Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer stands near the bench in the first half against the New York Knicks on December 1, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Forwards Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle will watch from the bench Wednesday night when the New Orleans Pelicans look to get back to .500 when they visit the Central Division-leading Bucks in Milwaukee.
Both are dealing with sprained ankles. Mirotic has missed the Pelicans' last two games thanks to an injury first sustained Nov. 17. Randle went down late Sunday during a loss to Miami and has yet to return to practice.
Their injuries are the latest blow for a team already playing short-handed after Elfrid Payton broke a finger, leaving him out of action at least until after the holidays, and kicking off a stretch of four straight games against opponents with records better than .500.
"It's a challenge with [Mirotic, Randle and Payton in the lineup], so obviously it's going to be a challenge without them," Bucks head coach Alvin Gentry said of missing both Mirotic and Randle simultaneously for the first time this season. "You just have to play games. That's why they play the game. We played Boston without three of their starters and four of their top six guys and that's why you have guys on the roster and it's why you try to get as deep as you possibly can."
Depth hasn't exactly been a strength for the Pelicans, who rank 29th in bench scoring this season with just 29.6 points per game. New Orleans' reserves have been outscored in each of the last five games -- averaging just 19.2 points -- while opponents' second units have averaged 45.8 points during the same stretch.
"This group has the ability," Solomon Hill said. "We just have to trust each other and know we can get better and turn that corner we keep talking about. Injuries are part of the game and we know that, but they do change what we do and they change some of our roles, but that's all part of it.
"The games keep coming and we just have to play through it. We'll get it figured out."
Forward D.J. Wilson has for the most part languished at the end of Milwaukee's bench this season but is looking to build on a breakout performance his last time out when he had nine points, three rebounds and three assists as the Bucks held on for a 107-104 victory Monday night in Detroit.
"I just thought he played great," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said of Wilson. "His focus, his energy, just everything he did. I told a lot of people how great he was in September and early in training camp. It's great to see him healthy. His teammates trust him. We all trust him."
An injury to Ersan Ilyasova made it possible for Wilson, the team's first-round draft pick a year ago, to get extended playing time. Milwaukee's second-round pick in that draft, guard Sterling Brown, also got additional minutes while Malcolm Brogdon remained sidelined with a sore left hamstring.
Budenholzer said the injury was "mild" but that the team was taking a patient approach to Brogdon's recovery.
"I think we're just maybe being aggressively cautious if there is such a phrase," Budenholzer said. "He's not quite right and I think just considering the long haul, the big picture, just give him another day or two or just give him until when he's ready."
The Pelicans swept the season series a year ago and have won three in a row overall against the Bucks, who haven't won a season series against the Pelicans since the franchise moved to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season.