- When: Wednesday, 04 February 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
I believe this season comes down to the 12 games in February. Do anything less than 9-3, and it becomes harder and harder for the Thunder to catch up to the Pelicans and Suns. Here’s the catch, though. Those 3 losses cannot come against the Pelicans and Suns (2 games against New Orleans and 1 game against Phoenix this month). If the Thunder lose any of the two remaining games against the Pelicans, they lose the season series and essentially fall a game behind New Orleans if both teams finish with the same record. Conversely, they’ve won both games against the Suns and need one more victory to clinch the season series (and catch up to them in the standings). It’s go time. The excuse that the Thunder have plenty of time to catch up is quickly evaporating with every game.
This is the third of four games between these two teams. New Orleans has won the first two games of the series. In the first game, the Thunder’s rhythm was thrown off by the return of Kevin Durant to the line-up and they lost 104-112. In the second game, with Durant out with an ankle injury, the Thunder battled hard until late in the 4th quarter. But critical miscues by Russell Westbrook in that final quarter led to the team losing 99-101. Kevin Durant will be out for this one with a sprained left big toe.
The Pelicans come into the game with a 26-22 record, currently good for 9th in the Western Conference. In their last game, the Pelicans defeated the Atlanta Hawks to bring the Hawk’s 19-game win streak to an end. New Orleans features a balanced team with interior scoring and perimeter shooters. They are middle of the pack in most statistical categories, but find ways to win close games, as evidenced by their small margin of victory (+1.4). They usually led by Jrue Holiday, but he has been out for the past 2 weeks with a stress reaction in his ankle. In his stead, New Orleans has used a combination of Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon in the backcourt. Gordon has remained relatively healthy since coming back from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 21 games. Dante Cunningham has slid into the starting SF position and has put up 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in his last 10 games. Up front, Anthony Davis continues to play at an MVP-like pace and Omer Asik is still big. The bench features 6th Man of the Year candidate Ryan Anderson, sharpshooter Quincy Pondexter, and big man Alexis Ajinca.
Probable Starting Line-ups
New Orleans Pelicans
- PG – Tyreke Evans
- SG – Eric Gordon
- SF – Dante Cunningham
- PF – Anthony Davis
- C – Omer Asik
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Dion Waiters
- SF – Andre Roberson
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Game
1. Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans – In two games this season, Davis has absolutely dominated Serge Ibaka. He’s averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3.5 blocks, and 3 steals per game in those two meetings. Davis has gone the Brow equivalent of Slim Reaper on the Thunder this season. For the team to have a chance with Durant, they are going to have to limit Davis somehow. Whether that’s by double teaming (something the Thunder never do) or by Ibaka just playing better man to man defense, something has to be done to prevent Davis from getting video game stat lines against us. Conversely, Evans has shredded the Thunder defense by getting into the paint at will. Whether its Westbrook, Roberson, or Waiters defending, they’ll have to do a better job of staying in front of Evans.
2. Rebounding – The Pelicans are the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the league at 12.2 a game. Where they are most dangerous is when those extra opportunities lead to 3-point shots from Anderson, Gordon, or Pondexter while the defense is left scrambling. And it’s not just Davis and Asik. Tyreke Evans does a good job rebounding from the wing and Anderson and Ajinca do a good job of offensive rebounding off the bench. It’ll be very important for Ibaka, Adams, and Perkins to box out and not allow the Pelicans any more opportunities than necessary.
3. Dion Waiters – The “Dion Waiters as a starter” experiment got off to a rousing start in the last game. He scored 24 on 9-15 shooting and had a big part in Westbrook’s triple double in that game. He added a dimension to the starting line-up that is usually only seen when both Westbrook and Durant are healthy. He’ll likely have to have a similar game tonight for the Thunder to win.