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Pelicans vs. Bucks Preview | Battered Bucks limp into All-Star break against Anthony Davis

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
2013/14 NBA Season
(9-42, 5-20 home)
(22-29, 9-17 away)
February 12, 2014
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Brian Roberts
Nate Wolters SG Eric Gordon
Khris Middleton SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Ekpe Udoh (?) PF Anthony Davis
Zaza Pachulia C Alexis Ajinca
2013/14 Advanced Stats
91.9 (25th) Pace 92.3 (23rd)
98.9 (29th) ORtg 107.0 (11th)
109.3 (29th) DRtg 108.8 (26th)

On the PelicansThe Bird WritesBourbon Street Shots

The Brow. Anthony Davis wasn't officially an all-star until Kobe Bryant had to pull out due to injury, but unofficially he's one of the top five most valuable assets in basketball. Think about it: if you're starting a team, how many guys would you take before a dominating two-way 20-year-old big man averaging 20.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg while ranking fifth in the league in PER (26.53)?  Durant and LeBron presumably go 1-2 in that hypothetical scenario. But after that? I don't think anyone's particularly close to Davis, whose combination of all-around productivity, size and youth make him about as good a building block as you'll find this side of the big two.

The Pelicans have had to rely on Davis and mercurial shooting guard Eric Gordon more than ever of late, as long-term injuries to Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith have left the Pellies without two starters (Holiday and Smith), a sixth man of the year candidate (Anderson) and three of their top six scorers. Hell, even mascot Pierre the Pelican just went under the knife. The Pelicans couldn't overcome those challenges in Monday's 108-101 loss to the Raptors, dropping them to 22-29 and a seemingly impossible eight games behind the Mavericks for the West's final playoff spot.

The Bird attempts to flyTrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz wrote a terrific piece this week on the challenge of rebuilding in New Orleans, serving up a comprehensive summary of GM Dell Demps' gambles on (among many other things) Jrue Holiday (for Nerlens Noel and likely the Pelicans' 2014 lottery pick) and Tyreke Evans (four years, $44 million and Robin Lopez).

With new owner Tom Benson intent on returning to the playoffs, Demps had a mandate to get better fast, but early returns haven't been good. The aforementioned injuries are certainly a big part of the story, though the real cost and benefits of the Pelicans' accelerated rebuilding will take a while to become evident. Noel has yet to suit up for the Sixers, and New Orleans' struggles this season mean that the top-five protected pick they shipped to Philly in the Holiday deal will be much more valuable than the Pelicans would like (currently projected 11th).

On the plus side, New Orleans' offense has been explosive and bordering unstoppable when healthy. They're currently 11th even with so many guys missing so many games, but Arnovitz notes that the Davis/Anderson pairing has put up on a monster 115 pts and +6 pts/100 possesions together, while Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Davis together have put up 123.5 pts/100 possessions. Hint: that's bananas.

But while the Pelicans have often been impossible to stop when healthy, coach Monty Williams has yet to figure out how to get his team to defend. And he's not exactly thrilled about it. From Arnovitz:

"I'm so tired of talking about offense," Williams says. "I don't care how many offensive guys you have -- from Ryan, to Tyreke to Eric to A.D. to Jrue, the bottom line is you have to defend. ... Our defense is horrible and you just can't play offensive basketball all the time. All the top teams? Their defense is sound. Our defensive mindset has got to get better."

In this case "horrible" is 26th in overall efficiency, including 29th in 2-point field goal percentage allowed and 29th in free throw rate allowed. They were also 28th last year, though Williams' Hornets teams did rank 10th and 15th the two season prior.

Tyreke. Five years ago Evans was rookie of the year and a member of the rare 20/5/5 rookie club, giving the Kings hope that they might finally have a foundational building block for the future. Fast forward a few stop-start years to the summer of 2013, and the Kings were content to let Evans ride off into the sunset as part of a sign-and-trade deal rather than match a potential four-year, $44 million deal.

Demps went after Evans despite the continuing presence of Gordon and the acquisition of Holiday on draft night, a move that understandably left many scratching their heads. The redundancy with Gordon was a big part of it, though it's no secret that the injury-plagued former Clipper has been on the trading block for a while. Playing a career low 24.7 mpg off the bench, Evans has been a mixed bag as a sixth man: he's struggled mightily with his shot (14.9% from three, 48.5% true shooting), but he is putting up the best per-minute assist and rebounding numbers of his career (6.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes).

Michael McNamara of Bourbon Street Shots notes that Evans' struggles have been closely correlated with Anderson's absence, though the recent addition of free agent floor-stretcher Luke Babbitt and Anthony Morrow's 48.5% shooting from three offer some hope of constructing a more functional second unit around Evans.

B*U*C*K*S. Two days after losing Larry Sanders to a fractured orbital bone, the Bucks saw John Henson limp off the floor on Monday after his right foot landed awkwardly on Zaza Pachulia. To which I say: TERRIFIC. This on top of existing injuries to Ersan Ilyasova (back, questionable tonight), Caron Butler (ankle), Luke Ridnour (back), O.J. Mayo (plague) and Carlos Delfino (do I need to keep mentioning him?  We get that he's out forever, right?).

The absence of Sanders and Henson means plenty of burn for Zaza, Ekpe Udoh and Miroslav Raduljica, and it should also mean plenty of dunks for Davis tonight. The Pelicans aren't deep up front either, with the injuries to Anderson and Smith meaning Alexis Ajinca (remember him?) is a starting center in the NBA.