"Poor Anthony Davis."
That's as good a summary as any for the New Orleans Pelicans' lost season, isn't it? After Davis' star-making season led to 45 wins and a playoff berth a year ago, New Orleans' preseason dreams of a 50-win campaign have been washed away by a tidal wave of injuries and preponderance of poor play, with their young superstar often left to pick up the pieces.
But despite entering tonight's matchup behind the Bucks in the overall league standings (or alternively, ahead in the lotto seeding), New Orleans does at least have history on its side. The Pelicans have won 17 of the last 19 overall against the Bucks and six straight, including a blowout win in New Orleans a couple months ago.
The Bucks returned to their winning ways with an impressive 114-108 win over the Heat on Wednesday, and once again it was the three-headed monster of Giannis Antetokounmpo (24p/7r/6a), Khris Middleton (22p/8a/7r) and Jabari Parker (23p on 13 shots, season-high 11 fta) doing most of the damage. Not that the improved play of Giannis and Jabari is anything new:
While the trio is a modest +0.2 points/100 possessions together for the season, they're a more encouraging +3.4 points since January 1 (761 minutes) and +7.2 since returning from the all-star break (310 minutes). In other words, their success goes beyond just putting up impressive individual stats -- as mediocre as the Bucks' overall record might be, they're playing winning basketball together and that's damn important.
Of course, the rest of the roster remains far more up for grabs, with O.J. Mayo joining Michael Carter-Williams and Steve Novak on the "done for the season" list and John Henson and Greivis Vasquez each having spent over a month on the shelf. As for the healthy guys? Well, Greg Monroe returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday and helped spark a strong first quarter with his passing, but Miles Plumlee ended up playing crunch time as he scored a season-best 18 points. Since January 1, four-man lineups with Giannis, Jabari, Khris and each of the two bigs have netted near indistinguishable results -- the Bucks are +1.1 when Monroe plays with the Big Three (489 minutes), while they're +1.2 when Plumlee is on the court (211 minutes). While much of the post-break narrative has centered around the Bucks' success without Monroe, those numbers become even more slanted towards Monroe lineups after the all-star break (+8.1 vs. + 6.0), though the more important headline is that the Big Three have been good regardless of which big they play with of late.
It's probably easiest to start with the guys we won't see tonight: Tyreke Evans (knee), Eric Gordon (finger), Quincy Pondexter (knee), Bryce Dejean-Jones (wrist), and Alexis Ajinca (fractured sternum) are all out, with Norris Cole (back) and Luke Babbitt (shin) listed as questionable.
That piles all sorts of pressure on Davis, Jrue Holiday and floor-stretching super-sub Ryan Anderson, though as a group they've often been difficult to stop. In 601 minutes this season, lineups featuring that trio have registered an offensive rating of 111.8 and a net rating of +6.4, so if you can contain that group you're well on your way. Alvin Gentry's club has dropped six of seven, including a 121-114 overtime loss to the depleted Grizzlies in Memphis last night, so they would seem ripe for another loss tonight -- especially considering the Bucks' 19-12 home record and New Orleans' 7-25 record outside Louisiana. Davis dropped 25p/13r in 47 minutes last night, while Holiday -- back in the starting lineup over the past week after starting the season on a minutes limit due to his recurring leg injuries -- played a season-high 41 minutes.
UPDATE: Dennis Krause reports Holiday won't start due to his workload last night.
Jrue Holiday has been hot but won't start tonight for Pelicans. Trying to manage his minutes after overtime last night. Norris Cole is out.— Dennis Krause (@DennisKrause1) March 12, 2016