PREVIEW: Milwaukee Bucks look to end road trip with win over Oklahoma City Thunder

Feb 12, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during the fourth quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah won 129-115. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Close games haven’t been a common occurrence for the Milwaukee Bucks this season.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the host Oklahoma City Thunder, just seven of Milwaukee’s 26 games have been decided by fewer than 10 points, with the Bucks going 2-5.

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With Milwaukee near the top of the Eastern Conference and the Thunder near the bottom of the West, Sunday’s game wouldn’t figure to be close.

But Oklahoma City has made a habit of playing close recently.

The Thunder’s last five games have been decided by three or fewer points or in overtime.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said the solution to winning close games is simple.

“Just trust one another,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, I’m not going to say it’d be good to have close games because who wants to have close games? We want to beat teams by, you know, 10, 15, 20. But when we have close games we take advantage of it, we learn from each possession.”

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Facing the Thunder is the last of a six-game road trip for the Bucks, who after winning the first three games have dropped the last two, including a 129-115 loss at Utah on Friday.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has adjusted his team’s defenses recently, altering pick-and-roll coverages and how often his team switches.

“We’re not going to win every game,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you try to change stuff and improve, sometimes it’s going to hurt. It’s not going to be easy. The transition is not going to be smooth. We’re going to try to make it as smooth as possible, but it’s not going to be smooth.”

The Bucks figure to be without starting guard Jrue Holiday for the fourth consecutive game due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

The Thunder have been short-handed recently as well.

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has missed four of the last six games with a left knee sprain and Theo Maledon has missed four of the last five, including the last three, due to health and safety protocols. George Hill also remains out after undergoing surgery on his thumb.

The absences have left the Thunder without a true point guard in the last two games.

Hamidou Diallo, Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson and Luguentz Dort have shared ball-handling duties for the Thunder.

Still, the Thunder have been able to remain competitive without Gilgeous-Alexander, their leading scorer.

In four games without Alexander, the Thunder beat the Rockets by 17 and lost the other three by a combined six points.

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“We’d obviously rather have Theo and Shai, not necessarily positionally, but just because they’re really good players,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “They’re competitive. They help our team. It speaks to versatility. We have versatile players. That’s how the roster’s built. We’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things.”

–Field Level Media