With a little more than a month left before the start of the 2023-24 NBA season, Pelicans.com writer Jim Eichenhofer shares an opponent and matchup breakdown of the Top 10 games for Pelicans fans to watch at the Smoothie King Center this season.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Thursday, March 28 (7 p.m., NBA TV)
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Why it’s on the list
New Orleans-Milwaukee definitely does not qualify as a traditional rivalry and the small-market franchises aren’t even members of the same conference, meaning there are only two Pelicans-Bucks meetings per season. Despite those realities, 2023-24 marks the sixth consecutive NBA season that at least one of their games is scheduled to be broadcast on some form of national television. Part of the unique appeal of the matchup is the presence of two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson, who’ve provided some ultra-entertaining basketball when both are in uniform. Milwaukee also features former New Orleans standout guard Jrue Holiday – who helped lead the Bucks to an NBA championship in 2021 – and one of the sport’s best starting fives.
Pelicans players to watch
Seven different New Orleans players averaged double-digit scoring vs. Milwaukee last season, but due to injuries, that group only included three Pelicans who appeared in both Bucks matchups. Jonas Valanciunas erupted for averages of 26.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the pair of games, highlighted by 7/12 accuracy from three-point range. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum poured in 31 points on 6/10 three-point shooting in his lone encounter with the Bucks. Despite 37 points from Valanciunas and the 31 by McCollum, New Orleans still was overtaken by Milwaukee on Dec. 19 in the Smoothie King Center, 128-119. Williamson averaged 25.0 points in his first three career games against the Bucks, then tallied 18 in his lone Milwaukee appearance of last season.
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
It’s the second game of what could be a critical six-game Pelicans spring homestand. That stretch of games begins March 26 vs. Oklahoma City. Following Milwaukee’s March 28 visit, Boston, Phoenix, Orlando and San Antonio all come to the Crescent City.
Other 2023-24 games between these teams
Saturday, Jan. 27, New Orleans at Milwaukee
Mic'd Up with Jonas Valanciunas | Pelicans vs. Bucks 12/17/21
New Orleans had thoroughly dominated its all-time series against Milwaukee prior to the last five seasons (the Bucks are 8-2 vs. the Pelicans over that recent timeframe). Despite Milwaukee’s major recent turnaround in head-to-head matchups, New Orleans still leads 28-17 overall, including winning 14 consecutive home games at one stage. The Hornets/Pelicans went from March 2003 to October 2016 without losing to the Bucks in their arena.
Highlighting a memorable New Orleans win
Dec. 17, 2021: New Orleans 116, Milwaukee 112 (OT)
One piece of NOLA’s rampant historical success against Milwaukee: a 4-0 all-time record in overtime games. In this nip-and-tuck affair, the clubs were tied through three quarters and remained that way through 48 minutes. In Jrue Holiday’s first game as a Milwaukee visitor in front of a full-capacity-permitted New Orleans crowd, he exploded for 40 points on 18/36 shooting, but it wasn’t enough to prevail. The Pelicans benefited from three starters scoring 20-plus (Devonte’ Graham 26, Valanciunas 24, Brandon Ingram 22) in the victory.