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Durant and Davis meet in Thunder-Pelicans tussle

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Westbrook has dropped 43+ points in three of the last five meetings between these two teams.

My favorite type of play.
My favorite type of play.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder will be heading into tonight's game with a great sense of loss. Ingrid Williams, wife of assistant coach of Monty Williamspassed away yesterday. Before Coach Williams was hired by the Thunder, he was head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans for three seasons prior. As such, Coach Williams and his wife had a deep relationship with a lot of the players currently on the Pelicans. Presented without comment, here's what Anthony Davis had to say after last night's Pelicans game.

Jennifer Hale: For you, a really slow first half. And you really turned it on in the second half. Did you adjust something, so something different?

Anthony Davis: I had a lot on my mind. Coach Monty, that's tough. Real close with him. And his family. And it just weighed on me the whole first half. Even coming down to the second half. The last couple minutes, at like the 8 minute mark.  You know it's funny. Because Bryce told me to get it going. You know, try to make sure to just clear my mind. Just trying to help this team win and worry about that later. But it's a tough situation. For him and his family, but for all of us here too. You know, he was a part of our family. So that got me on kind of a slow start, just thinking about that. But just trying to do what I can and bring everything I can on the floor to help the team win.

Hale: AD, we've just been nauseous with the news of Ingrid Williams' passing today. You were very close with her, what will you remember most?

Davis: My first two years, she was like my second mom. She always invited me to the house for dinner. Just to get away from everything. Knowing that I didn't have anybody down here with me, my first two years. That's most important. She definitely welcomed me with open arms. She was a sweet lady. And always making sure that everybody in the organization was fine. I know it's weighing a lot on Coach Monty. And I'm going to try my best to go out and see him tomorrow. While we're in town. I don't know how it feels, honestly. It's a tough situation. I just hope everyone keeps him and his kids in their prayers.

We at WTLC offer our most heartfelt condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.

The Pelicans as of late

A season after finishing with 45 wins, the Pelicans now find themselves 13 games below .500. It's been a rough season for New Orleans, with injuries being the key reason. Quincy Pondexter never saw the floor, Tyreke Evans has missed 27 games (and counting), Norris Cole has missed 17 games, Alexis Ajinca has missed 12 games, Eric Gordon has missed 12 games (and counting), Omer Asik has missed 7 games, Anthony Davis has missed 6 games, Jrue Holiday has missed 6 games, Dante Cunningham has missed 2 games, and Ryan Anderson has missed 2 games. The only Pelican to appear in all 52 games this season? Alonzo Gee, reserve forward.

That being said, the Pelicans have been a little bit more healthy recently. Since January 13th, New Orleans has gone 9-6. The wins haven't been spectacular, as the best team the Pelicans have beaten during that stretch is a .500 Piston squad. But the Pelicans have beaten the lower-tier teams that they're supposed to beat for the most part. The primary force has been Anthony Davis, whom will appear in Sunday's All-Star game. Davis ranks in the NBA's top 10 when it comes to points and rebounds per game, and is 2nd when it comes to blocks per game.

Pelicans' offensive options, and how OKC will counter

Serge Ibaka will match up with Davis tonight, and it's certain to cause issues for the Thunder defense. Ibaka has been in a defensive decline, most recently evidenced by a strong performance from Markieff Morris on Monday. Furthermore, Anthony Davis has performed well against Serge Ibaka in the past. Here's their head-to-head stats:

Davis' numbers are basically at his career average. Ibaka's numbers, while perhaps on par for this season, are well below his career averages. Anthony Davis is simply too much of a combination of skill and length for Ibaka to handle alone. It will be interesting to see whether the Thunder employ traps on Davis, or decide to leave the job to Ibaka.

Aside from Davis, the Pelicans will be looking to Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday as the secondary options in their offense. Ryan Anderson is the classic definition of a stretch four, possessing a three point shot that can be hit in the toughest of conditions. Anderson has quite a bit of back to the basket skill as well. Jrue Holiday is a player that loves to have the ball in his hands, as he's skilled off the dribble. Holiday can get hot from outside, but his primary skill is finding space to hit shots near the rim.

To counter Anderson, Coach Donovan will likely look to the old vet, Nick Collison. Collison played many minutes directly against Anderson the last time these two teams met, and Collison's defense was key to the victory. Anderson doesn't deal with Collison's physicality very well, though Anderson can certainly find space for jumpers outside. To counter Holiday, the Thunder will likely sit low on the pick and roll. That means you can expect a few baskets for guys like Alexis Ajinca. Considering that both Anderson and Holiday will be coming off the bench, the Thunder's second unit will get a true test of their mettle today.

Waiters sees a new opponent at shooting guard

There's a very interesting matchup at shooting guard tonight between Dion Waiters and Bryce DeJean-Jones. It's not a matchup that will produce the most points, but I could easily see it swinging the game. If you haven't heard of DeJean-Jones before, don't panic. DeJean-Jones is a 23 year old undrafted rookie out of Iowa State. The Pelicans had DeJean-Jones on their Summer League team, but didn't sign him until injury problems arose this season. Currently, DeJean Jones is on the last day of his second 10-day contract.

Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that DeJean-Jones will be signed for the rest of the season. DeJean-Jones has started the past 7 games at shooting guard. More than that, DeJean-Jones scored 14+ against the Kings and Lakers. The Thunder certainly should look out for DeJean-Jones penetration ability, as well as his shot off the catch. But Dion Waiters may end up having the better game. The way DeJean-Jones defense sounds, things may end up playing into Waiters hands. From Nathan Heck of Pelican De-Brief:

His game is not without faults, though, and the Pelicans are better with him off the floor rather than on due to his poor defense. While he has recorded five steals in his three starts, Dejean-Jones is often out of position on the defensive end, especially when playing off of the ball. Wayne Ellington of the Brooklyn Nets made four shots from deep in the first quarter with Dejean-Jones covering him on January 30, due to Dejean-Jones simply losing Ellington as he worked his way around the perimeter.

With KD and Westbrook on the floor, Waiters only works off the ball.

KD, Westbrook, and Kanter's expectations tonight

Speaking of KD and Westbrook, expect both of them to have huge games. Westbrook dropped 45+ on the Pelicans twice last year. The other two Thunder-Pelicans games last year saw Westbrook produce more inefficient games. But Westbrook bounced back this year, posting a a season second-best 43 points against them back on November 18th. Reproducing a 40 point game could be possible tonight, as Westbrook will be dealing with the defensively middle-of-the-road Norris Cole. Cole is certainly an easier matchup than Evans or Ish Smith, whom Westbrook scorched in the past. However, Omer Asik will be in the post providing rim protection. So things might be a bit harder for Westbrook down there.

The first Thunder-Pelicans matchup came when Durant was out with early season injury, so we have no evidence of how KD's done this year. And KD's games against the Pelicans last year were less than inspiring, partially due to his lingering injuries. I'm having a hard time seeing a bad performance tonight though, seeing simply how much sheer height and length Durant has on Cunningham. I could see the Pelicans going to Davis for Durant defense, though. Ibaka isn't much of a post up player and might have trouble exploiting Cunningham. Regardless, as long as KD can keep his turnovers down, his shots should be somewhat open.

The last matchup I haven't mentioned is Kanter-Ajinca. Both scored well over their averages in the first matchup between these two teams, and I'd expect that trend to continue. Ajinca is simply too scrawny to deal with Kanter in the post, while Kanter is too slow to deal with Ajinca's jumper out of the pick and pop.

The presence of Davis and Asik is making me think there will be defense tonight. But in truth, the Pelicans rank 24th when it comes to opponent effective field goal percentage and opponent effective turnover rate. As long as the Thunder shoot well or grab sufficient offensive rebounds, the Pelicans shouldn't be too much of an issue.

That is, unless the Thunder can't stop the threes from raining down. That is very possible.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, New Orleans Pelicans 97.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 54
@
19-33
(Won 2)

39-14
(Won 1)
February 11th, 2016
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Turner Network Television Only
Injury Report: Andre Roberson (Out), Tyreke Evans (Out), Eric Gordon (Out), Quincy Pondexter (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 19 (W 110-103)
Probable Starters
Norris Cole PG Russell Westbrook
Bryce DeJean-Jones SG Dion Waiters
Dante Cunningham SF Kevin Durant
Anthony Davis PF Serge Ibaka
Omer Asik C Steven Adams