The New Orleans Pelicans (32-26), seeking a fifth straight victory to establish their longest winning streak of the season, will face the Milwaukee Bucks (33-25) in an early Sunday matinee, with a scheduled tip-off time of 2 p.m. Central.
The contest marks the start of an away stretch of games where the Pelicans play five of their next six on the road. Fortunately for New Orleans, they’ve fared well away from the Smoothie King Center (16-14). Even better, they’ve done extremely well against teams from the Eastern Conference (17-7). Best yet, they have a nice recent history of dominating the Bucks franchise, winning 19 of their previous 23 meetings — including 8 of the last 11 in Milwaukee.
Of course, don’t make the mistake of penciling in a win on the basis of just these results.
Milwaukee has won 10 of 13 since firing Jason Kidd, as replacement Joe Prunty has reinvigorated the Bucks defense. Before the team made a change at head coach, Milwaukee’s defense ranked 25th (107.5 defensive rating). After, they’ve jumped all the way up to second (101.2 defensive rating)! In their case, change was a very good thing.
As you know, the Bucks are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who many consider to be the heir apparent to LeBron James in the East once the King loses a step or heads out West in search of greener pastures. The 23-year-old Greek Freak is seriously that good. He’s second in the league in points per game (27.8) and is also averaging 10.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks.
However, he’s far from having to do things all alone.
Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe have paired well alongside Giannis, combining for close to forty points per game, and earlier this month, Jabari Parker finally returned from injury. Although the loss of Malcolm Brogdon to a muscle tear in his quad and Matthew Dellavedova to a sprained ankle hurts, the Bucks have some remaining depth, including John Henson, Thon Maker, Jason Terry and Sean Kilpatrick.
Three Keys to Victory
MVP Anthony Davis. I warned you in the last preview that I may use AD as a key to victory for the rest of the season so why ruin a good thing? There’s no one more dominant in the league right now and what a wonderful advantage it is for New Orleans if Davis can continue pouring in ALL the stats.
Anthony Davis has been utterly ridiculous over the last four games. Check out these video game averages!!!— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 24, 2018
83.7 FT% pic.twitter.com/UdbREEVScG
Slow down one of the Marquee Three. Giannis, Bled and Khris are Milwaukee’s three studs and New Orleans can’t allow all of them to post typical production or stronger. In their win back in December, both Middleton and Bledsoe struggled with efficiency, scoring a combined 29 points. The key is Jrue Holiday — Alvin Gentry’s best perimeter defender, but who should he guard? Do you hope Holiday can reduce the effectiveness of Giannis much like he did against Paul George at the start of this month or keep his legs fresher for offensive purposes and say attempt to put a stranglehold on Middleton perimeter game?
Run, run, run. The Bucks like to play methodical basketball unless Giannis gets out in the open floor. In their ten wins under Prunty, Milwaukee has a slow 96.88 pace. In their three losses, a 100.28 pace. With Kidd gone, the Bucks are no longer trying to trap and pressure defensively as much and it’s led to instant results. Not allowing Milwaukee to get set sounds like a good plan.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Milwaukee Bucks
Where: BMO Harris Bradley Center
When: February 25, 2018, 2:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM