The Bucks will aim for their fourth win in a row when they host the New Orleans Pelicans tonight. The good guys are up to 19-13 after home wins over the Thunder, Kings, and Timberwolves. While stiffer tests await when the Clippers and Nuggets come to town over the next fews days, the Bucks can only worry about the team in front of them tonight. That would be the 14-17 Pelicans. Unfortunately, they will likely have to beat Jrue Holiday’s former team without him, as Holiday is set to miss his tenth consecutive game despite signs of an impending return. This recent run has kept the team in a decent position, but his return would obviously be a huge spark. We might need to throw a parade when it happens.
For tonight’s game, I have some fast facts, things to know, and things to watch for. Let’s get to it.
FAST FACTS –
The Game: New Orleans Pelicans (14-17) @ Milwaukee Bucks (19-13)
The Place: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Time: 8:30 Central
The TV: TNT
The Likely Starters:
Bucks – Augustin, DiVincenzo, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, Lopez
Pelicans – Bledsoe, Ball, Ingram, Williamson, Adams
Bucks: Jrue Holiday (covid) is still out indefinitely. The expectation is that he will return soon, and he did return to the arena for Tuesday’s win. There’s still no official word on when exactly he will take the court again. Jordan Nwora is still day-to-day with an ankle injury as well.
Pelicans: Steven Adams has an ankle injury. It’s possible he gets held out of the second half of a back-to-back, but that seems somewhat unlikely given that Adams has missed just two games. If it does, we’ll likely see Willy Hernangomez starting.
WHAT TO KNOW –
- Zion having an All-Star season
Of the seven Western Conference reserves, Zion has probably been the biggest target of criticism. The disrespect is simply unwarranted. Williamson is 14th in the league in scoring. He’s 5th in field goal percentage and sits more than 5% above the next closest player among those taking more than 15 shots per game. He ranks 8th in both eFG% and TS%. There are just nine players averaging more field goal makes, and all of them take at least 2.8 more shots per game than Williamson does. Zion has been, quite simply, one of the most dominant and efficient scorers in the league.
Don’t forget about the 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game either. Throw in the fact that he ranks in the top ten in the West in win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, VORP, BPM, and PER, where he’s sixth in the league, and Zion absolutely deserved to be an All-Star. He’s living up to the hype that followed him into the league last year.
- Brandon Ingram playing great basketball too
Ingram fell a little bit outside of the All-Star roster – and likely deservedly so given the performances of other players. Don’t take that as a sign that he hasn’t been really well so far this season. BI is averaging 24, 5, and 5 and making over 39% of his threes while taking more than six per game. Williamson and Ingram are the formidable faces of a Pelicans offense that has been good despite the losing record.
- Ball and Bledsoe form frustrating duo
New Orleans has suffered through some maddening inconsistency from their two starting guards. Ball averaged less than 13 points per game and made less than 33% of his threes in December and January. In February, he’s stepped it up, topping 16 points per game and shooting better than 47% from deep. Bledsoe, meanwhile, averaged more than 15 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds per game in December while making more than 43% of his threes. In January, he’s averaging roughly 10, 3, and 3 and shooting about five percent worse from deep while also taking one less three per game.
The Pelicans have yet to get the best version of both players at the same time, and Ball is also averaging roughly 1.5 less assists and rebounds this season than he did over the first three years of his career. Of course, these two did combine for 52 points, 14 threes, and 12 assists when they played the Bucks about a month ago, so who knows what happens tonight.
- JJ Redick not at his best
Redick is shooting just 35.8% from three. For many players, that would be a solid mark. For Redick, it would be the worst of his career if he maintains it. He’s also playing less than 20 minutes per game, something that he hasn’t done since 2009. Whether it’s a poor fit with the reworked Pelicans rotation, the trade rumors, or something else entirely, Redick has not been the JJ Redick we’re used to so far this season.
- Pelicans are good offensively and terrible defensively
New Orleans ranks sixth in the league in scoring efficiency. They have one of the best offensive duos in the league and a decent enough supporting cast around them. This is not an offense that should be taken lightly. The other side of the court is a different story. The Pelicans are 28th in defensive efficiency. They allow 0.2 points more than they score per 100 possessions. A Bucks team that has been as good as anyone offensively should be able to take advantage.
- Both teams great on the glass
The Pelicans are first in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, or the percentage of their own missed shots that they end up pulling down for an extra possession. Only Clint Capela averages more offensive boards per game than Adams (4.3), and Williamson and Hernangomez both average more than two per game themselves. The Pelicans also have nine players that pull down at least two defensive rebounds per game. That puts them fourth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. The Bucks, not to be outdone, rank eleventh on the offensive glass and second on the defensive glass. If either team is able to turn the rebounding battle in their favor, they will have a significant edge in the overall game.
- Big pace difference
The Bucks are the fourth fastest team in the league while the Pelicans are the tenth slowest. Whether the gap of less than three possessions per game is actually significant in a head-to-head matchup is up for debate, but the Bucks have often struggled in past years to play at their own tempo in the playoffs. It would be nice to see them set the tempo in this one, even if the stakes are obviously much lower.
- Pelicans get to the line; both teams rarely foul
Only the Spurs and Magic average less fouls than the Bucks and Pelicans. On the other side of things, the Pelicans are fourth in the league with 25.3 free throw attempts per game while the Bucks average about four less and sit in 17th. Keep an eye on Giannis, Zion, and Ingram – the three players in this game who shoot more than five free throws per outing. Can they get to the line at a regular rate against defenses that tend to avoid fouling?
WHAT TO WATCH –
- Keep finding momentum for Khris
Middleton dropped an efficient 32 on the Kings in his best game in a while. Unfortunately, the struggles returned against the Timberwolves when he made just 3 of 13 from inside the arc and finished with only 15 points despite a 3-6 night from three. Through January 27, Khris had scored 20 or more points in eleven of sixteen games. He had shot better than 50% from the field in ten of sixteen games and better than 40% from three in nine of sixteen games.
In the fifteen games since, Middleton has dropped in each category. He’s scored 20 or more just five times and made half or more of his shots and more than 40% of his threes just seven times each. The scoring volume is the most striking issue, and it’s one the Bucks need to fix before the games really count. Keep an eye on how he plays here.
- The Giannis double-double train needs to start again
The Kings game resulted in Antetokounmpo’s seventh consecutive double-double, his best run of the season. It was his tenth in eleven games. Sadly, that streak ended against Minnesota the other night. You can’t complain about a 37, 8, and 8 stat-line, but it does mean the streak needs to start all over again. Watch for double-double #1 tonight. We’ve gone over New Orleans’s rebounding prowess, so it won’t be an easy task.
- Augustin at the point
The competition has been less than stellar, but the Bucks are now 3-0 when DJ Augustin starts instead of Bryn Forbes. Augustin has largely succeeded as a passer and shooter since he was given the starting job. Look for him to continue that tonight. Holiday will obviously return to his role as the lead point guard when he comes back, but it’s still good to see Augustin find his groove. He could be very helpful down the stretch. Forbes is a fantastic shooter, but Augustin offers more versatility off the bench when he’s right. The Bucks really don’t have another playmaker outside of their starting lineup.
- Donte’s shot volume
DiVincenzo has scored in double figures in five of the last six games. For those keeping track at home, it’s the first time he’s done that since the first six games of the season. It’s no coincidence that Donte shot the ball at least ten times in all five of the double-digit scoring games. But it does create an interesting storyline, as he took ten or more shots just seven times in his first twenty-six games. Keep an eye on his shot totals over the next week or so. Is this an adjustment the Bucks are consciously making or is it just happening as part of the flow of the season? In an ideal world, Middleton takes some of these shots instead.
Prediction: Bucks 131, Pelicans 119
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