- When: Tuesday, 02 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Now, the rest of the season begins. I used to make fun of teams that had high expectations at the beginning of the season, only to see their season crumple under a calamity of issues. The most recent example I can think of is the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. That was the first year of the Kobe Bryant-Steve Nash-Dwight Howard triumvirate that was supposed to bring a title back to LA. Of course, as we know, injuries and chemistry issues completely derailed that season. What was comical though, was every time the Lakers put a win streak together, the general theme in the postgame interviews was, “the season starts now.” Well, the Thunder are in that same boat now. Is it still early in the season? Yes. But in the extremely competitive Western Conference, you can’t fall too far behind, no matter when in the season it is.
The Thunder have a collection of teams that they need to target in order to get into the playoff race. The Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets, Trailblazers, and Warriors are probably too far ahead of the Thunder for them to worry about them at this point. It’s the team in the 6th – 11th positions, the Kings, Nuggets, Pelicans, Suns, Clippers, and Mavericks, that the Thunder need to chase. Every game against those teams from here on out is basically a must-win game.
This is the first of 4 meetings between the Thunder and the Pelicans this season. The Thunder won 2 of 3 meetings last season, with each team winning by at least 10 points.
The Pelicans currently find themselves at 7-8, riding a three game losing streak coming into this game. The got off to a 7-5 start, but feasted mainly on bottom tier teams. Their record against teams with a record of .500 or above is 2-8. They are middle of the road in most categories and are just now starting to find out who they really are. They have a bonafide superstar and MVP candidate in Anthony Davis and are starting to tailor a team around his strengths. Leading that charge is point guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off an injury-plagued first season in New Orleans. He has bounced back well, averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game this season. The wing positions have always been a source of trouble for these Pelicans. Eric Gordon is always hurt, Austin Rivers is not that good, and Tyreke Evans has bouts of inconsistency. Up front, the Pelicans have one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. In Davis, they have a 5-tool player who is top-10 in five of the six major statistical categories (points, rebounds, FG%, blocks, and steals) and leads the league in PER (33.4). Omer Asik’s biggest contribution to the team may be the fact that he allows Davis to play most of his minutes at PF, where he is most comfortable playing. Asik does a good job of being a big body and grabbing offensive rebounds. Off the bench, the Pelicans are a bit thin, even with Ryan Anderson being a 6th Man of the Year candidate.
Probable Starting Line-Ups
New Orleans Pelicans
- PG – Jrue Holiday
- SG – Austin Rivers
- SF – Tyreke Evans
- PF – Anthony Davis
- C – Omer Asik
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
5 Keys to the Game
1. Kevin Durant – Scott Brooks said Durant will start and will play about 30 minutes. As I said in the previous preview with Westbrook’s return: Welcome back. Now let’s napalm the league, sir.
2. Pack the Paint – If the Thunder have to pick their poison with this team, the best bet is to pack the paint. New Orleans doesn’t have any reliable 3-point shooters, outside of Ryan Anderson. Most of the offense is generated through Davis inside, Anderson shooting, and on Holiday and Evans dribble drives. While Evans, Holiday, and Rivers are capable shooters (all above 30% from 3-point territory), they are nowhere near as reliable as Anderson. Luckily, the Thunder’s specialty is defending the paint…..and unfortunately, leaving 3-point shooters open.
3. Protect the ball – The Pelicans are the best ball protectors in the league. They only average 10.7 turnovers per game. In their wins, the difference in turnover has been a +5.6, in favor of the Pelicans. In their losses, the turnover difference has been in the Pelicans favor by only +1.8. New Orleans is going to take care of the ball. What you can’t do is allow them extra possessions because of your miscues.
4. The Returns of Lance Thomas and Anthony Morrow to New Orleans – Morrow and Thomas return back to the site where they played last season. One of the things that Durant’s return negates is Thomas’s “look at me now, New Orleans” moment as he is introduced in the opposing team’s starting line-up. Oh, what could’ve been. Enjoy the gumbo and beignets, gentlemen.
5. Never forget – Ahhh, look at Morrow being a good teammate.