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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans set to battle league’s best Milwaukee Bucks in primetime

Do you remember when the Bucks were mired in mediocrity during Giannis’ first five seasons?

Phoenix Suns v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After Sunday afternoon’s gut punch of a loss to the Houston Rockets, things don’t get any easier for the New Orleans Pelicans as they host the best team in the NBA, the 42-7 Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks come to the Crescent City winners of nine of their last 10 contests. Milwaukee has the league’s second rated offense (113.8 ORTG), its top rated defense (102.0 DRTG), and its overall leader in Net Rating (+11.8).

Meanwhile, the Pelicans (20-30) have been consistently inconsistent. They are 6-4 over their last 10 games and 3-3 since Zion Williamson made his debut. Though they have the NBA’s eighth-best Net Rating with Zion in the lineup, they’ve been plagued with too many mistakes to build any type of extended winning streak.

New Orleans has only three streaks of at least three straight wins this season, with a season-high of four. In comparison, the Bucks have yet to lose back-to-back games. Not one of their losses has come against a losing team; though five were on the road.

Here’s the good news. After tonight, the Pelicans will only have nine games remaining against teams above .500. Six of New Orleans’ next nine games come against losing teams.

The Pelicans have also played some of their best basketball against the NBA’s top teams. New Orleans is 4-6 against the top four teams in the Western Conference (Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz), and have wins over Houston, Boston, and Indiana.

Though their records are very different, there are some similarities between the two teams. Milwaukee leads the NBA in the ever present race for pace at 105.23, with the Pelicans currently sitting at fifth with a pace of 103.38.

Both rosters are headlined by powerful interior presences in reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson, and flanked by elite wing scorers like fellow All-Stars Khris Middleton and Brandon Ingram. They have talented points guards, veteran shooters, and defensive anchors in the post.

The big difference is defensively. While Milwaukee is the very best on that end, the Pelicans remain among the very wost. Their defensive rating of 112.7 is 25th.

New Orleans may have a slim chance of victory tonight, but they can take notes. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bucks were mired in mediocre basketball in a mediocre conference. Over the first five seasons that Middleton and Giannis were with Milwaukee, the Bucks went 175-235 (.426) with just two winning seasons. Then came last season’s 60-win march to the Eastern Conference. The franchise’s deepest playoff run since 2000-2001.

If New Orleans can build the right mix of verteran role players and youthful talent, they have the potential to make a similar leap. Winning is something you learn as well as do. The Pelicans are still learning. Tonight is certainly a teachable moment.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (20-30) vs Milwaukee Bucks (42-7)

Where: Smoothie King Center — New Orleans, LA

When: Tuesday, February 4, 2020, 6:30 PM CST

How: TNT