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Bucks vs. Pelicans Preview | Giannis returns to his all-star stomping grounds in New Orleans

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2013/14 NBA Season
(12-48, 5-23 road)
(24-37, 13-14 home)
March 7, 2014
Smoothie King Center | New Orleans, LA
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 Tyreke Evans
John Henson PF Anthony Davis
Zaza Pachulia C Alexis Ajinca
2013/14 Advanced Stats
91.7 (26th) Pace 92.3 (23rd)
101.2 (29th) ORtg 107.0 (11th)
110.0 (30th) DRtg 110.0 (29th)

UPDATE: The league announced that Ersan Ilyasova will be suspended one game without pay for punching Reggie Evans during Wednesday night's game.

On the PelicansThe Bird WritesBourbon Street Shots

Pelicans update. New Orleans snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 132-125 shootout win in L.A. on Monday, as Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans combined 80 points to overwhelm the struggling Lakers to overcome. I'm not sure the Bucks are capable of keeping up that kind of scoring pace against anyone short of the Sixers, but either way don't expect the defenses to distinguish themselves tonight. The Bucks and Pelicans are neck and neck in the race to earn the coveted "worst defense in the league" title, and they've only been getting worse as the season has worn on.

With Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson done for the season and the playoffs little more than a pipe dream (11.5 games out), the Pelicans are also facing the additional threat of losing their lottery pick. Dell Demps dealt a top-five protected 2014 first rounder to Philly last June as part of the Holiday/Nerlens Noel deal, so barring some serious lottery luck they'll enter the summer capped out and without a first rounder for good measure. All of that makes their recent struggles a rather dangerous game: losing increases the likelihood that they find some lottery magic and jump into the top three, but it also means a sweeter deal for the Sixers if New Orleans doesn't jump into the lottery-determined top three.

The huge swing in the odds not surprisingly happens if they finish outside the top five in the lotto standings. As our friends at The Bird Writes note, finishing fifth means there's about a 55% chance they keep their pick (by either standing pat or jumping into the top three).  Drop to sixth and the likelihood crashes to just 21% (which is just the odds of jumping into one of the top three slots). But unfortunately for the Pellies, they're currently tied for 10th in the lotto standings, meaning if the season ended today they'd have less than a 5% chance of denying Philly a second lottery pick.

Still, there's plenty of room for jostling in the lotto standings over the next five weeks. With 24 wins, the Pelicans are tied with the Pistons for 10th in the lotto standings, but they're also just three wins ahead of the 5th seeded Lakers and Jazz in the race for the bottom. It's exactly the kind of situation that Adam Silver and the league office should be worried about; roughly a third of the league could find themselves incentivized not to win games down the stretch. Still, it's not all straight tankers among the league's dregs right now. New York (which owes its pick to Denver) and Denver (which owes its own pick to Orlando) have every incentive to win as much as possible, while the Pelicans and Pistons (the lotto pick they sent to Charlotte is top-8 protected) only lose their picks under certain scenarios.

Tyreke-ing havoc. After coming off the bench for the first 49 games of the season, Tyreke Evans is back where you'd hope to find a guy with a $44 million contract: the starting lineup. The former Kings savior has struggled mightily with his jumper this season (21% on shots between 10 and 16 feet, 26% from 16-23 feet, 19% on threes!), but he's looked like a different player since Monty Williams threw him into the starting five as an undersized small forward.

Over the past four games Evans is averaging 21.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 7.0 apg in 40 mpg while posting a .492/.357/.833 shooting line. The weirdest stat might be his sudden confidence from deep: he's 5/14 in four games as a starter after shooting 8/55 in 49 games as a reserve. Go figure.

Furrowed 'Brow. On paper, the last meeting between these teams had all the makings of an Anthony Davis dunkfest: not only was Larry Sanders out following surgery on his busted eye socket, but the Bucks were starting a pair of big men who jump with all the explosiveness of a jar of molasses. Alas, Davis found quick foul trouble in both the first and third quarters, limiting him to just 20 minutes in a game the Pelicans the won narrowly 102-98. Don't expect Davis to suffer the same bad luck two games in a row, though it'd also be nice if John Henson--you know, the Bucks' only shot-blocker/guy who can score inside--could find a way to make an impact after a largely forgettable last few weeks.

We've unfortunately reached a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation with Henson at this point: is he not playing well because he's not getting a lot of minutes, or is he not getting a lot of minutes because he's just kind of going through the motions?  You could argue either side, but the bottom line is that both Henson and the Bucks have every incentive to see the 23-year-old big man perk up and finish the season strong. So while I can't tell you what goes on (or doesn't go on) with Henson in practice or behind closed doors, I'm all in favor of throwing him into the starting five and seeing if it will help re-energize him. What do they have to lose? Games? Please. I know what Zaza Pachulia can('t) do, so let's not act like him starting ahead of Henson is helping the Bucks in the grand scheme of the universe.

The reality is that depending on whom the Bucks select in the lottery, there's a good chance John Hammond, David Morway and company will have to make some tough decisions about their frontcourt this summer, and Henson floating through the last six weeks of the season doesn't help.

UPDATE: With Ilyasova out, let's cross our fingers that Henson gets a chance to start--even if Jeff Adrien has clearly outperformed him of late.

Bucks news and notes. Some really great Bucks reading/watching/listening to catch up on:

  • Grantland | In Giannis we trust
    Amos Barshad serves up a terrific look at Giannis and possibly the best take on the Bucks we've seen all season.
  • TrueHoop | Thorpe on Giannis
    ESPN's David Thorpe describes Giannis' potential using three scary and exciting letters: M-V-P?  To which I say: DAMNIT DAVID DON'T JINX HIM!