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Focused Thunder re-engage the banged up Pelicans

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Anthony Davis dropped 59 on Sunday, but can he continue his dominance against OKC?

It's never the wrong time to run a Pierre the Pelican image. Pre-redesign, of course.
It's never the wrong time to run a Pierre the Pelican image. Pre-redesign, of course.
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder last saw the Pelicans right before the All-Star break, exactly two weeks ago. Since then, the main news out of New Orleans has been the continued dominance of Anthony Davis. In a game at the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Davis posted a career-high 59 points. That was the highest total scored by any NBA player this season. Davis even had 20 rebounds, a season high. If you're wondering how it happened, here's a wonderfully pointed question from Oleh Kosel over at The Bird Writes:

Kosel: "The pick and roll between you and Holiday worked to perfection. Did the coaching staff call for it so many times or was that something you and Jrue decided to do because the Pistons didn’t solve it?"

Davis: "The great mindset of our coach, Alvin Gentry, came up with that, and he wanted to stick with the pick and roll because their defense wasn't reacting well to it. He made sure Jrue and I stuck to it to exploit it as much as we could. That's why he's our coach. He does things like that which make our team win."

The Holiday-Davis pick and roll combo accounted for 8 of Holiday's 9 assists that night. Holiday had 20 points himself, and some of those undoubtedly came from working with Davis.

Let's look back at the Thunder-Pelicans matchup from before the all-star break for a moment. In that game, Holiday only had 3 assists to Anthony Davis. Both players still had successful offensive nights though. Davis scored 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Holiday scored 23 points on 11 of 20 shooting. The only problem was that the rest of the team shot 35%.

Even though Holiday and Davis will score tonight, I don't predict Davis having a career night against the Thunder. OKC will always throw Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka against Davis, and I haven't seen AD succeed against either of them in ISO situations.

The Pelicans current weaknesses, and how Adams might exploit one of them

Aside from that crazy Anthony Davis game, things have been ho-hum for the Pelicans. They blew out the Sixers, but also got blown out by the Wizards. Strangely enough, the Wizards loss saw Anthony Davis limited to just 9 attempts from the floor. Omer Asik is/was out with injury, leaving the Pelicans with little rim protection. Marcin Gortat was able to score 21 on Ajinca that night, 8 over his season average.

That might bode well for Steven Adams tonight. Adams is coming off a performance last night where he had a career high for points in a quarter. As usual, Westbrook was the main catalyst, assisting Adams three times. But Adams also received really slick passes from Ibaka, KD, and Foye in that game. If other Thunder players continue to look to Adams, then his point averages may continue to increase. Over the past 15 games, Adams is averaging 8.9 PPG with over 60% from the field. Tonight, against a weaker matchup, should be a good test for Adams continually improving offensive game.

In the grand scheme of things, the Pelicans are six games behind Utah for the eighth spot in the West. The playoffs certainly aren't out of the question for New Orleans, but chances are slim. When the Pelicans are fully healthy, they win more than they lose. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon are serious scoring threats, despite not being household names. But Gordon went down with a fractured right finger on January 19th, and won't be back until early March. Furthermore, Evans has been out for the season with a knee injury since January 27th. Without those threats on the wing, the Pelicans have gone 6-6. That doesn't sound terrible, but five of those losses were by 13 points or more. This Pelicans team is lacking in firepower right now, making it all the more important for the Thunder to focus defensively.

A couple of fresh faces for the Thunder lineup

Speaking of defense, this will be the second game back for Andre Roberson, since missing 10 games with a sprained right knee. Roberson's first game in his return to the lineup, yesterday against the Mavericks, was glorious. Roberson limited Wes Matthews to just 31% from the floor. Roberson will match up against the underwhelming Cunningham tonight. Nevertheless, Dre's presence at the three point line should do wonders.

I've also got to give a shout out to Randy Foye, who put in an admirable defensive performance against the Mavericks. For as long as the Thunder have been a competitive team, they've had a really weak defensive back court. But Foye may change all that, and bring respectability to the position. Offensively, Foye will take tough shots, nail open threes, and distribute the ball well. Foye took all of Morrow's minutes last night, and I have a hard time seeing that changing.

Cameron Payne has also been shoved to the side by Foye a little bit. Payne only had 4.5 minutes against the Mavs, a low since he took over the backup point guard position from D.J. Augustin. On the whole, Payne has been a little underwhelming as of late. Over the past 15 games, Payne is shooting 37% from the floor and just 29% from three. I used to get onto Derek Fisher for better shooting numbers. But Payne is still a smart distributor through and through, and I don't see him taking bad shots. Hopefully Payne will continue to have a role as OKC moves forward.

Fresh faces for the Pelicans

Bryce DeJean-Jones has had a regular role with the Pelicans over their past 14 games. But because DeJean-Jones' second 10 day contract expired prior to the Pelicans last game with Oklahoma City, he hasn't played against the Thunder yet. DeJean-Jones is an undrafted rookie out of Iowa State, and does a good job of spacing the floor and making weak side drives. I wouldn't be too worried about DeJean-Jones though, as he's only averaged 7 points a game on 40% shooting since gaining a regular role.

Strangely enough, friendly face Kendrick Perkins has played in the Pelicans last two games, due to Asik's absence. I really hope he plays tonight because he has such a unique brand of basketball. And it would be awesome to see Perk motivated against his old team. Nevertheless, Perk hasn't been much of a threat at all this season. Against the Wizards, he was on the floor for a good portion of the Pelicans' collapse.

How tonight's game should go

Thunder-Pelicans, this year, has come down to the fact that the Pelicans have no real answer for Westbrook or Durant. Durant will likely have to deal with double-teams tonight, as the Pelicans don't have anyone tall or versatile enough to match up with KD. But Westbrook in particular should be in for a good game. Back in November, Westbrook dropped 43 on the Pelicans. Granted, Kevin Durant was out. But Omer Asik was also out that night, and will also be out tonight. The Pelicans still have the long-armed Alonzo Gee to contain Westbrook on the perimeter, but Westbrook should be able to get to the basket with ease.

One big thing to keep an eye on will be Billy Donovan's lineups. Donovan staggered Westbrook and Durant's minutes against the Mavericks. That is to say, either Westbrook or Durant was in the lineup at all times. That hasn't happened in the Billy Donovan era, and didn't happen very much (if at all) during the Brooks era. It will be interesting to see whether that trend continues tonight against an arguably strong Pelicans bench. Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday are probably the team's second and third best scorers, yet they both come off the bench. Naturally, Collison's veteran wiliness will be essential in stopping Anderson's outside shooting.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 113, New Orleans Pelicans 98.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 58
(Won 1)

(Lost 1)
February 25th, 2016
The Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Turner Network Television
Injury Report: Eric Gordon (Questionable), Tyreke Evans (Out), Omer Asik (Out), Quincy Pondexter (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 19 (W 110-103), Feb 11 (W 121-95)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Norris Cole
Dion Waiters SG Dante Cunningham
Kevin Durant SF Bryce DeJean-Jones
Serge Ibaka PF Anthony Davis
Steven Adams C Alexis Ajinca