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Kevin Durant returns as Thunder challenge Pelicans

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Anthony Davis hasn't played against the Thunder since 2012, and these teams have never faced each other at full strength. How in the world are the Thunder going to defend the four?

K.D. phone home!
K.D. phone home!
William Bennett Berry

In a nutshell, New Orleans is a pretty wacky team. They've got Anthony Davis, the league's next superstar in waiting. But despite possessing an all-around game and grabbing ridiculous statlines, he doesn't take over a game offensively or bring things together for a team in that manner. Don't get me wrong, I'm always impressed by the numbers he puts up and he's a serious weapon. But I don't think he's at a KD-level quite yet, and New Orleans has struggled to become offensively solvent as a result.

Injuries haven't helped, either. The sudden torn labrum of Eric Gordon three games ago has sent the Pelicans into a tailspin. Gordon only provided 9.4 points and 2 assists per game, but the Pelicans just haven't been able to replace his production. Whomever's gotten the extra shots in Gordon's absence has whiffed, whether they be Evans and Holiday against WashingtonRivers against the Hawks, or the end of the bench against the Kings. Furthermore, the Pelicans have really struggled with late game execution, as wonderfully outlined over on the Bird Writes by Oleh.

Still, there are reasons to feel positive over at the Pelican roost. As pointed out in a recent power rankings article, the Pelicans are statistically playing above their record and possess the league's 7th toughest schedule. Furthermore, the Thunder and Pelicans have never truly played each other at full strength, so you can effectively throw last season's results out the window.

As a Thunder fan, I'm most worried about Anthony Davis. He hasn't played against Oklahoma City since December 12th, 2012. Eric Maynor played in that game, for Pete's sake. We have absolutely no idea what Davis will provide, and my prediction is that it's going to be an early onslaught. The Thunder will attempt to establish a paint presence with big lineups, but the Pelicans are the masters of getting the most out of their stretch fours. Davis and Anderson will shoot all over the Thunder's interior-focused D, opening things up for Evans and Holiday in the paint.

Of course, I'm forgetting one very important thing. Kevin Durant will be returning for tonight's matchup. His presence will provide an immediate offensive boost for Oklahoma City. When you add that to the additional emotional surge of Westbrook's second game back, it's hard to see this team losing from that perspective. The Thunder's top duo had no problem scoring in last season's sole legitimate game against the Pellies, so I see no reason why they should be held up by Holiday or Evans tonight.

An interesting sub-story on the Thunder's end will be who gets the replacement minutes when Durant returns. I already broke it down in another article, but in a nutshell I'm expecting Jeremy Lamb and Lance Thomas to be the odd men out. Since Perry Jones is still (somehow) dealing with a knee injury, Thomas will likely still get some spot minutes. Or, if Scott Brooks decides to run Durant at power forward, than Lamb could very well see time over Nick Collison. In summation? The minutes of Lamb, Collison, and Thomas are up in the air for tonight.

In the end, I'm expecting this to be a very competitive game. The Thunder certainly have the firepower to blow the Pelicans away on paper, but I'm not counting chickens before they hatch. KD and Westbrook are still returning from injury, and will have to adjust to playing with Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Omer Asik is controlling the paint, and the Thunder aren't exactly famous for their precise perimeter shooting. Lastly, Jrue Holiday has posted some ridiculously efficient offensive numbers against OKC while with New Orleans and Philadelphia, and I'm worried about how Westbrook will deal with such a physical guard.

Still, those aren't enough reasons to make me think that the Thunder are going to lose. KD chooses his comeback games wisely, and the Pelicans are about as easy as it gets in the West right now.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, New Orleans Pelicans 100.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 18
@
5-12
(Won 2)

7-8
(Lost 3)
November 30th, 2014
The Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network New Orleans
Injury Report: Perry Jones III, Eric Gordon (Out), Kevin Durant (Questionable)
Previous Matchups: Dec 6 (W 109-95), Apr 11 (W 116-94), Apr 14 (L 89-101)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Jrue Holiday
Andre Roberson SG Austin Rivers
Kevin Durant SF Tyreke Evans
Serge Ibaka PF Anthony Davis
Steven Adams C Omer Asik