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Jrue Holiday’s first regular season return highlights Pelicans matchup against Bucks

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Can New Orleans knock off a championship contender?

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans (6-10) host the Milwaukee Bucks (11-6) with subplots aplenty and the opportunity to do something that they haven’t done since the turn of the new year — win consecutive games.

First, the headliner. Jrue Holiday, perhaps the most beloved player in franchise history, will enter the Smoothie King Center as a visitor for the second time. The last was during the preseason, a game New Orleans won handily.

This time, it counts. His former teammates can’t afford to be misty eyed. Playing alongside two-time reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokoumpo, and All-Star Khris Middleton, Holiday is averaging 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game.

His .475 field goal percentage is Holiday’s highest since the 2017-18 season, and his .358 shooting from behind the arc is his best mark in seven years.

Jrue also continues to provide great defense on a nightly basis, keeping Milwaukee in the top ten.

Holiday will find that though much has changed since last we saw him, many things remain the same.

Like persistent trade rumors, perhaps?

The Pelicans’ lackluster start has generated speculation that multiple players could be moved during the season. It seems a foregone conclusion that someone is going to get traded. The “who,” “when,” “to where,” and “for what” remain to be seen.

This is what happens when a team goes 27 days since earning two victories in a row.

After beating the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors to improve to 4-2 at the time, New Orleans has lost eight of its last 10.

A win over Bradley Beal and the available Washington Wizards provided only a momentary salve over the burn that so much losing had left.

The Bucks, however, represent a step up in weight class.

After a slow start, Milwaukee has won seven of its last 10 games, and sits second in net rating with a +9.0, just two-tenths of a point behind the league-leading Lakers.

The Bucks have done that by dominating weaker opponents, especially at home. The road hasn’t been as kind. Outside of Cream City, Milwaukee is just 3-4. This after winning 67 percent of their road games the last two seasons.

Both teams are rested, with the Bucks having beaten the Raptors on Monday night before heading to New Orleans.

For the Pelicans, they have to play as well as they played for the first 12 minutes of Wednesday’s win over Washington, but for 35 to 36 minutes more.

Getting off to great starts hasn’t been a problem for the Pels. New Orleans holds the league’s second best net rating in the first quarter so far with an impressive +16.5.

Then again, Milwaukee is number one, posting a +22.6 mark out of the blocks.

The problem for the Pelicans, for as long as most of us can remember, has been consistency.

Can Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson remain as efficient in scoring as they were in combining for 64 points on 35 shot attempts against the Wizards?

Will the Pelicans defend and apply pressure to the ball handler?

Will they be able to play with aggression and activity on offense?

Will they make Jrue feel really at home by handing him another defeat on the SKC floor? (I’m kidding.)

We’ll have some answers, and maybe more questions, in just a few hours.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (6-10) vs Milwaukee Bucks (11-6)

When: January 29, 6:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO, ESPN

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @DMGrubb.