Thunder (41-16, 16-9 road) vs. Pelicans (22-34, 15-12 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.8 (2nd), Pelicans – 103.2 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.1 (13th), Pelicans – 106.4 (26th)
Balance. It’s one of the things that makes great teams even more effective. The more moving parts you have, the harder it is for your opponent to key in on ways to stop you. And it’s always been the Achilles heel for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Having two great players on your roster will help you win plenty of regular season games. But in the postseason, when a team can throw all their defensive scheming into one bucket, having just two consistent options on offense can be quite deleterious. Balance is what has made the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors so successful in the past couple of seasons.
But don’t confuse balance with just scoring. It isn’t just about having 7 players on the team score double digits. It’s more about when those players score. The Thunder have been in the habit of outscoring opponents in the first and third quarter, but then giving those points right back in the beginnings of the 2nd and 4th quarter. As you’ve guessed, those time frames usually coincide when the Thunder has their all bench unit in the game.
On Wednesday, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan tried something a little bit different than what he usually does with his lineups. He took Kevin Durant out earlier than usual in the first and third quarters and then brought him back when the all-bench line-up usually comes in. This helped to quell the disparity between the starting line-up and the all bench unit. Instead of going on a drought like the bench team usually does, they were instead able to tread water until the starters all came back rested. It was a welcomed change that will have positive effects well into the postseason,
This is the third and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Pelicans. The Thunder have swept the season series up this point, winning a close one in the first meeting and blowing the Pelicans out in the 2nd meeting. The first game, in which both Durant and Anthony Davis sat out with injuries, was a back and forth affair that saw Russell Westbrook have a monster game with 43 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder made short work of the Pelicans in the game that was more about helping assistant head coach Monty Williams than about the game itself.
The New Orleans Pelicans come into the game with a 22-34 record, having won 4 of their last 6 games. The Pelicans came into this season with visions of improving off their first playoff berth in three seasons. Instead, injures have completely derailed what was thought to be the jump-off season for the Pelicans. Not only have the injuries kept the players off the floor, but they’ve also hindered the chemistry that needs to be built under a new system from new coach Alvin Gentry. Only recently has it looked like the Pelicans were starting to get comfortable with their new offense.
The Pelicans are led by fourth year PF Anthony Davis, who recently exploded for 59 points and 20 rebounds two games ago against the Detroit Pistons. It was the kind of game that Pelicans’ fans had been waiting for since the season started. A front-running MVP candidate when the season started, Davis has fallen well behind the pack because of the lack of team success. But also, his numbers haven’t really improved from last season. Be it the new system or the lack of cohesion with teammates, but Davis hasn’t really looked like the Anthony Davis of last season….until 5 days ago, that is.
Ryan Anderson continues to be a good weapon off the bench, averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The likely 6th Man of the Year is shooting 38.3% from 3-point territory. Also off the bench, Jrue Holiday continues to look like the point guard New Orleans thought they were getting before the injuries. He is averaging 19 points and 7.4 assists in the month of February. It may be getting high time for Holiday to take back his starting duties from Norris Cole. Omer Asik will be out with a sprained ankle.
3 Big Things1. Anthony Davis
How would you like to be Serge Ibaka? One night, you have to guard future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. The next night you have to defend what is thought to be the next great superstar in the league in Anthony Davis. And then two nights later, you have to defend the current “jack of all trades” in Draymond Green. Before this season, Davis always had monster games against the Thunder. In the last meeting, though, Ibaka defended Davis well enough that even though Davis scored 23 points, he was a -13 while on the floor.2. Offensive Rebounding
The Thunder lead the league in offensive rebound percentage and in converting offensive rebounds into points. The Pelicans are sixth in the league in defensive rebound percentage. Whoever wins this battle will probably go a long way in determining the victor of this game.3. Force Turnovers
The Pelicans do a very good job of protecting the ball. They only commit 13.1 turnovers per game, good for 2nd in the league. Getting them to cough up the ball more than usual could get the Thunder out in transition where they excel.
Jrue Holiday – The easy answer is Anthony Davis, but I think Ibaka has done a real good job of guarding Ibaka when they’ve played the last couple times. Holiday, on the other hand, will see some time against Cameron Payne. The rookie has struggled staying in front of point guards, and Holiday being the savvy veteran that he is, will recognize this. He had 23 points against the last time we played, and will likely have the same results in this game.