By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 3, 2012
During the two-plus seasons that Monty Williams has served as New Orleans’ head coach, the Hornets have prided themselves on playing outstanding defense, holding opponents to under 100 points on a regular basis. That’s partly what made the team’s Nov. 17 defeat at Milwaukee such an uncharacteristic performance for New Orleans. The Bucks posted a 117-113 victory over the Hornets, in one of the highest-scoring games during the Williams era.
If the Hornets are to even their season series at 1-1 with the Bucks on Monday night in the Crescent City, they’ll need to be much stingier on the defensive end. At the Bradley Center in the previous meeting, the Bucks shot 52 percent from three-point range (13-for-25). Milwaukee racked up 60 points in the first half and added 57 more after intermission. Six different Bucks players reached double digits in scoring, including all five starters and hot-shooting reserve Mike Dunleavy (17 points).
New Orleans’ loss in Wisconsin was the third game of the team’s recent seven-game losing streak, which consisted of all seven opponents reaching 100 points in scoring. The Hornets ended their skein with an impressive 105-98 triumph at the Clippers on Nov. 26.
Anthony Davis led the Hornets with 28 points and 11 rebounds against the Bucks on Nov. 17. Unfortunately for Davis and the club, that was the last game Davis played prior to being sidelined due to a stress reaction in his left ankle. Ryan Anderson came off the bench to tally 20 points in Milwaukee, but with Davis out of action, Anderson moved into the starting lineup. Anderson was fantastic during New Orleans’ recent four-game road trip, going an eye-popping 21-for-33 from three-point range.
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Brandon Jennings
For the majority of their young NBA careers, Vasquez and Jennings have shared few similarities in playing style. Vasquez is known mostly for his passing skills, while Jennings generally is viewed as a shoot-first point guard capable of putting up big individual numbers (as an NBA rookie in 2009-10, Jennings erupted for a 55-point game vs. Golden State). Early in 2012-13, Vasquez has improved noticeably as a scorer, twice posting a career-best 25-point game in November. Meanwhile, Jennings is averaging a career high in assists. Jennings’ 22-point, nine-assist, four-steal game vs. New Orleans on Nov. 17 was a big key to Milwaukee’s victory.
After missing the playoffs each of the previous two seasons, Milwaukee was one of the NBA’s early-season surprises, winning six of its first eight games. The 6-2 start was capped by a Nov. 17 victory over New Orleans. In preseason, the majority of NBA analysts did not project a postseason appearance by the Bucks, generally listing Miami, Boston, Indiana, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn as locks in the Eastern Conference, with perhaps Atlanta claiming the eighth and final spot. However, shaky starts by Indiana and Chicago enabled Milwaukee to move into first place in the Central Division early in 2012-13.
After significantly dropping in defensive effectiveness last season, Milwaukee made several offseason moves to try to improve on D and in the rebounding department. The Bucks acquired starting center Samuel Dalembert in a trade, while adding rookie forward John Henson in the draft lottery. The Bucks drew solid reviews from draft pundits for their selections of Henson, a North Carolina product, and second-round pick Doron Lamb of Kentucky, but both players have played sparingly as rookies. Milwaukee also added NBA veterans Marquis Daniels and Joel Przybilla.
Though shooting guard Monta Ellis has emerged as Milwaukee’s leading scorer, perhaps its most important player is point guard Brandon Jennings. The lightning-quick left-hander has improved his overall game in his fourth NBA season, becoming a more effective passer. He and Ellis tied for team scoring honors vs. the Hornets on Nov. 17, dropping in 22 points apiece.
On the rise
At just 20 years old, Bucks forward Tobias Harris has shown glimpses of impressive long-term potential, with a diverse skill set that enables him to contribute in numerous ways. The 6-foot-8 second-year pro was moved into the starting lineup this season and has responded by shooting well overall (55.3 percent).
On the strength of a series of quality moves over the past few seasons, the Bucks have gradually improved their depth. The Milwaukee bench can hurt opponents in a few categories, including perimeter shooting (Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih), shot-blocking (Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh) and one-on-one defense (Daniels).
On the sideline
Scott Skiles was a hard-nosed player during his career, a scrappy point guard who battled on both ends of the floor. He still holds the single-game all-time NBA record for assists, handing out 30 in 1990 as a member of the Orlando Magic. This is Skiles’ fifth season as Milwaukee head coach.
Did you know?
In just their third season of existence, the Bucks captured the 1971 NBA championship, still their lone title in team history. That Bucks team was led by center Lew Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the day after winning the ’71 crown.
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