that Melo has settled into his role it’s time for the offense to catch up and if the game against the Raptors is any indication, it should happen quickly.
Since reconciling his role, Melo has lit up the nets hitting 16 of his last 27 shots (59.2%) including this sweet turn around over James Harden:
Note Melo’s son Kiyan cheering his Dad on in the lower right corner. Yeh Kiyan, we are proud of your Dad too.
That said, after winning 6 in a row, the Thunder can’t let up. There is still a lot of work to do and the Buck’s 6’11” “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player listed as a PG, SG, SF, PF combo monstrosity by basketballreference, is both willing and able to exploit any weakness the Thunder show.
Paul George (knee) will not play Friday against Milwaukee due to a sore left knee, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman reports.
This is the first we've heard of the injury, but the Thunder could just be exercising caution as they're in the midst of a three-games-in-five-nights stretch. With George out of the lineup, Alex Abrines could move into the starting five -- he started both games earlier this season when George was out -- with Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant, and Andre Roberson potentially in line for increased minutes, as well.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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