The New Orleans Pelicans (15-16) are kicking off a four-game road trip with a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks (20-9) this Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. You can catch all the action on either Fox Sports New Orleans or Fox Sports Wisconsin.
Outside of the Toronto Raptors, there hasn’t been a more impressive team in the Eastern Conference than these Bucks — yet its not entirely a surprise. Giannis Antetokounmpo was considered one of the favorites for the 2019 Most Valuable Player Award in preseason, and everyone is aware of the value Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe provide. However, credit must be given to their front office for the offseason additions of Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton as they have fit seamlessly with the core and several role players including Tony Snell and Thon Maker.
This latest version of the Bucks launch a ton of threes (second to only the Houston Rockets in attempts), are solid in transition (7th in fastbreak points) and get inside the restricted area more often than the Pelicans. The Bucks are just as effective on the other end of the floor, limiting opponents to a league-low 43.7 FG%, not sending challengers frequently to the charity stripe and avoiding second chance opportunities.
At the center of the masterpiece is, of course, The Greek Freak, but he’s had the right kind of help. Milwaukee has done a great job of surrounding the best one-man fastbreak with a slew of deep threats, forming a tantalizing inside/out combination. Defensively, all of these guys get after it. The Bucks +8.8 point differential isn’t a fluke — they’re a really good team that may even be flying under the radar a bit considering all the love that Boston and Philly seem to receive on a daily basis.
So, what should the game plan be for a team that hasn’t won consecutive games in exactly a month?
Deploy Anthony Davis.
Admittedly, there’s a few matchups across the league that have historically given AD problems, but the Bucks are not been one of them. During his professional career, New Orleans holds a 9-3 record over the Milwaukee franchise, including a current three-game win streak — though the last victory was some nail-biter.
Anyone else remember this finish the last time the Pelicans were in Milwaukee in which they narrowly escaped with the victory? pic.twitter.com/jVVF8kPjCy— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) December 18, 2018
The reason for the Pelicans recent dominance has been the ability to slow down Giannis enough with one particular man: Anthony Davis. In the teams’ last meeting on February 25, 2018, AD held Antetokounmpo to 2 of 8 shooting in 37 possessions, and 5 of 12 in 40 possessions on December 13, 2017. Giannis loves to overpower opponents, and those weighing more than him, beat them with speed, but his natural gifts aren’t nearly as effective against AD, who is very much his equal in agility, athleticism and length.
For his career, Anthony Davis is averaging 27.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists against Milwaukee while Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 17.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists against New Orleans.
Thus, the AD-Giannis matchup is my single biggest key for Alvin Gentry’s crew. The MVP-candidate who emerges victorious from their head-to-head encounters will give their team a significant advantage to walk away with the win. This will be especially true with both Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle slated to miss the contest.
Oh, New Orleans will need something good from Jrue Holiday and the role players are going to need to step up in the absence of a number of important Pelicans, but at the end of the day, the team will heavily rely on AD to stay out of foul trouble and to simply play glorious basketball from start to finish.
Where To Watch
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Milwaukee Bucks
Where: Fiserv Forum
When: Wednesday, December 19, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, FSWI, 99.5 FM WRNO