Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to continue his offensive tear since exiting health and safety protocols as the Milwaukee Bucks host the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night.
The two-time MVP made his return on Dec. 25 against Boston and has averaged 32.3 points and 10 rebounds over his past three games while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
The Bucks ran their winning streak to five games Thursday night by beating the Magic 136-118. Antetokounmpo paced Milwaukee with 33 points and 12 rebounds on 13-of-22 (59.1 percent) shooting. Jrue Holiday added 25 points and seven assists and Khris Middleton scored 22.
Middleton won’t be available Saturday due to personal reasons.
Fortunately, the Bucks are coming off a game in which the bench also played a vital role, combining for 41 points: DeMarcus Cousins scored 15 with Donte DiVincenzo and Wesley Matthews chipping in 11 apiece.
“That’s the key to being a good NBA team,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Jon Horst and the front office has done a great job putting together the roster and a lot of depth.”
That depth has come in handy over the past week, as reserves have combined to score at least 36 points in each of Milwaukee’s last three contests. However, the bench remains without Semi Ojeleye, who will miss Saturday’s game after entering COVID-19 health and safety protocol.
Milwaukee is averaging 122 points during its win streak with an average margin of victory of 13 points. The Bucks have eclipsed 125 points three times during the streak.
The Pelicans have been on their best run of the season lately, winning five of six, the most recent a 108-104 win over Cleveland when they fought back from a 23-point deficit Tuesday.
Herbert Jones had a career-high 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting (55.6 percent). Devonte’ Graham scored 18 points, Garrett Temple finished with 17 and Jonas Valanciunas tallied 15 along with 10 rebounds in recording his 25th double-double of the season. All five starters scored in double figures.
“With some guys being out, they told me that I had to be more aggressive,” Jones said. “That’s what I tried to do, and I feel like my teammates did a great job of finding me on the cuts.”
New Orleans is without Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado, who are all in the league’s health and safety protocol. Brandon Ingram (Achilles) and Josh Hart (ankle) are listed as game-time decisions, and Zion Williamson is awaiting a re-evaluation of his foot.
Even with all of the injuries, head coach Willie Green said he has been impressed with the resilience of his young team.
“It’s unbelievable — the character with this group,” Green said. “I’m proud of that group, proud of everyone. We just stuck with it, next man up and we go into games believing that we can give ourselves an opportunity if we take care of the basketball and share the basketball with each other.”
Green’s group has started to become a second-half team, averaging 60 points in the third and fourth quarters of the past six games.
Saturday will mark the second and final meeting between Milwaukee and the Pelicans this season. New Orleans earned a 116-112 win in overtime on Dec. 17 behind Graham’s 26 points.
–Field Level Media