Bucks show Pelicans what a contender looks like

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Bucks come to town, show Pelicans what a contender looks like

New Orleans has been turning heads all season — they’re surprisingly impressive on defense (sixth in the league) and have a +4.8 net rating that is fourth in the league. They must be mentioned among potential contenders to come out of the West.

But if they wanted to see up close what the next step looks like, what the level of play is for a contender — even in December — the Bucks showed them Monday night.

The Pelicans had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who put up 42 points on 12-of-17 shooting with 10 boards and looked every bit one of the MVP frontrunners.

Brook Lopez added 30 points and seven rebounds, but his biggest impact was as a help defender shutting off the driving lanes for Zion Williamson and everyone else. The Bucks have the second-best defense in the league and showed it — late in the game Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews could switch the Zion Williamson/CJ McCollum pick-and-roll and put up enough of a contest that it slowed the driver, giving time for Lopez to slide over and help. All game long the versatility of the Bucks’ defenders proved a challenge for the Pelicans.

Jonas Valanciunas led the Pelicans with 37 points and 18 rebounds, and McCollum added 31, but the Bucks were just too efficient and got to the line more, handling the game. That’s four straight losses for the Pelicans, who have slid to the No. 4 seed in the West.

The Pelicans are good, but they are young and growing. That’s shown in recent losses to the Suns and now the Bucks — it’s a process to learn to win at the highest levels in the NBA, but that road is not smooth (and not linear). There are bumps along the way.

Maybe the best news for the Bucks on the night, Joe Ingles made his debut for the team, 10 months after his ACL surgery. He looked rusty and a step slow in his 15 minutes, as to be expected in a first game back, but once he gets his legs under him again he gives Mike Budenholzer another shooter and willing passer he can turn to, just more versatility on an already deep team.

2) Lillard becomes all-time leading scorer in Trail Blazers’ history

As if there were any doubts, Damian Lillard cemented his spot as the greatest Trail Blazer ever on Monday night when he passed Clyde Drexler to become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. It came on a free throw.

Lillard’s on-court resume as the greatest Trail Blazer ever is unimpeachable: Rookie of the Year (2013), six-time All-NBA, six-time All-Star, one of the 75 greatest players ever in the sport, and he lifted the Trail Blazers up to the Western Conference finals. However, what really separates Lillard as the greatest Blazer everts his work off the court, Lillard has been active in the community with his charitable foundation and working through the Trail Blazers since he came to town. He is committed to Portland and has not left.

Lillard finished Monday night’s game against the Thunder with 28 points, but he and the Blazers could not pull away and left room and time for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to drain a buzzer-beating game-winner.

3) Really? Patrick Beverly hits Chris Paul with “too small” after bucket down 26

The too-small gesture has become the Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas” of the NBA — it’s everywhere and you can’t escape it. Every game, players bully their way to a bucket (often against a switch) and use the gesture. It’s ubiquitous.

Chris Paul and the Suns were blowing out the Lakers’ JV team Monday night — no Anthony Davisno LeBron James, no Russell Westbrook, no Austin Reaves — and up 26 in the third when the Lakers’ Patrick Beverley got the bucket on his rival CP3 and pulled out the too small celebration.

Come on Beverly, pick your spots.

Paul finished the night with 28 points, eight assists and his team got the easy win (without Devin Booker, who had the night off due to groin soreness). CP3 reacted to Beverley’s taunt as a Hall of Famer should, he just brushed it aside (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

“You can’t pay attention to that stuff,” Paul said after the game when asked about Beverley trying to show him up. “That ain’t new. He ain’t come up with it. But just play basketball, man.”

It’s just Beverley being Beverley, but when your team’s getting their doors blown off, maybe that’s not the time to pull out the celebration.

The Suns won the game by 26 and it didn’t feel that close.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Talen Horton-Tucker almost breaks his own ankles, but still gets the bucket.

Three things to know: Bucks show Pelicans what a contender looks like originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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