- When: Sunday, 21 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
The Oklahoma City Thunder stand on the precipice of reaching the summit of the mountain that looked a lot more daunting at the beginning of the month than it does now. Staring at a 5-12 record on December 1st, and looking up in the standings, the Thunder found themselves in an unfamiliar position. After finally getting healthy, the Thunder have gone on to win 8 of their first 10 games in December, to push themselves within a half game of the 8th position in the Western Conference. This would be the first step in them climbing themselves out of the hole the injuries in the beginning of the season created.
This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between the Thunder and Pelicans. The Pelican won the first meeting of the year 112-104. That game was the first one to feature both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the same line-up. A horrible 2nd quarter doomed the Thunder in that game and they could never fully recover.
The New Orleans Pelicans are the classic “team growing into itself” team. They do great against lesser competition, but don’t have the experience yet to win the close games against the better teams. That’s the main reason for their 13-13 record. The teams they have victories against have a combined winning percentage of .390. In their losses, the victors are boasting a combined winning percentage of .706. Looking at that, it’s easy to say that the Pelicans are improving, but nowhere close to being elite yet. They have a top 5 offense according to offensive rating, but have the 25th ranked defense in terms of defensive rating. One step forward, one step back equals a .500 record. They are led by point guard Jrue Holiday, who is having a good season averaging nearly 16 points and 7 assists per game. Tyreke Evans and Luke Babbitt fill the wings and give defenders a contrasting look. While Evans is more of the slasher, Babbitt has made a career of being a good 3-point shooter (49.1% on 2.6 attempts per game). Up front, Anthony Davis has regressed a bit from supernova earlier this season down to superstar, but he is still a match-up nightmare on both ends of the court for the Thunder. Omer Asik has increased his rebounding and is currently grabbing 10.7 boards per game (3.8 of those offensive rebounds). Off the bench, Austin Rivers has been playing some of the most consistent basketball of his career, Ryan Anderson is shooting 34.7% from deep on 6.8 attempts per game and Dante Cunningham has been providing a spark since he joined the team 10 games ago.
Probable Starting Line-ups
New Orleans Pelicans
- PG – Jrue Holiday
- SG – Tyreke Evans*
- SF – Luke Babbitt
- PF – Anthony Davis
- C – Omer Asik
* – Tyreke Evans is dealing with a knee bruise and is on the 2nd game of a back to back. May be a candidate to sit out.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Perry Jones*
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
* – Kevin Durant will be a game-time decision with a sprained ankle.
3 Keys to the Game
1. Rebounding - Anthony Davis and Omer Asik are averaging 21 rebounds per game between them and can turn a game with their offensive rebounding (6.6 per game). Even their wing players, Evans and Anderson average 5.3 boards per game each. Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Nick Collison need to do their best to box out the Pelican big men and not give them extra opportunities.
2. Perimeter Defense - While the Pelicans aren’t necessarily known as a great 3-point shooting team, they have certain players (Anderson, Babbitt, Holiday) that can get hot and turn a game. In the last game, the score was tied at 43 midway through the 2nd quarter, before Luke Babbitt opened the flood gates with 2 consecutive 3-pointers. The Pelicans caught fire the rest of the first half and didn’t look back from there.
3. Team you need to beat - If injuries (hopefully small) are going to resurface throughout the season, then the Thunder may be in play for positions 6-10 in Western Conference. If this is the case, the Thunder need to beat those teams that they are battling against for those spots. Tie-breakers can be extremely important when you are battling for positioning at the end of the season. The Pelicans are already one up on the Thunder and would love nothing more than to force a split against them for the season series.