The New Orleans Pelicans have wrapped up another exhibition schedule — their third straight — with a perfect won/loss record.
They went 5-0 in the last preseason, 3-0 in the bubble practice games, and with a 127-113 victory over the Bucks on Friday night, have concluded the 2020 preseason with a 2-0 record. Let’s hope this time, though, it leads to stronger play out of the gates in games that count, right?
Despite the the two preseason wins this week, the Pelicans are not a finished product. Stan Van Gundy mentioned to postgame media that he was only pleased with the defense in the first quarter against the Bucks, lamenting what he saw over the final three frames.
“We were not very good tonight, defensively,” Van Gundy said. “I thought, the first quarter, I thought we did a lot of what we wanted to do. I thought we had a good focus on how we wanted to play. I thought our pick-and-roll defense was pretty good. It’s really good things and then over the last three quarters, we just weren’t very good defensively. There were some moments where we were okay, but we didn’t do a very good job of protecting the paint…fouled way too much. Those are things that just can’t happen.”
Make no mistake, the Pelicans have had stretches of playing really well on both sides of the ball, but there have been lapses and they will show up more prominently in the regular season against stiffer competition.
Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out of Friday’s action due to back tightness, but Milwaukee still enjoyed a lead of seven points early in the third quarter. However, buoyed by good all-around efforts from Zion Williamson (31 points, nine rebounds, 7-11 FTs) and Lonzo Ball (19 points, eight assists, five rebounds), and a big spark from the bench unit in that third quarter, New Orleans was able to walk away with the victory.
Khris Middleton paced the Bucks with 29 points, and considering he did all of his damage in just 26 minutes, it’s a glaring red flag that another good-sized wing scorer had his way with a New Orleans defense. It should remain fresh in your minds that this happened far too often last season, where the Pelicans couldn’t stop not only the LeBron’s and Kawhi’s but also the Harris’ and Bogdanovic’s.
Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart were largely ineffective against Milwaukee’s starting small forward, and both Pelicans had turns taking a seat in the third quarter due to foul trouble. BI really struggled for much of the game, fouling out in 24 minutes and scoring 11 points on 2-10 shooting.
For those wondering why Van Gundy selected Sindarius Thornwell as Hart’s replacement in the third, he offers greater size and strength over Nickeil Alexander-Walker and that was called for against Middleton.
Eric Bledsoe’s first action in a New Orleans uniform was a positive one as he finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He seemed to get into a decent rhythm with his new teammates immediately from the jump. Bledsoe knocked down a couple of threes, including a tough one in the corner with a fast closing Jrue Holiday. He really only had one major blemish: a 2-7 shooting performance from the free throw line.
The best moment for the hometown faithful — 750 fans were in attendance — occurred in that dramatic third quarter. With the Pelicans offense and defense both faltering. Steven Adams (six points, nine rebounds) stepped up first, grabbing four of his seven offensive rebounds on the night that led to some much-needed points. Then, JJ Redick (18 points, three 3-pointers) entered the game and fully flipped the momentum back in New Orleans’ favor through his scoring and hustle (extended one possession, picked up a charge later). This seemed to ignite Nicolo Melli (nine points, five rebounds) and Jaxson Hayes (eight points, five rebounds, two blocks).
At one point in the second quarter, the Pelicans had a 20-point lead (47-27), but that quickly evaporated when Zion headed to the bench for a rest. The Bucks immediately proceeded to go on a 16-2 run.
Following the game, Van Gundy stated that fatigue may have played a part in the lackluster play. The Pelicans have spent a lot of hours in practice trying to get ready for the upcoming regular season, which begins next Wednesday in Tampa Bay against the Raptors.
Before putting a bow on another recap, we must take a minute to appreciate Jrue Holiday once more. I must say that it was nice but weird seeing him again. He’s obviously a member of the Bucks now, but watching him fly around the Smoothie King Court in a different uniform produced an odd feeling. It was fantastic that the home crowd gave him the largest ovation in pregame though, and he did go on to produce a fine line (15 points, five assists and four rebounds) that didn’t wind up spoiling the Pelicans’ victory.
“Yeah I mean Jrue’s a great player, an even better person,” Lonzo Ball said. “It’s good seeing him. Obviously we like him on our team, but he’s in a (different) situation now (and) we wish him the best.”
Holiday was caught talking to teammates prior to the matchup and afterwards, and there were moments they mingled on the court, too. I specifically remember Williamson setting an illegal screen on Holiday that led to an offensive foul, and after the whistle, Zion quickly checked on his former teammate to make sure he was okay before smiling and running back up the court.
Zion and Jrue catching up pregame pic.twitter.com/LwrPW0mU9X— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 18, 2020
Seriously, we here at The Bird Writes, like Zo, wish Jrue Holiday nothing but the best in Milwaukee.
As for the Pelicans, we’re five days away from the first game that counts. Let’s hope they’re ready enough.