Giannis Antetokounmpo’s early season rampage continued in Atlanta on Sunday when the Bucks (4-2) cruised to a 117-106 win over the Hawks. Milwaukee’s star forward had 33 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee had their best offensive efforts of the season in points, shooting percentage (54.1), 3-pointers (13) and assists (30).
Antetokounmpo leads the NBA in scoring at 34.7 points per game, is sixth in shooting percentage (63.1) and 12th in rebounds (10.7). He also leads Milwaukee in assists (5.0) and steals (2.0). The fifth-year forward also has four double-doubles, yet the Bucks have only come away with a split of their first four home games.
Oklahoma City (3-3) are trying to wrap up a three-game road trip with two wins after stifling the Chicago Bulls 101-69 on Saturday night. Russell Westbrook needed only 28 minutes to post a triple-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists while Carmelo Anthony and Paul George combined for 41 points and nine 3-pointers.
The Thunder have tightened things defensively in the last three games, holding opponents to 37.2 percent shooting and 94.7 points per game after letting teams shoot 46.7 percent in their first three outings.
Three keys to the game
Milwaukee's improved 3-point shooting - The Bucks have made 24 of 51 (47.1 percent) of their shots from 3-point range the last two games after connecting on just 34 of 100 in the first four. That allows Milwaukee to spread the floor, which gives Antetokounmpo the space to take his man one-on-one into the lane from the top of the key. The Bucks seemingly have someone different step up from beyond the arc in every game; six different players have hit at least three 3-pointers, so finding the hot hand early is crucial.
Melo for the defense - After being saddled on struggling Knicks teams the past few years, having the offensive burden balanced with Westbrook and George in Oklahoma City has made Anthony at least a more efficient defensive player. The Thunder are allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, and while it's only a six-game sample, his steals and blocks are up from last season. It's also helped offensively as Anthony's 46.9 shooting percentage is his highest mark since hitting at a 49.2 percent clip for Denver in 2007/08.
Oklahoma City's lack of scoring at the 2-guard spot - While some of this is due to having three elite scoring options, Thunder coach Billy Donovan hasn't gotten much from either starter Andre Roberson or backup Alex Abrines. Roberson is averaging 3.7 points, and Abrines isn't much better at 4.0 per game as the two have combined to make 19 of 52 shots. Donovan occasionally has gone to a small backcourt using Westbrook and Raymond Felton together, so be on the lookout to see those two together for spot minutes.
Matchup to watch
Steven Adams vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Adams has the size to counter the Greek Freak at seven feet but does he have the quickness? That will be the biggest issue for the Thunder center as he tries to slow down the Bucks' franchise player. It wouldn't be surprising to see Anthony guard Antetokounmpo for a few possessions. The Bucks will clear out to let Antetokounmpo drive the lane from the top of the key, but given Thon Maker's shortcomings offensively, look for Adams to get the bulk of the defensive work against the Antetokounmpo as opposed to Anthony.
Oklahoma City Thunder projected starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Andre Roberson | C - Steven Adams | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony
Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup
PG - Malcolm Brogdon | SG - Tony Snell | C - Thon Maker | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo
There are multiple options in this game, starting with Antetokounmpo, who carries a streak of four straight double-doubles against Oklahoma City while averaging 22.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.0 blocks in those contests.
Westbrook has two triple-doubles in his last three games versus the Bucks and three for his career, but he also shot 13 for 40 in the two games last season. Anthony, meanwhile, has been steady against Milwaukee with averages of 25.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 38 games.
George, though, might be the most intriguing pick of the bunch since he causes mismatches on the wing. He averaged 19.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in four games versus Milwaukee last season for Indiana while going 8 of 22 from 3-point range.
There are some trends favoring the Thunder, who are 1.5-point road favorites at the Bradley Center. They have covered in their last five games against Central Division opponents and are 18-7-1 against the spread in their last 26 against Eastern Conference rivals. Oklahoma City, though, are 1-4 in their last five games after a win against the spread. Milwaukee are just 1-4-1 in their last six home games against the spread, but the home team has covered in five of the last seven games between the teams. The over/under of 211 feels high considering the teams have failed to reach that mark in the last eight games they've played in Milwaukee, but both teams are capable of scoring points in bunches when their respective stars in Antetokounmpo and Westbrook take over.
Despite a 4-2 record, the Bucks are still searching for a signature home win since their two losses are at the Bradley Center to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. Milwaukee's recent surge in 3-point shooting shows that the players aren't just standing around and waiting for Antetokounmpo to do something, they're in position to shoot when the ball comes their way. The Thunder, though, have the players who can close out on perimeter shooters. The matchup between George and Middleton on the wing may be the fulcrum that decides who wins this matchup. It'll be a tight game, but look for the Bucks to finally get that signature win with a 104-100 victory over the Thunder.
This game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and TSN2 in Canada. It will be locally televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma and Fox Sports Wisconsin. Tip-off time is 8 pm ET.
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