Update: Check out RK’s Facebook Live show where he discusses the Pelicans’ acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins and more!
Ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans’ season finale, both franchises took advantage of a ripe trade-deadline market to reshape their rosters.
And while New Orleans’ post-All Star game swap for DeMarcus Cousins garnered headlines, perhaps the Thunder’s less-heralded move to obtain Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne was a more immediately fitting transaction.
Consider that since acquiring Cousins, the Pelicans have suffered consecutive, uneven defeats. Furthermore, opponents have outscored New Orleans by a 21-point margin with Cousins and Davis sharing the court.
Through this drought, also consider that the Pelicans' middling three-point efficiency has nosedived into an 11-of-55 3PM tailspin.
When analyzing this small, yet telling sample size, at least for now, it appears that Cousins’ addition to a floundering roster —outside of Davis and Holiday— is not readily conducive to winning basketball.
Conversely, Oklahoma City’s freshly gained duo of Gibson and McDermott has paid immediate dividends. Minus practice time and a full understanding of OKC’s core concepts, the veteran duo combined for 20 points and eight rebounds in Friday’s lopsided victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Though, with a game and light-practice now experienced as Thunder, the former Chicago tandem should provide greater assistance this evening as Oklahoma City attempts to sweep an uncertain Pelicans troupe.
Another element swaying in the Thunder’s competitive favor is New Orleans’ exhaustive recent schedule. Versus home-standing OKC, Alvin Gentry’s heavy-legged bunch will take the hardwood for the tail-end of a back-to-back set —and third game in four nights.
The only question mark facing Oklahoma City is the playing status of Victor Oladipo. Oladipo (back-spasms) did not compete in Friday night’s home win vs. the Lakers. Though, while Oladipo sat, replacement-starter Alex Abrines (19 points) enjoyed a career night.
On paper, even if Oladipo again sits, Oklahoma City appears ready to attain perfection in their season-set with the ‘Cans.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (33-25 #7 West) vs. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (23-36 #12 West)
- Time: 7 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
- TV: NBA TV, FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Physicality: Adams and Gibson must be physical with Cousins and Davis—However, especially with Cousins. If Oklahoma City’s bruising front-line tandem can frustrate the temperamental center, victory becomes much easier.
- Rebounding/Interior defense: The Thunder should battle on the glass, and not surrender easy second-chance points to the Pelicans’ massive front court.
- Westbrook stays under control: A repeat of Russ’ masterful court generalship from Fri would be ideal vs. a New Orleans defense still searching for an identity.
- OKC 3-Point shooting: Though averages oppose another 10-of-24 3PM performance from OKC, perhaps Abrines, McDermott, and Oladipo (if he plays) can space the floor enough to keep NOP honest.
- Steven Adams’ basket rolls: Oklahoma City is at its best when Russ and Adams perform the high pick-and-roll in unison. The aforementioned threat of floor spacing makes this task much easier for the pair.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Pursuant to another masterful Presti deal, Oklahoma City is riding a high-tide of uplifting sentiment. Much of the reason for this is found in the fact that OKC’s new-look cast seemingly presented an upgrade vs. the feisty Lakers.
Indeed, early returns suggest Gibson and McDermott will provide a precise fit for Oklahoma City’s roster deficiencies. Essentially, the Thunder should improve from deep, as the front-court gains invaluable toughness and experience.
Tonight’s contest vs. New Orleans will serve as a golden litmus test with which to evaluate OKC’s progress.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Media excitement was palpable following the Pelicans’ surprise trade for DeMarcus Cousins. And for excellent reason. It is very possible that New Orleans now boasts the NBA’s two premiere giants on the same roster.
Unfortunately, as of now, that —and Holiday— is all they boast. While it is easy to envision New Orleans ascending to “Super-team” status following a few well placed off-season moves; currently, the Pelicans are well short of that lofty standard.
However, just because Houston (129-99) and Dallas (96-83) silenced the initial enthusiasm placed upon “Boogie and Brow,” this doesn’t make the tandem any less threatening.
While the odds are against New Orleans tonight, OKC should still take caution and game-plan wisely.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS AND INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Victor Oladipo (Back) as a game-time decision. The New Orleans Pelicans list E’Twaun Moore (Personal) as day-to-day.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Alex Abrines/Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis/Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
New Orleans Pelicans
- Point Guard: Jrue Holiday
- Shooting Guard: Hollis Thompson/E’Twaun Moore
- Small Forward: Solomon Hill
- Power Forward: Anthony Davis
- Center: DeMarcus Cousins
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -4.5
Oklahoma City is viewed as a favorable pick heading into tonight’s contest. The Thunder is 21-8 at home this season, as a struggling Pelicans squad is 9-20 in road outings.
Oklahoma City’s main advantage comes from New Orleans’ uncertainty of how to efficiently utilize Davis and Cousins, coupled with a conspicuous lack of NOP perimeter firepower.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Steven Adams and Taj Gibson against Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Oklahoma City could open the floodgates if New Orleans’ towering duo struggles.
Oklahoma City ranks 21st (104) in OffRtg and #8 (104.8) in DefRtg. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans rank #27 (101.8) in OffRtg and sit at ninth with a 104.9 DefRtg.
Oklahoma City -0.7 is 16th league-wide in NetRtg. The Pelicans are 23rd in NetRtg (-3.0).