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Bucks far from flawless but still too strong for Pelicans

Nothing about the Milwaukee Bucks’ 130-113 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night stood out as particularly sharp.

They didn’t shoot the lights out. They didn’t hammer the Pelicans on the boards. They didn’t score a lopsided margin in turnovers  The only place they had any notable advantage was free throws, where they made 24 of 28 to New Orleans’ 11 of 16.

But when you’ve shown yourselves to be the best team in the NBA through 68 games, you can still win on nights you play less than your best.

Such was the case against the Pelicans.

The Bucks shot a dismal 33.3% (9 of 27) in the first quarter but managed a 23-23 tie because the Pelicans were even worse at 32.1% (9 for 29). And enough of those were open shots, so it wasn’t like the Bucks were suffocating the Pelicans with defense.

Things picked up in the second quarter, as the Bucks got their offense going, and they took a 56-48 lead into the break.

In position to blow out the Pelicans in the third quarter, the Bucks instead let a 22-point lead melt down to 101-89 after three because they allowed New Orleans to shoot 65.4% (17 for 26) in the period. The Bucks scored 45 in the period but gave up 41.

And the lead got down to as little as seven in the fourth quarter when Darius Miller’s 3-pointer made it 105-98 with 9:13 left.

The Bucks pulled away from there, making just enough plays — Khris Middleton’s coast-to-coast dunk with 4:31 left and Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointer moments later come to mind — to effectively put things away.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists, but was more steady than dominant as he went 10 for 10 from the free throw line. He picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and played just 26 minutes.

Middleton posted 23 points and seven assists, as six players scored in double figures. Malcolm Brogdon added 18. Pat Connaughton and Tony Snell fell just short of double figures with nine each, but Connaughton snared a team-best 11 rebounds.

Nothing spectacular, but the Bucks (51-17) ended a three-game road losing streak and improved their margin over the Toronto Raptors to three games.

Julius Randle led the Pelicans with 23 points, and superstar Anthony Davis posted 21 points and 12 rebounds. But Davis played just 21 minutes, as the Pelicans are keeping his minutes down with an eye on trading him over the summer. Davis scored 17 points in the third quarter, but when he went to the bench with 3:14 left in the period, his night was done.

When fans recall big Bucks victories on the season, Tuesday night’s affair will not be high on the list. Then again, the Bucks did enough to sweep the two-game season series and give themselves a chance for another winning road trip with Friday night’s game in Miami.

Tuesday night’s victory was far from flawless. Yet it once again showed how the NBA’s best team is tough to beat, even when not at its best.

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