(Sorry for the late post. I work in retail and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving. I had a busy morning. Also, be sure to stop by the Daily Dime Live tonight on ESPN.com to chat with me during the Bucks-Thunder game.)
Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 8-5
(Likely) Inactives: Andrew Bogut, Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Oklahoma City Thunder (Scott Brooks) 8-7
(Likely) Inactives: Shaun Livingston, Kyle Weaver and Kevin Ollie
Game time: 8:30 (CST)
TV: ESPN (No big deal)
Brandon Jennings vs. Russell Westbrook
Two of the bright young point guards in the game today square off in this one. Westbrook had a strong rookie season last year and has picked up where he left off this year. He’s improved his field goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists. His most significant weakness is his penchant for turning the ball over. It probably has a lot to do with his incredible athleticism. He was in the dunk contest last year and has had to make the transition to point guard from off-guard in college with relative ease. When someone is as athletic as Westbrook they can find a way to have success wherever they are on the court if they put in the work. He should be a real handful on both ends for Jennings, who’s had his share of struggles in his last two games. As Jennings goes, so go the Bucks, so if Westbrook is able to corral him, expect another long night for the Bucks.
Charlie Bell vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Sefolosha is a spell-check problem and gritty defender. He’s one of a growing crop of hard defending, annoying European players. The mold that says Euro’s are soft, three-point shooting only has been broken thanks to guys like Sefolosha. I’d actually expect him to get some time on Jennings and then see a lot of Michael Redd when he comes in too. Bell’s role has been reduced a tad since Redd has returned and with the strong play of Luke Ridnour, but the Bucks still need him to hit shots when he’s given the opportunity.
Carlos Delfino vs. Kevin Durant
Sigh. What to do about Durant? No LRMAM means he could give the Bucks fits all evening. Delfino is the best answer for the silky smooth scorer Durant, but he’s going to give anyone the Bucks throw at him trouble. When the Bucks played the Nuggets they more or less let Carmelo Anthony get shots, they just tried to give him trouble and frustrate him as much as they could. They’ll likely try to bother Durant as much as possible, but I’d expect him to make a lot of trips to the line and tally up a lot of points. He doesn’t seem to get as frustrated as ‘Melo is prone to do, so he may have an even bigger day than Anthony did. Durant has scored 25 or more points in 10 of the 12 games — including five games of more than 30 points — largely the result of his new found ability to attack the rim. And if the Bucks choose to play Redd at the three with Ridnour and Jennings or Bell and Jennings, the defense really takes a hit. It could be a field day for Durant then.
Ersan Ilyasova vs. Jeff Green
Green is a three/four, though not with the same range Ilyasova has. He has better ball skills, is a better passer and as good a defender, but lacks bulk. His well rounded game shows up in his averages: only nine NBA players averaged at least 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal last season, Green was one of them. The Bucks rely on Ilyasova mainly as a perimeter threat rather than a post up player, so they may not be able to take full advantage of Green’s smaller stature. Not that Ilyasova won’t go to the rim, he’s been pump-faking and driving quite a bit this year. Either way, Ilyasova should be able to get back to rebounding against a smaller Green. He had trouble trying to get in the paint for boards against New Orleans and San Antonio’s much larger front courts. The Bucks need Ilyasova to grab double digit rebounds if they want to compete in this one. They simply can’t give away boards and free throws and expect to win many games.
Dan Gadzuric vs. Nenad Kristic
Kristic is a crafty scorer and can hit the jumper out to 15 feet. That means he can pull Gadzuric away from the basket and drive on him, which could result in some quick fouls on Gadz. Gadz has been struggling as a starter, his minutes haven’t been very consistent all year and he seems to be losing ground to Kurt Thomas with every passing game. Gadz has started the past three games for the injured Andrew Bogut, but even in those three starts, he’s averaged less than 15 minutes a game. Neither team has a center that will impact the game a great deal, but at the very least, Kristic can get 15-10 on a very good night. He’s a warmer body than is Dan Gadzuric.
Ridnour, Redd, Thomas and Hakim Warrick
Nick Collison, James Harden, Etan Thomas and Serge Ibaka
This is the Bucks biggest (and practically only) edge. The Thunder don’t go very deep and haven’t gotten much scoring out of James Harden, 3rd overall pick in the draft, but he’s been playing smart and within himself. Thomas is often a thorn in the Bucks side and can block a lot of shots and score a little bit. An advanced Gadzuric. Collison may not play due to a hamstring injury and Ibaka is a very very raw center in the shot blocking, athletic mold. They don’t get a lot of scoring, so if the Bucks starters struggle early, it could be up to the bench to bring them back in this one.
Prediction: Thunder 105 – Bucks 97
It’s not easy to win on the road, but I think Bucks fans at least want to see a crisply played game from the Bucks after a few rough games in a row. The integration of Redd back into the lineup has not gone well, so if he can get it going tonight that would put a lot of minds at ease. If he’s able to get going, this score could end up a lot different, but there has barely been glimpses of positive contributions from Redd at this point.
This isn’t a must win for the Bucks, but it’d be nice to play well against a good team. The doubters are beginning to return in full force and they do have some reason:
The Bucks have played only three games against .500+ teams this season, fewest in the NBA. (Via ESPN Stats and Information)
Easiest Schedules Played
Opp. Win Pct.
If the Bucks can sneak out a win against a team over .500, on the road, on national TV and even this road trip up at 2-2, it will be a huge leap in the right direction. But it may be a bit much to hope for at this stage in the Bucks development.