The New Orleans Pelicans are on a hot streak; winners of two in a row and four of their last five games. Only a two-point defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, on the road no less, stands as blemish in the last week and a half. Three of those four victories are by double figures.
Into the Crescent City rolls the Milwaukee Bucks, perhaps the only team in the league more disappointing than the Pelicans at the halfway mark. Like the Detroit Pistons before them, the Bucks played last night in Houston; unlike those Pistons Milwaukee was unable to secure a win.
Milwaukee is led by Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo, two long versatile wings that the Pelicans are dying to have on the roster. In the middle is New Orleans native Greg Monroe. Monroe is having another superb season posting impressive statistics across the board. Unfortunately, that hasn't led to success in the win-loss column.
Monroe is an enormous net positive for the Bucks, but clearing space to sign him cost Milwaukee Ersan Ilyasova, Jared Dudley, and Zaza Pachulia. They were veterans who did the little things this version of the Bucks has not through 45 games. Jabari Parker, while promising in the long term, has not filled the space voided by Dudley and Ilyasova at the power forward spot. Monroe is a more talent player but not nearly as effective as Pachulia on defense.
Keys to Victory
Make them shoot: There are two shooters in the Milwaukee rotation; Middleton and former Hornet Jerryd Bayless. Beyond those two the Pelicans should liberally sag off the Bucks and invite them to shoot behind the arc.
Take care of the ball: So far this season, New Orleans has done a good job overall in protecting the ball, ranking 5th in turnover rate. The Bucks force a lot of turnovers (8th in the league) with the long arms of Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, and John Henson. In losses, the Pelicans have piled up careless mistakes and a young team like Milwaukee will be poised to take advantage.
Take nothing for granted: Every game is a playoff game for New Orleans. Until they are eliminated or lock up a playoff bid, every game requires everything available. If the Dallas Mavericks can beat these Pelicans with their bench, the Bucks can with their starters. There are no gimmes for New Orleans, and the entire team would do well to approach every single game with that mindset.
What: Pelicans vs Bucks
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Saturday January 23rd at 6:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO