Curry v Giannis only scratches the surface of upcoming Warriors and Bucks clash

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  • Golden State Warriors
    Golden State Warriors
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  • Milwaukee Bucks
    Milwaukee Bucks
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  • Klay Thompson
    Klay Thompson
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  • Khris Middleton
    Khris Middleton
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Thursday's clash between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors was already an enticing one, but will arguably now be even more intriguing with two of the NBA's best heading into it on the back of defeats.

Reigning champions Milwaukee sit fourth in the Eastern Conference on 26-17 after back-to-back defeats on the road to the Charlotte Hornets, while the 30-10 Warriors were beaten at the Memphis Grizzlies last time out.

The star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry will be the main attraction, as both usually are wherever they go, sitting fourth (966 points) and second (993 points) respectively in the league for points scored this season.

Golden State, currently second in the Western Conference, will be the favourites on Thursday, and despite their setback in Tennessee on Tuesday, Steve Kerr's men have been boosted by the timely return to action of Klay Thompson.

The 31-year-old tore an anterior cruciate ligament in 2019 before tearing his Achilles tendon during his recovery, but came back in style as he played his first game in over 940 days in style as he shot 17 points from just 20 minutes in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, before managing another 14 in similar court time in Memphis.

Curry will, as ever, be the Warriors go-to man. He managed a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the defeat to the Grizzlies, though surprisingly, hit just two of his nine three-point attempts at FedExForum.

He recently broke the all-time three-point record in the NBA and still leads the league by a distance in successful shots from downtown, with 186 to his name this season, well clear of Buddy Hield (154) and Fred VanVleet (134), having even played six fewer games than Hield.

The Warriors are expected to be without Draymond Green, who played just seven seconds of Sunday's win against the Cavaliers before withdrawing with a calf issue he apparently sustained in the warm-up and then missing the defeat in Memphis.

Green has the highest number of defensive rebounds for the Warriors this season (219) and is 22nd in the league overall.

The Bucks could also still be missing a key player in Jrue Holiday, who was sidelined from Monday's loss to the Hornets with an ankle injury.

Holiday has missed the last three games, but when he has been able to take to the court this season has often shone, averaging 18.4 points per game, including shooting 40 in the December defeat at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Despite Curry so often catching the eye with threes, where Golden State often win games is in the paint and in the restricted area, currently leading the league for highest team field goal percentage in both (60.1 and 64.4). The Bucks are eighth and seventh in the league in the respective areas, with percentages of 56.8 and 61.0.

However, in Antetokounmpo, the Bucks boast a player who leads the league in field goals made in the paint (266) and in the restricted area (228), so if they can get it to the Greek often and in space, he could just beat the Warriors at their own game.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Khris Middleton

Middleton is in a solid run of form, which is a good thing for a player who has clustered his best work throughout this season. The 30-year-old began the season by scoring 20 or more points in three of his first four games, before a period out through illness.

He returned and took eight games to manage over 20 points again, before doing so for seven in a row. After missing three more games with a knee issue, Middleton has come back to score 20 or more in eight of his last 10 outings, and will back himself to do so again here.

Middleton got the most points and assists for his team last time out (27 and 11), and is third in the league for most field goals made from the baseline (37) behind only Kevin Durant (64) and DeMar DeRozan (45).

Golden State Warriors – Klay Thompson

Although it was technically a work event, there was a party atmosphere as the Warriors welcomed Thompson back to the court on Sunday against the Cavaliers, and while his numbers were impressive enough for someone who has spent the best part of three years sidelined, it is the less tangible positive vibes his return has brought that could be the difference-maker for Golden State.

Prior to his comeback on Sunday, Thompson boasted a career average of 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting at 45.9 per cent from the field and 41.9 from three-point range.

He may only get 20 minutes, as he has done in his two games back so far, but his sheer presence on the court could be enough to inspire his team-mates, such is the obvious delight among his fellow Warriors that he is finally fit and playing again.

The Bucks and Warriors should serve up a brilliant contest
The Bucks and Warriors should serve up a brilliant contest

KEY BATTLE – Rebounds to give Bucks an edge?

Milwaukee leads the Eastern Conference in rebounding, averaging 47.1, while Antetokounmpo boasts the third-highest number of defensive rebounds in the East this season with 325.

Golden State are fourth in the Western Conference for rebounds at 46.1, but as mentioned, look set to be without their stats leader in defensive rebounds in Green. The best offensive rebounders in both teams are Bobby Portis and Kevon Looney, who both have 97 to their name this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This is their first meeting since April 2021, which the Warriors won 122-121, but the Bucks have won four of the previous six games between the two dating back to March 2018.

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