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Pelicans vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Pelicans vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer
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Pelicans (1-10, 0-6 road) vs. Thunder (6-5, 4-2 road)

TV: ESPN/FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.2 (2nd), Pelicans – 102.1 (20th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.2 (18th), Pelicans – 112.3 (30th)

Another game without Kevin Durant; another fourth quarter collapse by the reserves. A Cameron Payne 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter put the Thunder up by one heading into the final frame. The momentum was clearly on the Thunder’s side. Russell Westbrook, who played the entire 3rd quarter, took his customary 2nd half rest to begin the 4th quarter. By the time he re-entered the game at the 9:19 mark of the 4th quarter, the Thunder were already down by 7 and the momentum had clearly swung back to the Grit and Grinders. Westbrook tried to bring the Thunder back, but Memphis had an answer for every haymaker Westbrook threw.

As John Napier mentioned in his Week In Review article, these last few games have felt extremely deja-vuish to the end of last season. The Thunder do just enough to remain competitive late into games, but lack the necessary thoroughbreds to finish the task. Westbrook and Ibaka have been their consistent selves. But the bench, especially Anthony Morrow and DJ Augustin, needs to be more consistent and effective in their time on the floor.

This is the first of three meetings between the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans won the season series last year 3-1, winning the tie-breaker that allowed them to make it to the playoffs despite having the same record as the Thunder at season’s end. The final meeting of the season between these two teams featured a double clutch 30-foot 3-pointer by Anthony Davis at the buzzer that proved to be the slow-releasing death knell for the Thunder. They didn’t immediately feel it, but as the season drew to a close, the Thunder could point to that specific shot as the one that ended their season.

The Opponent

The Pelicans come into this game with an extremely surprising 1-10 record. New Orleans was tagged at the beginning of the season as an up and coming team that was ready to take the next step in their progression. Anthony Davis, fresh off a monster 2014-15 season, signed a 5-year max extension in the offseason and was on everyone’s list as a potential MVP candidate.

But injuries, defensive struggles, and a lack of familiarity with Alvin Gentry’s new system have completely derailed the first quarter of the season for the Pelicans. When healthy, the Pelicans feature a versatile back-court with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans as playmakers and Eric Gordon as a perimeter threat. But Holiday is on a strict minutes restriction due to leg injuries from last season and won’t play in tonight’s game after playing last night. Evans suffered a knee injury in training camp that required surgery. Back-up point guard Norris Cole has been out since mid-October with an ankle injury.

The Pelicans have been using a back-court of Ish Smith, Toney Douglas, and Gordon. In last night’s game, Anthony Davis suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter and is listed as questionable for tonight’s game. Up front, Omer Asik should play in this game after sitting out last night with a stomach virus. Off the bench, Ryan Anderson is having another good year, averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

3 Big Things


Think back to when the Thunder were 3-12 last season. On the 16th game of the season, Westbrook came back from his broken hand and you could tell that there was a sense of desperation when they faced the Utah Jazz in that game. The team knew if they kept on digging that hole, it was going to be even more of a struggle to get out of it. They played their best game of the season up to that point and won the game handedly by 15 points. Well, this is the position the Pelicans are currently in. And that, in my opinion, is what makes this team extremely dangerous. Regardless of record and whether Davis plays, this team got a taste of the playoffs last season and would like nothing more than to get their season back on track.

2. Bench

There should be no reason why the Thunder’s bench does not dominate the Pelicans’ bench in this game. Due to injuries, the Pelicans have had to give big minutes to players who would normally not be garnering 15-20 minutes a game. This should be a game where the Thunder reserves gain some of their confidence back and become the deciding factor in this game.

3. Kendrick Perkins

Perkins played for the Thunder for nearly 5 seasons. He was the veteran presence on this team and was a huge influence on the maturation of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Was he horrible offensively? Yes. But his impact went far beyond the court and is still being felt on today’s roster. He signed with the Pelicans in the offseason, but fell victim to the injury bug, suffering a pectoral injury on Halloween that will keep him out for 2-3 months. If he travels with the team, he will likely get a huge ovation, and I for one, will join them.