Alright Bucks fans, I've got good news and bad news.
First, the bad news: For the second time in a week, the Bucks have to figure out a way to
stop contain avoid being eaten alive by Anthony Davis, the just-turned-22-year-old Destroyer of Worlds who last week torched the Bucks for a career-best 43 points in Milwaukee and nearly dropped a quadruple-double (36p/14r/9b/7a) in a double-overtime loss to the Nuggets on Sunday. Good luck!
Oh, and there's more bad news, OK? The Bucks have lost eight in a row on the road, they haven't won in their last 13 tries in New Orleans, their once-powerful bench can't make a shot anymore, and Jared Dudley (back) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) flew back to Milwaukee this weekend to rest up rather than play hurt in New Orleans.
So by now you're thinking, "Wait, didn't he promise some good news somewhere?"
And yes, fear not, there is some. Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) seems likely to go tonight after being a late scratch on Saturday in Memphis, and for all of the Bucks' problems since the trade deadline MCW has actually played quite well since arriving in Milwaukee. Getting him back would be decidedly good news after Saturday's "good job, good effort" loss in which 20-year-old Tyler Ennis was the Bucks' only available point guard. Giannis Antetokounmpo also played very well in Memphis, scoring 19 on 10 shots, and he'll be hoping to recreate the same magic tonight that he used to score a career-best 29 against the Pelicans last week. In fact, to make us feel better why don't we relive some of those moments?
See, don't you feel better?
The Pelicans' loss to the Nuggets on Sunday was a crucial one, leaving them a half-game behind the Oklahoma City
Westbrooks Thunder for the final playoff seed out West. Still, few expected the Pelicans to be hanging as tough as they have, with injuries to Kevin Durant and now Serge Ibaka providing a golden opportunity for Monty Williams' bunch to steal the eighth spot away from the banged-up Thunder.
As for Davis, he isn't so much a basketball player as a fire-breathing dragon with a jump shot; if last year he was one of those semi-adorable/semi-terrifying dragons from Game of Thrones, this year he's gone full-blown Smaug. And it is terrifying. He leads the league in PER (31.6) and blocks (2.9 bpg), all while turning it over just 1.4 times per game and committing only 2.0 fouls per contest. Against the Bucks he was also unstoppable from mid-range -- I don't think I've ever been as worried that a guy will take a contested long two -- though he's "only" shooting 44% from that distance on the season.
It's gotten to the point where opponents probably shouldn't delude themselves into thinking they can contain him; doubling him in the post and hoping he has to settle for long twos is probably your best bet, and it's worth noting that the Bucks probably would have beaten the Pelicans last week if not for the fact that guys other than Davis also shot 52% from the field. You're not going to beat New Orleans if Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Quincy Pondexter are also getting theirs, so the Bucks' strategy for winning tonight can't be entirely focused on AD.
The good news for the Bucks is that the Pelicans have bled points on the defensive end all year, which makes it much harder for AD to win games on his own. Evans figures to be the key "other guy" tonight, as the Bucks struggled to keep him out of the paint before he went down with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter last week.
New Orleans is one of the league's better offenses, ranking seventh in overall efficiency and no worse than average in any of the four factors. They don't shoot a ton of threes (bottom third in both makes and attempts) but will punish you if left open -- they're ninth in three point percentage, something the Bucks found out first hand last week.
On the flip side, Monty Williams' defensive system must stink, because it's difficult to grasp how a roster featuring Davis and Omer Asik up front would rank just 26th in defensive efficiency. Weirdly, New Orleans actually defends the three point line quite well (top five in opponent makes and attempts), but they don't force turnovers (27th) and even with two rim-protectors they struggle to stop opponents from converting at a high rate inside the arc (23rd in 2PT%).
The interesting part is that they've actually improved defensively each of the past two seasons -- they were 28th in efficiency two years ago and 27th last year. So if they keep it up they should be the league's best.defense...by 2040?
MCW and Jerryd Bayless are both listed as probable with ankle injuries, so at a minimum the Bucks should have some depth at the point guard spot tonight. The same can't be said on the wings, where they've been severely missing the shooting of Mayo and Dudley off the bench.
The Pelicans have their own injury problems -- they've been without Ryan Anderson (knee) and Jrue Holiday (leg) for a while now, but have managed quite well without two of their best players. On the plus side, Evans returned from his ankle injury over the weekend and nearly dropped a triple-double with 25 points, 10 assists and nine boards vs. Denver.