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Nikola Mirotic, Milwaukee Bucks overwhelm New Orleans Pelicans 130-113 despite triple-double effort from Elfrid Payton

A Greek and a Spaniard walk into a Smoothie King Center...

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took care of business on their trip to New Orleans, taking down the Pelicans 130-113.

There is only so much that a team as shorthanded as the Pelicans (30-40) could have done against the team with the best record in the league (51-17), and they probably did it. The score was as close as seven in the fourth quarter after a Darius Miller three, but the outcome never really seemed in doubt.

That Miller triple was one of his three on the evening, but the rest of the team struggled mightily from deep. Their 47 attempts were enough to break the franchise record, but a measly 10 makes on those shots is a bleak footnote for that “accomplishment.” The Bucks weren’t much better at 10-36, but given that their defensive strategy revolves around forcing teams into three point shots they might not actually want, things seem to have gone according to plan.

Speaking of not going according to plan, a player had a triple-double tonight and he was not born in Greece. Despite Antetokounmpo’s penchant for stuffing the stat sheet (he finished tonight with 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists), Elfrid Payton was the one to reach triple digits in his three core stats, finishing the night with 14 points, 11 assists and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Triple-doubles are cool because numbers, but it is worth bearing in mind that the other most jarring part of the stat sheet, a -27, the game’s worst plus-minus by 13 points, also belonged to Payton. But we are always looking on the bright side here at The Bird Writes, so at the very least, Payton was individually productive.

One reason he may have been so involved was a dearth of talent in the backcourt. Jrue Holiday (who may be done for the season) and E’Twaun Moore were both sidelined to nurse injuries.

In their absence, yesterday’s birthday boy Anthony Davis actually played quite hard and quite well in his 21 minutes of action. He scored 21 points (17 of which came in the third quarter), collected 12 rebounds and blocked a couple of shots.

Perhaps it was the presence of former Pelican Nikola Mirotic that lit the fire in Davis. Mirotic made his return to the Smoothie King Center to the tune of 14 points on 10 shots. Not even he was impervious to the three-point shooting woes of the evening (1-5), but it was good to have him back in New Orleans nonetheless. Jason Smith, who was part of the return in the Mirotic trade, actually got his first minutes in a Pelicans uniform in the first half. He didn’t connect on any of his four shots, but he’s played in the league long enough for us to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was rusty!

Even before Davis’ third quarter explosion, the Pelicans, like they did against the Toronto Raptors a couple of nights ago, kept things competitive throughout the first half. After 24 minutes they found themselves trailing by just 8 points. The team effort was certainly their in the third as they scored 41 points, but there was just no stopping the Bucks, who still managed to win the quarter with 45 points of their own.

“I thought our offense was really good in the third quarter, but our defense, we just couldn’t get them slowed down,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “So, you know, you score 41 in a quarter, you think that you would be able to make up ground, but we actually lost ground because they had four more points than we did in that quarter.”

Khris Middleton proved to be an even bigger problem for the Pelicans than Antetokounmpo. His seven assists and two turnovers were an efficient complement to his 23 points, and at no point in the game did it appear like anybody on New Orleans’ roster was capable of preventing him from what he wanted to do. He’s a mismatch in his own right and may have been covered by Holiday had he been playing. But with Jrue out of the lineup, he had free reign and delivered.

The Pelicans rookies in the starting lineup struggled to get things going. Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams combined to shoot just 9-24 from the field, a number dragged down by Jackson’s 0-6 mark from three, but a disappointing one still. Their four personal fouls apiece were not particularly egregious against a team that is so physically imposing, but even so they illuminate the need for both to continue to improve on that end.

I would be remiss to not mention Julius Randle, who did Julius Randle things for most of the night. Despite shooting 1-6 from three-point range, he still finished the night 10-19 from the field for a team-high 23 points, proving yet again that no matter what he will find a way to get his. To his credit, he played another 36 minutes tonight and is likely going to lead the Pelicans in minutes played for the rest of the season. These games may not matter to a lot of fans at this point, but for a man looking to earn the most money possible in his next contract, these final 12 could mean everything.

The next chance he and his teammates will have to get out on the court will come on Friday, March 15, against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are currently locked in battle with the red-hot post-Tobias Harris Los Angeles Clippers.

Regardless of the eventual result in that contest, the Pelicans can count on a tough one this Friday night. Tip-off is set for 7:00pm CST.

Geaux Pels!