The New Orleans Pelicans (30-39) will host the NBA’s standard bearer Milwaukee Bucks at home in the Smoothie King center Tuesday night. If you’ve somehow missed it, the Bucks boast the best record (50-17) in the league, and it’s the first time they’ve hit the 50-win plateau since the 2000-01 season.
This matchup is an obvious case of two team’s seasons going in opposite directions; however, if we’ve learned anything about this Pelicans squad it’s that they aren’t going to give up and sometimes that has led to wins few expected. Despite this, let’s not overlook the fact the Bucks have been ridiculously impressive this season.
Milwaukee currently leads the NBA in defensive efficiency and is third in offensive efficiency. Additionally, the Bucks also sport the biggest point differential by a wide margin — a statistic that highly correlates with teams that go on to win the title. Alas, playoffs and point differentials aren’t really the concern for New Orleans at this point. Instead, Alvin Gentry will try to continue to develop the young talent as the team slowly grinds towards the end of the season.
Job number one for any team facing the Bucks is stopping All-NBA player — nobody knows what position he plays — Giannis Antetokounmpo. On the season the “Greek Freak” is averaging an MVP-caliber 27 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 6 assists per contest. With Pelicans defensive ace Jrue Holiday out with a lower abdominal strain, New Orleans lacks any defenders with the pedigree or defensive instincts to slow Giannis down. Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry will likely try different players and looks against Antetokounmpo so it will be interesting to see if any of the young Pelicans can step up to the challenge. Expect either Anthony Davis or Kenrich Williams to get the first shot though.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, the buck doesn’t stop with Giannis when it comes to discussing Milwaukee. The coaching staff will also have to figure out a way to slow down point guard Eric Bledsoe, small forward Kris Middleton and a very deep Milwaukee roster that includes former Pelican fan favorite Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic will be making his first return to the Smoothie King Center since being traded to the Bucks at the trade deadline.
For New Orleans to have any hope of winning, they’ll have to keep the “Greek Freak” out of the paint. Giannis is scoring 58% of his field goals inside there, which is simply incredible for a non-traditional center. Antetokounmpo’s only real weakness is his jumpshot hence why he prefers to get within a few feet of the rim. If New Orleans can restrict him to the perimeter often, and still get back to Milwaukee’s myriad of shooters in time they will have a shot to stay in this matchup into the fourth quarter. In addition, the Pels transition defense will have to be solid as Antetokounmpo is completely devastating in the open court as evidenced by Milwaukee’s 27.3 points per game in transition, good for second in the NBA.
I would go into key matchups but suffice it to say that the Pelicans are going to be overmatched up and down the lineup with no Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore. If Gentry’s bunch are to pull off the upset, they will have to play near perfect basketball and hope the Bucks suffer an off night. Still, take some satisfaction that games against this level of competition are invaluable to young players like Frank Jackson, Kenrich Williams and Cheick Diallo. The continued development of those and other players against top flight competition is the only interesting thing about this matchup.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (30-39) vs Milwaukee Bucks (50-17)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Wednesday, March 12th, 2019. 7:00 PM CST
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO