NEW ORLEANS — Playing without Anthony Davis on Monday night, the increasingly explosive New Orleans Pelicans scored virtually at will against the Houston Rockets before eventually falling 130-123 on the road in a game that had an ABA, red-white-and-blue-basketball feel.
The Pelicans (14-14) likely will be without Davis again Wednesday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks (15-10).
The big man is nursing a left adductor (groin) strain he aggravated in a 131-124 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Davis was listed as questionable Tuesday by the Pelicans, who probably will be careful rushing him back after he experienced the setback against the Sixers.
Davis’ absence could be a major problem against the Bucks, who come to town with one of the NBA’s shooting stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” ranks second in the NBA in scoring (29.8 points per game) on 54.6 percent shooting and averages 10.4 rebounds.
The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks in virtually every statistical category, including assists (4.5), steals (1.71) and blocks (1.63). The Bucks have won three consecutive games and also have the benefit of a three-day rest, last playing Saturday night when they rolled past the Utah Jazz 117-100.
With guards Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore finding their shooting range, the Pelicans have turned into a formidable offensive team, but they have played nonchalantly at home en route to a 7-7 record in New Orleans.
Holiday finished with a season-high 37 points and Moore had a career-high 36 against the Rockets, combining to shoot 31 of 41 from the floor and 10 of 15 from long range as the Pelicans set a franchise record with 18 made 3-pointers.
“We’ve just been clicking,” Holiday said.
Moore added, “We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things with talent. When we get things together on the defensive end, we’re going to be hard to beat. Things got a little tough for us in the fourth quarter (Houston outscored the Pelicans 34-20), and the game got real fast. We need to keep working and hopefully we can pull off those games down the line.”
Moore leads the NBA in long-range shooting in December, making 25 of 37 3-point attempts in the past seven games.
The Pelicans also rank No. 2 in the league in December (behind the Rockets) with a 114.7 offensive rating per 100 possessions. With Davis mostly out of the lineup in December, missing four of the last six games, Holiday has responded by picking up the scoring slack, averaging 24.3 points in his past 10 games.
However, New Orleans has struggled mightily to stop teams. The Rockets, of course, can score on anyone, but they shot 54.5 percent overall and made 17 3-pointers Monday. In the past nine games, the Pelicans have allowed no fewer than 114 points. Those defensive numbers represent a freefall from last year when New Orleans was a top-10 defensive team.
The Pelicans got some other bad news when swingman Tony Allen, a defensive standout, sustained a broken left fibula against Philadelphia. He will miss will miss at least the next three weeks.
The Bucks are feeling good about their chances after resting the past three days.
“I think we have a unique opportunity here as a team,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re doing well right now, and we’ve got to keep it up. We know that things are going well, we’re feeling ourselves right now, playing great as a team, but we’ve got to keep playing hard.”