NBA Basketball

Bucks, Thunder set for defensive clash

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Giannis Antetokounmpo took over in the fourth quarter in Friday's win over the Charlotte Hornets.

The Milwaukee Bucks' star power forward outscored the Hornets himself in the fourth as the Bucks won for the sixth consecutive game.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder have leaned heavily on Paul George in its current four-game winning streak, as Thunder coach Billy Donovan has tinkered with his rotations since Oklahoma City blew a 17-point lead at home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 17.

George and the Thunder host Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Sunday in a game featuring two of the top three defenses in the NBA.

While Antetokounmpo's offense fueled the Bucks in the win over the Hornets, their defense has been a big reason Milwaukee comes into the game with the best winning percentage in the league.

Center Brook Lopez has averaged 2.8 blocks per game during the Bucks' current streak.

"We definitely make our money, get our bread on the defensive end," Lopez said. "That's where we do our job."

While Milwaukee's defense has relied on Lopez guarding the basket, it also has shown some versatility recently, including Friday when Antetokounmpo moved over to center as Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer opted to start switching on defense.

"I love it," Antetokounmpo said. "It allows me to be up and take pride in my defense, try to play the guys one on one. Usually, we play back in the pick and roll, so we let the guy come downhill and try to shoot a floater or shoot the tough two, but sometimes I feel like it's nice to take a step or two up and try to defense those guards and take pride in helping the team."

For Oklahoma City, Donovan's changes have left George at times as the only starter on the floor with a group of four bench players. The results have helped the Thunder's second unit be more productive.

Over the last five games, George has averaged 5.6 assists per game, raising his average from 3.9 through the first 43 games.

"It's not the first time we've changed minutes," George said recently. "I'm sure it won't be the last. It's not going to affect how I approach or play the game.

"It was a better rhythm for everybody, and we obviously had a lot more energy."

Another reason for the Thunder's recent success has been its improved three-point shooting.

After spending most of the season last in the NBA from behind the arc, Oklahoma City has jumped at least three teams by shooting 42.6 percent on 3-pointers over the last eight games, including better than 45 percent during the current winning streak.

A win would tie Milwaukee's longest winning streak of the season with seven. The Bucks won seven consecutive games to start the year.

Oklahoma City has won four consecutive games, including the first two on their three-game homestand.

The game is the first of a five-game road trip for the Bucks, who are 13-8 away from home this season.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 27, 2019

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