The Milwaukee Bucks aren't likely to approach their NBA-best record from last season.
The Bucks finished 56-17 in 2019-20 but are just 19-13 as the New Orleans Pelicans come to town on Thursday night.
Milwaukee might be regaining that season-ago form, however, having won its past three games by an average margin of 17.7 points, including a 139-112 rout of the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.
"I think more than anything it's probably our defensive energy," said Bucks guard Bryn Forbes, who scored a season-high 23 points off the bench against the Timberwolves. "I feel like when we're locked in on defense, it makes offense easy. The offense just flows."
Forbes was one of seven Milwaukee players to score in double figures Tuesday.
"I think the ball movement, the unselfishness, stood out to me," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Giannis Antetokounmpo amassed 37 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in just 29 minutes.
"Giannis is probably the best player in the world in transition," Forbes said. "That's where I get a lot of my shots because they're so packed in thinking about Giannis. Then other guys are extremely unselfish, which makes my job a lot easier."
The Bucks shot 53.5 percent (53 of 99) from the floor and 47.6 percent (20 of 42) on 3-point attempts, and Forbes led a bench that finished with 49 points.
"Hopefully our defense, maybe, wears on people and gets better as the game goes on," Budenholzer said.
Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, acquired in a trade with the Pelicans before the season, has missed the past nine games as part of the NBA's health and safety protocols. He appears close to returning, though he is listed as doubtful for the Thursday game.
Holiday scored 22 points in Milwaukee's 131-126 loss at New Orleans on Jan. 29. The Pelicans led by as many as 29 points before holding off a furious Bucks rally.
In their past two games, the Pelicans have staged significant comebacks.
They set a franchise record by overcoming a 24-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics in overtime on Sunday, then escaped a nine-point, third-quarter hole to beat the Detroit Pistons 128-118 on Wednesday.
New Orleans held Boston to 21 fourth-quarter points to force overtime, then allowed just seven points in overtime. The Pelicans outscored the Pistons 32-22 in the fourth quarter.
"The last two fourth quarters were good," Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said, "but it's going to take a lot more defensively. We have flashes, but we don't have a sense of urgency on a consistent basis."
New Orleans scored a season-high 74 points in the paint to overcome the Pistons' 60 points in the paint.
"I didn't like their points in the paint," Van Gundy said, "but I liked ours."
Zion Williamson scored 32 points in his first game after being named an All-Star for the first time. Brandon Ingram, an All-Star last season, added 27 points.
"He's a generational talent, where you don't know what you're going to (see) from him every single night," Ingram said of Williamson. "It's going to be something different, something exciting. I like to feed off that, to come into the game ready, because I know he's going to be ready."
--Field Level Media
FROM THE ARCHIVES