Two NBA match previews as the Milwaukee Bucks (9-5) look to respond after a heartbreaking defeat against the Brooklyn Nets as they host the defending champion Lakers (11-4), while Stan Van Gundy’s New Orleans Pelicans (5-8) hope to avoid successive defeats against a resurgent Utah Jazz team (10-4) after a sluggish start to the regular season. Who will come out on top?
Bucks vs Lakers: title contenders collide after narrow defeats
Tip-off time: Midnight BST
Two of the league’s best clash in the early hours on Friday when the Bucks host the Lakers, after both suffered narrow but preventable defeats in contrasting circumstances earlier this week.
Stephen Curry was predictably decisive in helping the Golden State Warriors complete an unlikely comeback – down 14 in the fourth quarter – outlasting the Lakers on Tuesday morning.
READ: Curry praises team’s toughness as Warriors recover to beat Lakers
Meanwhile, a few hours earlier, it was the combo play of Kevin Durant and new acquisition James Harden which proved key for Brooklyn as they earned a two-point win over the Bucks.
Who will make the necessary adjustments to perform more efficiently in this encounter and importantly, return to winning ways against tough opposition in this cross-conference clash?
Harden and Durant combined for 64 points on 46 shots (50% total FG) and it was the latter’s three-point dagger that sunk an admirable Bucks effort.
To make matters worse, Harden had just missed a three of his own – collected the rebound – and threw it straight to KD’s path, who made no mistake from deep.
All-Star forward Khris Middleton missed two threes down the other end, including what would’ve been a dramatic go-ahead triple with 1.1 seconds left and Brooklyn held on.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t surprised.
“This is what they do. Wake up, come to the game and score 30. If you’re not aggressive and not locked in against them, they’re going to score 50.”
2-0 since acquiring Harden, who is averaging 33 points and 13 assists since the blockbuster trade, Durant revealed there’s still plenty of room for improvement – not least with All-Star guard Kyrie Irving returning imminently.
Middleton had 25 points, four assists and steals while Jrue Holiday recorded 22 with six assists too. Judging by the box score, their scoring efficiency wasn’t the issue – nor was turnovers (5) – they really struggled from three-point range (11-of-37, 29.7%). That has to improve.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer said he’s looking forward to tougher competition and that continues on Friday against the Lakers, who were stifled by a rousing fourth quarter effort against Golden State.
LeBron James’ layup gave them an 11-point margin heading into the final twelve minutes, but Frank Vogel’s men were ice cold down the stretch (1-of-14 shooting from the field in the final eight minutes) and wasted possessions saw the Warriors claw their way back into proceedings.
Dennis Schroder led LA with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, while Anthony Davis and LeBron combined for just 36 points on 32 total shots. It goes without saying that they’ll do better here, but this matchup could easily be decided by who has the more productive bench unit.
Montrezl Harrell (17 pts, 8 rebs) and Kyle Kuzma (15 pts, 10 rebs) had good nights against the Warriors, while guard Pat Connaughton led Milwaukee’s four-man bench with nine points.
Offseason acquisitions D.J. Augustin (0-of-7) and Bryn Forbes (2-of-7, three fouls) largely disappointed, so it’ll be interesting to see how they respond among home comforts this time.
Who’s more likely to win this matchup? The breakdown
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Milwaukee a slight advantage (53%) in this matchup, as they did before an entertaining clash unfolded against Brooklyn last time out.
They were a missed three-pointer away from clinching victory that night and although this will probably prove just as difficult a challenge here, I’d expect they learn from those mistakes and do enough to beat a Lakers side who also had their winning streak snapped too later that night.
Bucks: Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez.
Lakers: Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol.
Utah Jazz vs New Orleans Pelicans: Repeat result or revenge?
Tip-off time: 3.30am BST
After a comfortable 118-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the early hours on Wednesday, Donovan Mitchell and co hope they extend their winning streak to seven games by earning back-to-back victories over Stan Van Gundy’s men Friday morning.
Mitchell had 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists while All-Star teammate Rudy Gobert had a double-double (13 pts, 18 rebs) as they cruised to victory after an impressive third quarter.
Zion Williamson recorded his third 30-point game of the campaign so far, but it wasn’t enough to help the Pelicans avoid yet another defeat – four from their last five matches. How will they respond, after a collectively rough night?
Jordan Clarkson had 18 points, six rebounds and assists while Joe Ingles scored a game-high five threes in 19 minutes from the bench.
Reserve small forward Georges Niang (10 pts, 1 reb and ast) was decent in 13 minutes too, during an impressive performance that satisfied Mitchell post-game.
“The biggest thing is we’re shooting our shots, not passing up 3s.”
They shot 21-of-47 from deep (44.7%), a statistic only power forward Royce O’Neale is averaging higher than so far (45.6% 3P%) through 14 games.
They defended well, making it difficult for the Pelicans who trailed throughout the second-half. Head coach Van Gundy was frustrated with how easy it was for them, wherever they went:
“We couldn’t stop them on anything: obviously what stands out is the 21 3s, but they also didn’t have any trouble getting to the rim. So they got whatever they wanted, we didn’t take anything away from them.”
Ingram, who shot 8-of-18 from the field (17 pts, four assists, two blocks) revealed Utah’s playing style is well-known but they were unable to stop it.
Lonzo Ball (knee) returned after a three-game absence, but was unable to provide the same success Joe Ingles (Achilles) had. He’s shooting just 3-of-22 in his last three games from distance.
He doesn’t need to be told those statistics need improving, while starting teammates Eric Bledsoe (9 pts) and Steven Adams (9 rebs, 6 pts) didn’t get into double-digit scoring either.
Utah finished the game with a 60-45 edge on total rebounds, all pitching in to make it less about defending against the sheer length and power Zion-Adams boast – more about positioning – key for fast-break points and smoother transitions between possessions.
Subtle things like that, as well as limiting their total turnovers (14-8), will be key as they look to earn another win before hosting Golden State on Saturday night.
Who’s more likely to win this matchup? The breakdown
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has given Utah a narrow edge (57.5%) to replicate their midweek win and in fairness, it’s not exactly surprising.
Both teams have endured rough nights and also enjoyed better performances so far this season, though Quin Snyder’s men are significantly better placed in the Western Conference right now through 14 games while NOLA are a disappointing 3-5 away from home.
The Pels’ Ball-Bledsoe backcourt struggled (16 points, six assists on 6-of-19 shooting) and while you’d expect they improve, the same criticism could be levelled at their bench: none of them recorded double-digit scoring, while three Jazz players were by contrast in Snyder’s second unit.
I think that will be the decisive storyline, rather than Zion and Ingram against the Mitchell-Gobert pairings that often headline these matchups in the build-up.
Jazz: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert.
Pelicans: Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams.
Picture source: AP, County Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Yahoo, KSL Sports