3 things to watch as Milwaukee Bucks open 2022 vs New Orleans Pelicans

Dec 17, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /
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Milwaukee Bucks: DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans Pelicans: Jonas Valanciunas
Dec 17, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

After sweeping the two-game mini-series against the Orlando Magic (and sweeping the four-game season series), the Milwaukee Bucks are back home to kick off a three-game homestand (and 2022) against the New Orleans Pelicans.

This will be the final of two meetings between the teams this season, with New Orleans winning the first one in overtime back on December 17th. Milwaukee, of course, was without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, among many others.

Jrue Holiday had his best offensive game of the season as he had to take the reins and nearly willed the Bucks to a win almost single-handedly. However, the fact that the game was so close with the Bucks missing so many players is probably a good indicator of how it’ll likely go now that they’re at nearly full health.

The Milwaukee Bucks will need to protect the paint against the New Orleans Pelicans

Before their first meeting this season, I wrote about how the Bucks needed to try to contain Jonas Valanciunas as best they could without Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis.

Well, he scored 24 points and went 11-of-15 from the field (didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer) and made both of his free throws. DeMarcus Cousins and the Bucks’ depleted frontcourt were no match for Valanciunas’ size, but it was evident in other areas as well.

Over 40 percent of the Pelicans’ shot attempts came in the paint and they drew 10 shooting fouls on shots in the paint, according to Cleaning the Glass (subscription required). Granted, they didn’t shoot particularly well on those rim attempts (56.7 percent), but the Bucks don’t typically allow teams to get to the rim at will like that.

It’s a tall task (no pun intended) to do that without Lopez, but the Bucks have still managed to be a good rim protection team this season. Now that their frontcourt is nearly whole, they stand a much better chance of slowing down Valanciunas, as well as the other Pelicans who got easy looks at the rim (Herb Jones had 17 points!).