Thunder (26-19, 11-13 road) vs. Pelicans (18-27, 12-12 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.7 (16th), Pelicans – 102.1 (26th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.4 (10th), Pelicans – 104.1 (8th)
Team building. One of the most difficult things to successfully do in the NBA. Some may think the hardest thing about team building is acquiring a franchise player. That one guy that will be on the NBA’s top-10 list consistently for 5+ seasons. The guys that usually go by one name: Russ, LeBron, KD, Steph, Beard, Kawhi, Brow, Boogie, etc. Usually, though, this is the easiest part of the process. Most teams draft their franchise players and watch them develop. (Side note: We had 3 of those guys on that list on our team. It still haunts me to this day that we could have had, in essence, 3 MVP candidates on the same team, all entering their primes. Why, basketball/salary cap gods? Whhhhyyyy???)
The most difficult part of the process is putting the right guys around said franchise player. That’s where a lot of GM’s struggle. Finding the right mix of role players to surround around an elite talent. It all has to click for everything to work out correctly. Teams like New Orleans, Sacramento, and even Oklahoma City, to some extent, are finding out how difficult it is to supply the help a franchise player needs to be successful. Make even one bad move, and the entire thing could come tumbling down.
Oklahoma City made moves believing Kevin Durant would still be on the team past last season. They drafted a defense-only wing to compliment their superstar duo. They drafted a younger, much more athletic version of Kendrick Perkins in Steven Adams. And they traded for a combo guard they thought would be more efficient than the combo guard they had on the roster at the time. But once Durant left, the make-up of the team made almost no sense for a team that was about to be led by only Russell Westbrook. And so, Thunder GM Sam Presti is currently on the long journey of restructuring this team towards Westbrook’s strengths. It may be an arduous process, but at least the Thunder got the superstar/franchise player thing out of the way.
Season Series Summary
This is the third of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Pelicans. The Thunder have won the first two meetings by an average of 10 points. Westbrook dominated in both meetings, registering a triple-double in the first game and scoring 42 points in the second one. Anthony Davis also dominated in both games, with averages of 35.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
The Pelicans come into the game with an 18-27 record. Since starting the season 2-10, New Orleans has gone 16-17, as many of their top players returned from injuries and personal reasons. Probably the most important player to return to the line-up for the Pelicans has been point guard Jrue Holiday, who missed the first 12 games of the season tending to his wife who was recovering from brain surgery. In the 30 games Holiday has played this season, the Pelicans are 16-14.
The combination of Holiday and Anthony Davis has always been the starting point for the Pelicans. But a couple of recent additions have really bolstered the bench and the depth of this team. Tyreke Evans’ return from off-season knee surgery has provided the bench with a bonafide play-maker that’s been lacking since Ish Smith was on the team. And recent free-agent signee Donatas Motiejunas has started to get his wind back after being in a contract dispute with the Houston Rockets for much of the first half of the season. In addition, Terrance Jones and Buddy Hield have started to play much better of late.
3 Big Things
1. Anthony Davis
The Thunder have seemingly gotten off easy after allowing two 30+ point/14+ rebound double-doubles to Davis in their last two meetings. Stat lines like that usually lead to victories. What’s saved the Thunder was the lack of productivity from the other Pelican players. That may no longer be the case with this improving outfit. If you get another monster night from Davis, you may also have to contend with production from Holiday, Hield, (noted Thunder killer) Evans, and Motiejunas.
The Pelicans feature the fourth highest scoring bench in the league at 40.3 points per game. Enes Kanter will likely get his opportunities in this game. With Motiejunas being the only serviceable big off the bench, look for Kanter to go at him early and often. I’ll probably be more interested to see how the Thunder defend Evans in the all-bench lineup. Evans is way too big for Cameron Payne, so someone like Andre Roberson or Kyle Singler may need to be in the game when Evans is in.
That mid-season swoon is starting to hit some of the teams above the Thunder in the standings. The Thunder find themselves just 3 games out of the 4th seed and 2 games behind division-leading Utah. The schedule will be heavily back-loaded with prime-time match-ups the rest of the way out for the Thunder, so Oklahoma City will need to take full advantage of games like tonight’s.