Bourbon Street, meet...Brady Street?
Two teams with nearly identitcal records will meet in Milwaukee this evening. The Bucks snapped their four-game losing streak on Satuday to improve to 33-29 and are sixth in the East. The New Orleans Pelicans at 34-29 are one game out of the playoffs in the brutal West, but have won seven of their last ten. Both teams will look to keep the ball rolling tonight, as there are only 20 games left until the playoffs.
Perhaps you have heard of Anthony Davis, the single-browed pterodactyl who lords over the basketball court. At just 21 years of age, he is single-handedly keeping the Pelicans in the playoff race all while being the centerpiece of something much, much bigger. He's still getting better too, which is exciting, astonishing, and really quite terrifying.
The Pelicans are obviously more dangerous with Davis on the court, but talent like Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Omer Asik (and Ryan Anderson, before he got injured) were keeping the ship from sinking while Davis was out recently battling shoulder issues. The return of Davis to the lineup greatly increases the Pelicans' chances of winning each night, but that doesn't mean the other guys can't be a thorn in the Bucks side. For example, Evans led the team with 26p/7a/3s and Asik was the leading rebounder in their Saturday night victory over the 44-18 Memphis Grizzlies.
The focus tonight will deservedly be on Davis, but the Bucks can also find themselves in trouble if they pay too much attention to him.
O.J. Mayo (hamstring soreness) will be out again tonight, though Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel tweeted that Mayo did go through some light shooting during practice. Two opening day starters are out for the Pelicans in Jrue Holiday (right leg) and Ryan Anderson (right MCL sprain).
The Pelicans come into tonight with the seventh-best ORtg, but rank behind the offensively-challenged Bucks (11th, compared to 15th) in eFG%. So where might some of that offense come from? Well, they are in the top half of the league in Turnover Ratio (14.2), and they feast on the offensive glass, posting the third-best Offensive Rebound Percentage at 27.8. The Bucks have the second-worst Opponent Offensive Rebound Percentage at 27.6, so the effort on the boards tonight is going to be critical.
Key Matchup: The battle on the perimeter?
It's easy to say Anthony Davis vs. the Bucks, because...well, duh-doy. But, what happens around Davis might have just as big of a factor. Both teams rank in the top-10 in 3P%, Milwaukee being 3rd and New Orleans being 8th. Assuming the Bucks defense will send whatever help is necessary towards Davis when he has the ball, it will be equally critical to get out and fling those wingspans in the faces of open shooters, should Davis kick it out.
The good news is that the Pelicans ORtg (105.3) is just a fraction higher than their DRtg (105.1), so the Bucks should be able to execute what they want to do offensively. Davis is a nightmare and Asik is a solid rim protector, but they can't make up for being undersized or out of place at the other three positions. Should the Bucks be able to move the ball away from trouble and knock down the open shots that presents, it should keep New Orleans scrambling to play catch-up.