The Thunder are seeing the Pelicans for the second time in a row, but this time the game's taking place at the Peake. We still don't know whether Kevin Durant will play, though that didn't matter when the Thunder saw the Pelicans in New Orleans. Westbrook managed to carry the load offensively, and Serge Ibaka's shot finally came back to him. Still, credit definitely needs to be thrown the way of Scott Brooks. Brooks made the genius decision of using Adams and Perk to guard AD, freeing up Ibaka to focus on protecting the paint. This gave the Thunder a serious defensive identity. OKC used that identity to accomplish important things, like holding New Orleans scoreless over the final 5:39 of the game.
Another big move by Coach Brooks was the starting of Dion Waiters. Obviously, the injury of KD and Perry Jones didn't give Scotty much choice. And Waiters didn't end up working with Westbrook at all. Over 90% of the Westbrook-Waiters halfcourt points were scored with each player working independently of each other. But I will say that having Waiters out there gave Westbrook a running partner in transition, which was key on a few baskets. Also, having Dion Waiters out there with the starters means that he played a huge role in shutting down Tyreke Evans. Evans has been extremely effective against the Thunder in the past, so Waiters' role was huge. Dion's long-armed defense, along with that of Jackson, was key in keeping Evans away from the basket, Meanwhile, Westbrook was able to save his energy for the offensive end.
Thus, if KD played, it would be interesting to see whether the Thunder defense would be as effective. KD would certainly be asked to carry a bit of the offensive load, especially with Ibaka having periods where he can't get a shot and Roberson's general ineffectiveness. And sure, I could see KD playing a part in stifling Evans, but I felt that Jackson and Waiters were more suited to the task because of their excellent footspeed. Still, Waiters can't be relied upon to shoot 43% every night (like he did on Wednesday), so KD is definitely the better option.
Brooks also deserves credit for staying small in the final moments of the game. Monty Williams switched between going big and small twice at the end of the game, but to no avail. When the Pelicans went big, it left Anthony Morrow defending Ryan Anderson at Small Forward. Morrow did an excellent job of keeping Anderson busy on the perimeter on a couple of critical possessions, and Ibaka even helped deny Anderson at the rim on a couple of plays. I like the idea of Brooks having Morrow guard Anderson going forward. Getting Anderson away from the perimeter and coaxing him inside forces him out of his comfort zone. Additionally, it makes Alexis Ajinca less effective, as Ajinca's long arms work better when he has space near the rim.
Really though, the Thunder shouldn't underestimate the Pelicans. Anthony Davis still managed to have a very effective game on Wednesday, and I still feel like Monty Williams can move the chess pieces in his favor. Furthermore, OKC generally struggles from the field without KD, and there's no telling where Dion Waiters will end up. I'm confident that OKC can be competitive no matter what, but a win won't be easy. Something tells me New Orleans will move the ball a bit more at the end of this game, and OKC is going to need to offensively produce.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 106, New Orleans Pelicans 101.
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|2014-15 NBA Season Game 50|
|February 6th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network New Orleans|
|Injury Report: Kevin Durant (Questionable), Jrue Holiday, Perry Jones III (Out)|
|This Season's Matchups: Dec 21 (L 99-101), Feb 4 (W 102-91)|
|Tyreke Evans||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Eric Gordon||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Dante Cunningham||SF||Dion Waiters|
|Anthony Davis||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Omer Asik||C||Steven Adams|
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