At the start of the season, Jordan Nwora of the Milwaukee Bucks said one of the key indicators of a successful season would be playing rotational minutes when the championship-caliber team was in perfect health.
It might be time for him to aim even higher.
Heading into a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, Nwora is coming off of what Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said was “clearly” the best game of the forward’s career second year.
Not only does Nwora carve out a spot in the rotation, but he played virtually the entire fourth quarter in Sunday’s 132-122 win over the Phoenix Suns in a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals.
“I think it’s really important to me,” Nwora said. “When I’m in those moments where I play in big games, I play for the long haul, it’s something I can learn from and improve on instead of watching sometimes. I think it’s better for me.
Nwora’s stat line on Sunday wasn’t overwhelming — 12 points, five rebounds, one steal in 26 minutes — but he displayed overall growth in his game, especially on the defensive end.
“The confidence that his teammates have in him, the confidence that grows with all of us in Jordan, it’s a great day,” Budenholzer said. “Really proud of him, really happy for him.”
Nwora has yet to play a game against the Thunder in his career. He was inactive for the teams’ only other meeting this season — a 96-89 home win at Milwaukee on Nov. 19 — and did not play in any of the Bucks-Thunder games last season.
Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo had plenty of success against Oklahoma City. In 16 career games against the Thunder, Antetokounmpo is averaging 12.3 rebounds, more than one more rebound per game than he has against any other team.
In the teams’ first meeting of the season, Antetokounmpo collected 19 rebounds – all on the defensive end.
In that game, the Bucks almost let a 20-point lead slip away before finally putting the game away.
Milwaukee enters Tuesday’s game on a four-game winning streak, averaging 125.0 points per game during that streak.
The Thunder have lost straight and seven straight at home.
While Oklahoma City has struggled recently, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has not.
In the six games since the All-Star break, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 33.3 points, 6.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds in over 35 minutes. He had missed the previous 10 games before the break with a sprained right ankle.
“That speaks for itself,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said of Gilgeous-Alexander’s recent play. “Obviously he really cooks.”
In Sunday’s 116-103 loss to the Utah Jazz, Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, four steals and no turnovers in over 38 minutes.
“It’s amazing to play with him,” Oklahoma City’s Darius Bazley said. “He closes games better, he adds more things to his game. … His game just keeps getting refined.
The Thunder have relied heavily on Gilgeous-Alexander for the past two seasons during their rebuilding phase, but never more so than recently. Rookie Josh Giddey (hip) has missed all but one of those post-break games and is expected to be out for at least two weeks.
Oklahoma City has played its last three games with just nine players available, and the numbers will be shorthanded again on Tuesday.
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