Bounce-back game tops Pelicans’ agenda at Bucks

The New Orleans Pelicans embarked on their pre-All-Star road trip feeling good after winning three games of a four-game homestand in which they were in sync and closed out the fourth quarter strongly.

And that the final road trip before the break was against Eastern Conference teams appeared to bode well. The Pelicans headed out with a 13-5 record against East teams, including 6-3 on the road.

However, this time, they opened at two teams — the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors — who are turning their seasons around. New Orleans, which went into the trip having won six of its previous eight games, has lost its past two.

However, Wednesday night is a chance to hold on to some momentum, as the Pelicans (22-29) meet the Milwaukee Bucks (9-42). The Bucks, who have the worst record in the NBA, are the first team to clinch a losing season. And now they are fraught with injuries to key players.

The Pelicans come into the game having not played of late with the offensive cohesion they have enjoyed in their recent success. In the past two games combined, they turned the ball over 29 times and have shot 32-of-53 (60.4 percent) on free throws.

Coach Monty Williams, who usually points out areas that need improvement even after after victories, said he liked his team’s effort against the Raptors in the second of back-to-back games.

“We fought hard,” he said. “We made a big run at the end, but we seemed to run out of juice. But we played hard.”

After a day of rest Tuesday, getting off to a fast start against the Bucks could go a long way toward the Pelicans nipping this recent slide in the bud and heading into All-Star Weekend with a win.

After Monday’s home setback to the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee has lost 18 of its past 20 games. Of all the teams in the NBA, the Bucks would seem to be the ones most ready for the one-week hiatus the All-Star break provides.

The Bucks’ injury list is littered with key players. Starting small forward Caron Butler has missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle. Staring power forward Ersan Ilyasova also has missed the past two games, with back spasms. Starting guard O.J. Mayor has been out eight games with an illness, and his conditioning is now also a concern.

Backup point guard Luke Ridnour has missed three of the past five games with a back ailment. Forward Epke Udoh has been out the past eight games with a sprained left ankle, but he may be able to play.

And the biggest name was added to the list Monday. Power forward Larry Sanders, who is known for impacting games scoring, rebounding, blocking shots and getting steals, was injured when Celtics power forward Jared Suillinger accidentally elbowed him in the head during the first quarter.

Sanders’ vision became blurred, and he didn’t return. He has an eye contusion, and his status is day-to-day. This comes after he missed 25 games after having surgery Nov. 11 to repair a torn thumb ligament.

The list of injuries does not include key guard/forward Carlos Delfino, who had right foot surgery and hasn’t played this season.

However, the losing didn’t just start. The Bucks, who have not won back-to-back games this season, got a head start on that early. Three games into the season, they lost 11 consecutive games and were 2-12, setting the tone.

After a win, they then lost five in a row from Dec. 7-20. The lost three straight from Dec. 23-28 before crushing the Lakers 94-79 on New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles. The Bucks proceeded to drop the next nine and 15 of their next 16.

And home is no sanctuary. They are 5-20 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and have lost the first two games of a current six-game homestand.

The announced crowd of 11,016 for the Celtics game was the smallest since the Bucks moved to the Bradley Center from Milwaukee Arena for the 1988-89 season.

Notes

The Pelicans don’t play again until Feb. 19, against the New York Knicks at the Smoothie King Center. … This is the Pelicans and Bucks first meeting this season. The teams play again on March 7 in New Orleans. … Milwaukee is 29th in the NBA in scoring at 92.2 points per game. However, they allow 101.8 (20th), putting them 29th in point differential. They are last in the league in field-goal percentage (42.2), 25th in turnovers (14.8) and 29th in rebounding.