After beating the Pistons 128-118 last night, the New Orleans Pelicans (14-17) will take the court once more tonight, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks (19-13) in the first of a two-game road trip. In their previous meeting, the Pelicans defeated the Bucks 131-126 in the Smoothie King Center.
New Orleans will need to find the balanced attack they employed in the first matchup. In that game, the Pelicans had four starters score over 20 points to go along with 26 points from the bench. However, they will likely need to perform better defensively as they allowed Milwaukee to shoot 50% from the field on January 29. I don’t like the Pels chances of winning another shootout with the Bucks so improved defense will be imperative.
Milwaukee’s attack is lead by All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks’ star is having another stellar season, averaging 28.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per night, but Antetokoumpo will probably get what he wants on the court. Stopping the Bucks will be more about not letting the rest of his team beat the Pelicans, especially from behind the 3-point arc where New Orleans has been vulnerable this season.
In addition to Giannis, though, the Pelicans will have their hands full guarding the Bucks second offensive option, forward Khris Middleton, but will likely not face Jrue Holiday, who is doubtful to play (quarantine). If Holiday does appear in a game for the first time tonight since February 6, though, staying with Middleton and Holiday and holding them to inefficient nights will be a big challenge for New Orleans.
Middleton is currently on pace for his best field goal percentage (49.8%) and three-point percentage (43.4%) of his career. While Holiday’s scoring is down from his New Orleans’ days, the effectiveness is way up. Jrue’s on his way to the most efficient shooting season of his career (50.2 FG%) while also on a pace for a career high in steals with 1.9 per game.
If Holiday isn’t able to play, however, the Pelicans may be catching the Bucks at the right time. While Milwaukee has won three straight, they have also lost five of their last eight games. Those three wins came against the Thunder, Kings, and Timberwolves — not exactly the strongest opponents.
Surprisingly, the normally stingy Bucks have been struggling on the defensive end as Milwaukee allowed opponents to shoot over 50% from the field and over 40% from three-point range on their recent five game losing streak. Let’s hope that’s the defense that shows up against the Pelicans.
For New Orleans to win, not only will Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have to perform at All-Star levels, the Pelicans will need to keep their turnovers low and limit Milwaukee’s efficiency from three-point range. The Bucks are 6th in the NBA in three-point attempts at 37.7 per game and 4th in three-point percentage (39.6%). In their previous meeting, New Orleans hit 21 threes in the game while limiting the Bucks to only 13 makes from deep. They will need that type of effort again if they hope to sweep the season series against the Bucks in their final matchup of the regular season.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (14-17) at Milwaukee Bucks (19-13)
When: February 25, 8:30 p.m. Central
Where to watch: TNT
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM