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New Orlean Pelicans off target in 120-108 loss to league-best Milwaukee Bucks

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Zion v Giannis clashes at rim favor Bucks MVP

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans went cold Tuesday night in a 120-108 loss to the league-best Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antentokuonmpo had 34 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block, and played mostly perfect interior defense with the Lopez twins.

The Pelicans came out hot, making 9 of 18 threes to start the game, but throughout most of the night had a hard time getting near the hoop, and when they did, their shots were under so much duress, they’d either miss or throw it away.

Brandon Ingram was the lone Pelican who made shots, finishing with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting. The rest of the starters shot 12 of 47. Lonzo Ball had 11 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Turnovers also harmed the Pelicans (18 in this one), especially by those high-usage folks in the starting lineup; at what point do we really have to have a conversation with Ball about securing his dribble and a passing lane before doing something silly? And Zion Williamson isn’t exactly perfect with the ball, either. Let’s hope these are growing pains — methinks it is.

Oh yeah: Zion finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 turnovers. He was 5 of 18 from the floor and 10 of 14 from the free throw line.

Zion vs Giannis (and 2 Lopezes)

This is why we were all watching.

Unfortunately for Pelicans fans, we saw another opponent face Giannis and lose. Zion drove the ball at the chests of Giannis and Brook Lopez — you can’t fault his confidence or gamesmanship — only to see his efforts at the rim thwarted again and again. At least a time or two Giannis completely stonewalled Zion before he even got to the paint.

Both Bucks bigs blocked basketballs often, especially in the first half.

Zion made just 3 of his first 13 shots, many of those shots missing against the defense of those two.

But man oh man was it fun watching that pair meet at the rim.

Zion kept attacking, and over the course of the game was able to get to the free throw line more and more. He’s always around the hoop and the ball, so he’s going to shoot freebies.

Bench and Rebounding, or, Just Play Hart

Of the plethora of stats the Bucks rank 1st in the league in, a winning tendency emerges: rebounding. (Of course, the Bucks are also 2nd Offensive Rating, 1st in Defensive Rating and have the best Net Rating by a mile; they’re also 1st in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and pace, too. lol)

The Bucks are 1st in overall and defensive rebounding rate, while the Pelicans come in 13th overall. But with everything else Pelicans-related, you gotta look at Zion. Since the big boy’s arrival, the Pelicans have shot up to 1st in offensive rebound rate, sunk to 26th in defensive rebounding rate, and come in 4th overall. As you’ll notice when you watch him play, Zion is lightning quick to a loose ball within his grasp. He’s already got it and is going up for another layup or dunk before most guys realize the ball is available.

Early in the 1st half when the Pelicans were making seemingly every shot they took, the Pels were dominating the glass. Plus, Nola’s favorite Williamson was grabbing offensive rebounds; over time, the Bucks swung rebounding numbers back towards them with the triumvirate of Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, and Ersan Ilyasova, three vital cogs to the Bucks rebounding machine.

JJ Redick, Josh Hart, Nicolo Melli and E’Twaun Moore did all the scoring from the bench, easily outpacing the Bucks in the bench scoring column. And you could tell Hart and Melli were implored to gather more boards after the first half.

Over time, the Bucks solidified their defense AND the Pelicans missed shots. Milwaukee played consistently good defense and only a small run inspired by Zion got the game to within single-digits late.

This was, pretty easily, the best offensive possession of the night, and didn’t feature Zion much.

With Zion dominating certain possessions, it’ll be interesting to see how the Pelicans’ offensive assault morphs over time. Maybe more coherent, fluid ball movement would benefit the team now, but Zion’s early-career doodles are like unwrapping presents every day.

Up Next

The Pelicans visit the midwest for their next two games, a Feb. 6 Chicago Bulls game and a Feb. 8 game in Indianapolis.

Geaux Pelicans!