It's been a really weird season for the New Orleans Pelicans. When the Thunder last saw them on December 2nd, it looked as if the wheels were about to fall off. Injuries nagged the team, and the rotation looked just one man too short. But things have changed, as the Pelicans are getting great production out of their deep rotation players. Namely, Dante Cunningham and Luke Babbitt have really filled out their roles nicely, providing hustle and three point shooting, respectively.
But coming into this game, the Pelicans aren't exactly at their hottest. They were playing down in New Orleans last night, and completely forgot to show up against the Portland Trail Blazers. Not a single starter managed to have a good line. According to Dave Deckard over at Blazers' Edge, the Pelicans were blindsided by an early onslaught of running, pressing, and crashing the boards. You see, the Blazers had played a triple-overtime game the previous night in San Antonio, and probably weren't expected to use such a hectic strategy. Meanwhile, the Pellies' lack of shooting definitely caught up with them, as the Blazers were easily able to clog the paint.
Interestingly enough, the Pelicans had no trouble putting the ball in the hoop during their last encounter with the Thunder. Both teams have really long-armed players that are adept at defense, so the ball tended to ping around a lot. This resulted in a lot of open shot attempts, as well as a lot of scores. Still, generally speaking, the Pelicans like to play fast and force the ball into the paint a lot.
This wouldn't normally be a problem. The Thunder have one of the best defensive front lines in the league, after all. But the Pelicans have Tyreke Evans. And Tyreke Evans dropped 30 on the Thunder back on December 2nd, including 15 in the fourth. It's not the first time Evans has seen ridiculous success, as he was able to drop 41 last season. Why has Evans done so well? Tyreke possesses one of the best in and out dribbles in the NBA, and is hard to stop once he gets a first step on his defender. When he's going against players who have slow reaction times, like Morrow, Butler, or a recovering Durant, Evans doesn't have much trouble getting past them.
Should Durant be able to go tonight I'm hoping he won't have to guard Evans. Durant is never really a defensive liability, but he should avoid guarding quicker players. Especially when his ankle is recovering from injury. But as long as he's able to get to his spots and play off of screens, I don't foresee any problems for KD in his potential return.
If KD doesn't play, the Thunder might have more problems. Perry Jones has been a disaster by all accounts since returning from injury, showcasing huge problems with his decision-making and execution on both offense and defense. Jones just can't seem to find an offensive niche, and if he plays, he has to take shots. I'm just hoping the Thunder will try to get him shooting floaters towards the rim or turnaround post-ups, since that seems to be what he's good at.
Another matchup to look at will be Serge Ibaka vs. Anthony Davis. There hadn't been much of a precadent for it until the game earlier this year, and Davis absolutely dominated. Ibaka wasn't able to get the space he needed, and Davis was able to sneak around and fill the seams. The Thunder weren't able to get much from their bench bigs either, as Ryan Anderson was able to drop 16 almost entirely inside the arc.
At the end of the day, I think this game will come down to the fouls. Both teams are going to rack them up. The Pelicans will attack the paint as always, and the Thunder will rely on their stars in the lean times. The winning team is going to be the one that figures out how to get into the bonus really early in the quarter and then take advantage offensively.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, New Orleans Pelicans 100.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 28|
|December 21st, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|6:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network New Orleans|
|Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins (Questionable), Tyreke Evans (Questionable), Eric Gordon, Mitch McGary (Out)|
|This Season's Matchups: Dec 2 (L 104-112)|
|Jrue Holiday||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Austin Rivers||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Luke Babbitt||SF||Kevin Durant or Perry Jones III|
|Anthony Davis||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Omer Asik||C||Steven Adams|