Russell Westbrook, the indefatigable expression of raw hardwood emotion, looks to tie Oscar Robertson's durable triple-double mark tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks meet during an east/west season-finale from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Throughout a ledger marked by unparalleled exertion, Westbrook braces along the precipice of history. Though, with his team-centric devotion, and unabashed spotlight aversion, one would think tonight’s contest just another late-season encounter.
Case in point: The 6’3 guard remains steadfast concerning notable December candor which makes level his run of celebrated, speculated, and critiqued work.
"People think if I don't get it, (triple-double) it's like a big thing. When I do get it, it's a thing. If y'all just let me play -- if I get it, I get it. If I don't, I don't care. It is what it is. I really don't care. For the hundredth time. I don't care. All I care about is winning, honestly. All the numbers don't mean nothing to me."
However, numbers that do matter to Westbrook are 43 and seven —games Oklahoma City has won this season, and post-season berths clinched by Westbrook since his rookie year.
Eminent averages of 31.9 ppg (league-best), 10.6 rpg, and 10.4 apg are but a mere necessity along the prominent-guard’s route to sustained competitive offerings.
Tonight, in that vein, Westbrook and his Thunder aim to overturn an early-Jan fall to the streaking Milwaukee Bucks.
Led by reigning NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month, Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.4 apg), Milwaukee is firmly in control of its playoff-destiny after winning seven of ten contests.
For his part, Antetokounmpo has hounded foes with a versatility as massive as his encompassing wingspan — and ceaseless pursuit of perfection.
"I think that I have to work on everything -- my dribbling, how to shoot, how to pass the ball, how to learn the plays, everything. Even my body, because my goal is to become the best."
Undoubtedly, Giannis is among the brightest of basketball’s young stars, and may be the heir-apparent to the league’s throne.
A throne many claim is currently held by Russell Westbrook.
In addition to records, post-season implications, and revenge, tonight’s clash represents a battle between the game’s present, and not-too-distant future.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (43-33 #6 west) vs. MILWAUKEE BUCKS (40-37 #5 east)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- TV: ESPN, FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Value The Basketball: Another 24-turnover outing is a patent recipe for disaster. Although, more-so against a long and athletic Bucks iteration that ranks eighth in steals per contest (8.2).
- Play Physical Underneath: Even if Westbrook and co. can properly set Adams, Gibson, and Sabonis up inside, that trio must still contend with a Bucks-unit averaging 5.3 bpg (6th NBA). Therefore, a sound strategy would be to attack the chest of Milwaukee’s shot blockers while utilizing the rim for protection.
- Rough Giannis Up/Force Him To The Perimeter: He is still light in the bread basket, and shooting just 28% from distance.
- Strive For Balance: A hallmark of the Thunder’s previous five games has been OKC’s total reliance on Westbrook spurts, as bench contributions have been minimal. Tonight, the Thunder supporting cast —especially reserves— must commit to 48-minutes of sustained production.
- Crash The Glass: OKC (46.3 rpg, #1 NBA) should exploit its +3.9 rpg advantage against a Bucks-unit which ranks 29th league-wide in rebounding. Further, runouts against the league’s 19th ranked defense would likely prove beneficial.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Past 5 Games
- Record: 2-3
- OffRtg: #25, 100.4
- DefRtg: #13, 105.7
- NetRtg: #23, -5.3
Of late, Oklahoma City’s decline in two-way execution is marked. If not for Westbrook’s historic outbursts vs. Dallas and Orlando, instead of a two-game slide, Coach Billy Donovan’s club could easily be sitting on a five-game losing streak.
Nonetheless, amid the flotsam, Westbrook boasts six-consecutive triple doubles. Just one more will link the six-time All Star’s 16-17’ total with HOF-enshrined Oscar Robertson for most triple-doubles in a single season.
It is interesting to note that Westbrook —30 pts, 7 reb, 6 ast, 9-28 FG, 2-of-10 3PM, 5 TO— did not triple-double in OKC’s Jan 4 loss to Milwaukee.
OKC, and Westbrook, must circle the wagons tonight vs. a tricky foe.
Past 5 Games
- Record: 3-2
- OffRtg: #10, 110.6
- DefRtg: #22, 110.6
- NetRtg: #13, 0.0
The Bucks dropped their last outing 109-105 to a desperate Dallas Mavericks team clinging to its final vestiges of playoff hope. Still, vs. Dallas, Giannis Antetokounmpo (31 pts, 15 reb, 9 ast, 4 stl, 2 blk) shined, while narrowly missing his third triple-double of the season.
And overall, Milwaukee’s ascendance down the stretch is commendable. As five games remain, Coach Jason Kidd’s upstart collective rests on the cusp of clinching playoff-status following a 33-win 15-16’ campaign.
That stated, this Bucks unit is still susceptible defensively. OKC should push the pace, in controlled fashion, to avoid an 0-2 seasonal sweep to “The Deer.”
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Milwauke Bucks list John Henson (Thumb) and Malcom Brogdon (Back) as out vs. Oklahoma City.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Matthew Dellavedova
- Shooting Guard: Tony Snell
- Small Forward: Khris Middleton
- Power Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Center: Thon Maker
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -4.5
Despite recent issues, Oklahoma City (27-12 home) is a moderate favorite vs. injury-hit Milwaukee (18-19 road).
Tonight’s key matchup pits Andre Roberson vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo. While Roberson boasts respectable wing dimensions, he is absolutely dwarfed by Antetokounmpo’s freakish length.
However, if Roberson can contest Giannis’ penetration, and force the burgeoning 22-year-old into poor perimeter attempts, OKC’s winning odds increase substantially.