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Clash of the Titans: Pelicans-Bucks matchup promises fantastic battle between Zion and Giannis

New Orleans’ best chance to end their 3-game slide is to cu

New Orleans Pelicans v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Home sweet home.

The New Orleans Pelicans must hope that idiom still rings true.

Following an unsuccessful three-game road trip that’s triggered the largest losing streak of the season, the Pelicans will look to get off the schneid within the friendly confines of the Smoothie King Center — but they’ll have to do it against the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

The Pelicans have won seven straight games in New Orleans, last falling to the Boston Celtics on Nov. 18. They’ve lost only three times in fifteen contests overall, producing the sixth highest winning percentage at home.

The offense and defense have generally been good, so it’ll be interesting to see if the coaching staff and players can get under control a couple of raging wild fires.

Over the last four games, the Pelicans have given up an average of 27.8 points off turnovers, easily ranking last in the league, and that’s been compounded by opponents also scoring 21.5 second chance points per contest.

Previously, the Pelicans did a much job of not allowing as many good opportunities in either category (17.4 OPP PTS OFF TO, 13.1 OPP 2ND PTS) through the first 25 games.

When the Pelicans have given up 20 points off turnovers or less to opponents, their record stands at 15-2. When the figure has exceeded that amount, they’re 3-9.

Similarly, limiting the opposition to 14 second chance points or less has resulted in a 12-3 record for New Orleans. Doing the quick math shows they’re 6-8 when opponents score 15 or more second chance points.

The Bucks, fortunately, are poor at taken advantage of opponent turnovers, ranking dead last in the NBA at 14.6 points off turnovers. They’re much better, however, at crashing the offensive glass and putting back in their own misses (15.0 second chance points).

Everything starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though he’s struggling a bit more than usual from the 3-point and free throw lines, Giannis remains the best player in the league in my opinion, averaging 30.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He brings it on both ends, along with a tenacity that loathes losing.

We’ve seen a very similar mindset from Zion Williamson in recent weeks. The points have always been there, but his rebounding, playmaking and defensive intensity have ticked up several notches, making him a genuine MVP candidate.

Since Nov. 23, Williamson is averaging 28.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks.

While it’ll be fun to see which titan reigns supreme in the lane — Zion and Giannis rank one-two in points in the paint, the supporting cast that provides greater assistance is likely to determine Monday’s winner.

Brook Lopez is having the best bounceback campaign that not enough are talking about. After appearing in only 13 games last season, many wrote him off, but he’s arguably been the best defensive center thus far. He’s leading the league in blocks and has been nearly as potent of a restricted area deterrent as Antetokounmpo.

Jrue Holiday remains one of the best perimeter defenders, and he’ll make life difficult for CJ McCollum, but don’t overlook his offensive prowess (19.2 points, 7.4 assists, 2.3 threes).

While Khris Middleton is out with right knee soreness, the Bucks are expected to welcome Joe Ingles for the first time this season. The long-time member of the Jazz tore the ACL in his left knee 10 months ago. Considering the long layoff, though, one shouldn’t expect for the 34-year-old to help the Bucks in his first minutes back.

The Blender is going to be rocking. The Pelicans announced a sell-out crowd will be in attendance for this matchup last week.

“We are excited to announce a sellout crowd for the Pelicans game Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks,” said New Orleans Pelicans Governor Mrs. Gayle Benson. “We have had a thrilling start to the basketball season thus far, and I look forward to seeing our fans arrive early and pack the Smoothie King Center on Monday night.”

An ultra loud home court advantage for the Pelicans could be the difference maker against the Bucks. Be sure to bring and use your voice!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (18-11) vs Milwaukee Bucks (21-8)

When: December 19, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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 @OlehKosel.