NEW ORLEANS (AP) Anthony Davis figures the Milwaukee Bucks have given him a better feel for how tough the playoffs will be - if he can succeed in leading the Pelicans to the postseason for the first time in his young career.
Running into big bodies and long arms everywhere he turned, Davis missed 12 of 18 shots, but still managed to score 20 points and grab 12 rebounds, and New Orleans held off the Bucks, 85-84 on Tuesday night.
''It felt like a playoff game,'' said Davis, who won the 2012 college national title with Kentucky but has not appeared in the NBA playoffs yet.
''It was physical,'' Davis added. ''That's how it's going to be from here on out. It's going to be battles. But we came out with the win, so we're happy about that.''
Davis, who shoots around 55 percent, made up for his off night from the field by hitting 8 of 9 free throws and getting a clutch 15-footer to fall with 1:07 left, putting New Orleans up 85-82.
The lead held up by the narrowest of margins when Ersan Ilyasova's 3-point attempt at the final horn rattled off the inside of the rim twice before bouncing out - much to the relief of the Pelicans, who moved back into the Western Conference's final playoff spot with the victory.
Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd didn't want his squad, in its own race for playoff seeding in the East, getting discouraged about its ninth straight road loss.
''This is a great group of guys who are going to fight no matter who has counted them out,'' Kidd said. ''We put ourselves in position to win and we just came up one shot short.''
Ilyasova and Giannis Antetokounmpo each scored 15 for Milwaukee, while Jerryd Bayless and John Henson each scored 14.
Quincy Pondexter hit five 3-pointers and finished with 18 points for New Orleans, while Omer Asik had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Pondexter said Milwaukee ''did a great job of putting an emphasis of guarding A.D. and guarding other guys who had been really hot for us.''
''That's why they got me here -to hit big shots and bring us out of ruts we're in,'' Pondexter added. ''A win's a win in this league and thank God we won.''
Milwaukee shot 37.2 percent (32 of 86). New Orleans was an even-worse 34.9 percent (29 of 83), but made eight 3s to Milwaukee's four and outscored the Bucks 19-16 on free throws.
''We had to play good defense tonight,'' Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. ''Two teams fighting for their lives and we came out on top.''
New Orleans didn't get a single point from a reserve until Alexis Ajinca scored inside with 1:43 left in the third quarter. Then Norris Cole added a 3 as the Pelicans closed the period on a 7-0 run to take a 70-62 lead.
But New Orleans hit only four of 20 shots in the fourth quarter, and Milwaukee tied it at 80 on Zaza Pachulia's putback with 2:17 left.
Eric Gordon responded with a clutch 3 - only his third made shot on nine attempts - to help the Pelicans hold on.
New Orleans scored the first 15 points of the game before Ilyasova finally got the Bucks no the board, hitting a 3 with 6:19 to go in the first period.,
But it wasn't long before Milwaukee was back in it. Defensively, the Bucks started clogging the middle and the Pelicans responded by missing jumpers.
Antetokounmpo's turnaround in the final seconds of the first period started a 12-2 run.
The Pelicans went 0 for 9 during the first four minutes of the second quarter and wound up scoring only 10 points in the period (a low for any quarter this season) on 3-for-22 shooting.
Milwaukee took its first lead at 38-35 on Antetokounmpo's 8-foot jumper as he was fouled, and the Bucks led 44-42 at halftime.
Bucks: Milwaukee has lost 13 straight road games against New Orleans, last winning in the Big Easy on Jan. 27, 2003. ... Michael Carter-Williams returned from a sore right ankle that sidelined him one game and had six points in 25 minutes, ending a streak of seven games scoring in double figures.
Pelicans: New Orleans won the only other meeting in Milwaukee on March 9, 114-103. ... The Pelicans have no Eastern Conference teams left on their regular season schedule. They went 16-14 against the East.
Bucks: host San Antonio on Wednesday.
Pelicans: visit Phoenix on Thursday.