The Bucks continue their three-game road trip as they travel down to New Orleans to take on the floundering Pelicans.
The Bucks roll into Tuesday’s matchup trying to shake off Sunday night’s rough loss against the Spurs. Fatigue caused from extended travel and lack of rest was clearly a factor in Milwaukee blowing a double-digit lead. Despite the loss, Milwaukee still possesses the NBA’s best overall (50-17) and road (23-12) records. The Bucks are 14-1 following a loss and 32-9 when playing on one day’s rest.
New Orleans trudges into tonight’s game counting down the seconds until this season ends. With Jrue Holiday out with an abdominal injury and Anthony Davis on a strict minutes limit, the Pelicans lack the necessary firepower to compete with the league’s best. New Orleans has been forced to fill out its rotation with G-League caliber players and career journeymen. The Pelicans have recently looked lifeless, losing three in a row by double digits. New Orleans will play this game on one day’s rest (20-23 record in such situations).
Milwaukee has an elite record on both one day’s rest and following a loss. While the Bucks are motivated to secure home-court advantage in the East, the Pelicans are just looking to play out their remaining games and finish the season.
Offensively, Milwaukee spaces the floor with shooters around Giannis Antetokounmpo. With opposing defenses spread out to the perimeter, he faces less resistance getting into the paint. Subsequently, Antetokounmpo is having a career year, averaging 24.8 points with a league-leading 17.5 points in the paint per game. Led by the Greek Freak, Milwaukee has scored the third-most points in the paint per game (54.0).
The extra defensive help sent to the paint has led to an increase in quality perimeter shots. Milwaukee ranks second in percentage of points from three-pointers (34.2) and three-pointers made per game (13.4). Its efficient shooting is also evident in both the second-best effective field goal (55.1) and true shooting (58.3) percentage.
With Antetokounmpo serving as the catalyst, the Bucks thrive out in the fast break. In transition, their MVP candidate ranks among the league’s best, averaging 7.1 points per game on 69 percent shooting. His success in transition has translated to Milwaukee ranking sixth in fast-break points per game (17.5) and fourth in fast-break efficiency (2.35).
The Bucks’ unorthodox style of defense has led to the league’s best defensive rating (104.7). Playing a conservative system predicated on owning the paint, the Bucks are first in opposing points in the paint per game (41.8), first in defensive rebounds per game (41.3), and second in blocks per game (6.0).
The emphasis on defending the paint has led to Milwaukee giving up more three-point attempts per game (35.0) than any other team. Usually yielding this type of three-point volume spells disaster, but in the Bucks case, it has worked just fine. Milwaukee is selective in only defending certain shooters from beyond the arc. Thus, Milwaukee ranks near the middle of the pack in opposing three-point percentage per game (35.9) while maintaining its dominant interior defense.
Despite a volatile season, the Pelicans have continued to produce on offense. New Orleans plays at the league’s fifth-fastest pace (103.64) and has the eighth-highest offensive rating (111.5). Outside of Holiday, the team’s best scorers (Davis, Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor) all score a majority of their points in the paint. Thus, the Pelicans have centered their offense around scoring inside. New Orleans ranks first in points in the paint per game (58.4) and percentage of points from the paint (50.5). The Pelicans have also had success on the offensive glass, ranking fifth in second-chance points per game (14.4).
The Pelicans’ troubles fall on the defensive end. New Orleans has the 23rd-worst defensive rating (111.3) while allowing the 27th-most points per game (115.4). Even with Davis and Randle inside, the Pelicans still rank 24th in opposing points in the paint per game (51.0). The team’s deficiencies defending inside are only exacerbated with Okafor receiving more minutes. Although a talented offensive center, he remains a complete defensive liability.
New Orleans’ defensive problems are also prevalent on the perimeter and in transition. The Pelicans rank 24th in opposing fast-break points per game (15.2) and 23rd in opposing three-point percentage (34.8).
Tonight’s game will be a mismatch across the board. New Orleans, which relies on scoring inside the paint, will struggle to find any success against Milwaukee’s league-best interior defense. The Bucks’ length will bother Randle and Okafor. Conversely, the Bucks will be able to score inside against the Pelicans’ vulnerable defense. Milwaukee will also have no problem exploiting New Orleans’ porous three-point and transition defense.
The line for this game opened at -9 Milwaukee. Since then, the Bucks have received 69 percent of public betting action placed on the spread, and the line has nudged up to -9.5. The lack of reverse line movement to this type of heavy public action indicates that sharp bettors are initially siding with the Bucks.
Milwaukee has been the most profitable team this year with a league-leading 39-25-3 record against the spread. The Bucks are also 5-1 ATS in their last six games following an ATS loss. On the other hand, the Pelicans haven’t been nearly as profitable with a 33-35-1 ATS record on the season.
Milwaukee receives the edge here through its superior record against the spread and the sharp bettors’ backing.
Offensively, the Bucks will exploit the Pelicans’ leaky three-point, transition, and interior defense. Through dominant defense in the paint, Milwaukee will be able to neutralize New Orleans’ offensive attack. Additionally, the Bucks are motivated to grab the top seed in the Eastern Conference and will not want to waste an opportunity against an inferior squad. Take the Bucks at -9.5 and watch them dominate from the opening tip.