Having won 11 of their last 15 contests, the Milwaukee Bucks have found their groove on the back of the increasing chemistry developing between their new ‘big three’. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe have each averaged over 20 points per game in the latest three game win streak, boosting the Bucks to an offensive rating of 107 on the season, good for 9th in the league.
Avenging their horrific loss in Utah earlier in the season, in which they gave up 18 three pointers on 56 percent shooting, the Bucks held the Jazz to 8 makes from deep, on 34 percent. Despite Kidd repeatedly denying that the Bucks have changed their defensive scheme since the loss in Utah (involving more switching and less trapping), the Bucks have found great success in doing just that. Winners in six of the seven games since that night, Milwaukee now faces a huge challenge in New Orleans, possessors of arguably the league’s most fearsome front court.
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are both averaging a 25+ point, 10+ rebound double double, routinely beating up opposition big men and in the process keeping the Pelicans afloat in the Western Conference with a .500 record. Davis missed the Pelicans’ last start, a loss against Houston with a groin complaint that has him still listed as questionable heading into tonight.
Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, a pair of former All-Stars form the guard duo for the Pelicans, and though a much maligned and, in some circles, criticised off-season acquisition, Rondo is starting to play some solid basketball racking up 30 assists over his last two outings while in that span Holiday has 35.5 points per game.
Living up to their .500 record, the Pelicans have alternated wins and losses over their last seven contests, and the Bucks will be looking to snap that trend and tie a season long win streak of their own at four. Unfortunately for the Bucks, their dwindling depth will receive no respite in this one, as none of Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic or Jason Terry made the trip to New Orleans yesterday. Once again, the Bucks will be seeking a scoring partner in the second unit for Malcolm Brogdon who is averaging 13 points a game on the season.
The ever-evolving center battle in Milwaukee between Thon Maker and John Henson took another twist over the weekend. Initially, Maker got the minutes down the stretch against Dallas, before an energetic Henson responded the next night against Rudy Gobert, posting 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. A healthy battle between the two middle of the pack centers is a great thing for Milwaukee, and they will be hoping the increasing competition will spur both to compete against the Pelicans’ fearful big man double threat.
Coming up against a team with four former All-Stars in the starting lineup on the road presents another huge challenge for the Bucks.
Kane’s Keys to victory:
- Giannis avoiding foul trouble: If Davis does in fact suit up for this one, it will present a huge challenge for Giannis at both ends, inevitably guarding one of Davis or Cousins. We all know that he is an uber aggressive defender and at times struggles to reel in his attacking nature on both ends. Guarding elite players such as Davis and Cousins will bring up the potential of foul trouble. Antetokounmpo stay on the court is clearly paramount to a Bucks win and this will be an area to watch.
- Switch, don’t trap: With Rajon Rondo on the floor, trapping would be a complete disaster. As mentioned earlier, Rondo has been on a tear assists wise recently and giving him the opportunity to spot up guys capable from the outside like E’Twaun Moore, Jordan Crawford and Cousins could spell disaster.
- Aggressive Bledsoe: While we mentioned Giannis’ potential foul trouble, we must not forget how important it will be for the Bucks to attack the Pelicans frontline and not shy away from contact. The sometimes jump shot happy Bledsoe is as good a drive and finish player as the Bucks have outside of Giannis, and his ability to draw contact could prove pivotal in gaining early ascendency.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.