After Being Thunder-Struck, Pelicans Try to Put Fear Into the Deer

NEW ORLEANS – In an air-tight Western Conference, every win will be critical for the Pelicans to ensure the best possible playoff position. They’re a game behind the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and only two games ahead of the eight-seed Mavericks. On Thursday, the Pelicans face the surging Milwaukee Bucks in the second of a six-game home stand that includes five playoff contenders.

When the Bucks clobbered the Pelicans in late January, Milwaukee looked quite different. Joe Prunty was the head coach and the rotation wasn’t quite the same. Though it started slowly, the Bucks’ offense has become elite as the season progressed. Their offensive rating is third in the league (118.9), spamming triples at an elite clip (43%) and countering with Giannis at the basket.

As the season progresses, the chemistry between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard continues to grow. The Bucks are more intentional now than ever in working together their two best players in pick-and-roll actions. Lillard’s shooting gravity warps defenses to his will and Giannis is one of the best rim finishers in NBA history.

Especially if Herb Jones guards the ball, the Pelicans’ off-ball defenders must be sharp crashing down on Giannis and forcing passes and difficult shots. Antetokounmpo is an excellent passer and the Bucks are an elite shooting team by volume and efficiency.

If the Pelicans elect to play Jonas Valanciunas at the level of the screen to limit Lillard and Khris Middledon’s pull-up shooting, they must contend with Giannis as a lob threat. The off-ball defenders, whether Zion Williamson, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy or anyone else, must rotate early to force Giannis to catch and go up strong.

Milwaukee’s defense is pedestrian at best, especially their perimeter defense. Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo are stout defending the rim, but explosive handlers can easily drive by Lillard, Middleton, Beasley or whoever else defends the ball.

Given the Bucks’ adherence to deep-drop principles with Lopez on the floor, the mid-range is often open. Milwaukee’s allows the highest mid-range frequency in the league (30.8% of opponent shots), meaning Ingram and CJ McCollum will have ample space to work in their favorite spots. 

The Milwaukee Bucks are a mainstay atop the Eastern Conference and among the NBA’s elite. They will be a useful pre-playoff test for the Pelicans against one of the league’s most formidable star duos.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

Most Recent Starting Lineups

Milwaukee BucksNew Orleans Pelicans
G – Damian LillardG – CJ McCollum
G – Malik BeasleyG – Herb Jones
F – Khris MiddletonF – Trey Murphy III
F – Giannis AntetokounmpoF – Zion Williamson
C – Brook LopezC – Jonas Valanciunas


Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo (hamstring), MarJon Beauchamp (back), Khris Middleton (ankle) are PROBABLE. Patrick Beverley (wrist) is OUT.

New Orleans Pelicans: Jose Alvarado (right oblique strain) and Brandon Ingram (left knee bone contusion) are OUT.

Who: Milwaukee Bucks (46-26) at New Orleans Pelicans (44-28)

Season Series

  • Jan. 27: Milwaukee Bucks def. New Orleans Pelicans, 141-117
  • Mar. 28: Milwaukee Bucks at New Orleans Pelicans

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Mar. 28, 7:00 PM CDT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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