The Oklahoma City Thunder (2-4) travel to New Orleans to play the Pelicans (4-3) Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Here are four notes ahead of the New Year’s Eve rematch:
What did OKC learn from their last matchup?
These two teams previously played last Thursday, where the Pelicans comfortably won the contest 113-80. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault will get a chance to adjust his game plan from the previous game.
Like many other games, the Pelicans were explosive in the paint, scoring 54 points against OKC. I expect similar results this time around if Daigneault continues to play a traditional defense.
The Thunder have the worst interior defense in the league, it is hard to just ignore that weakness. If this continues to be an issue, I would like to see Daigneault throw in some exotic looks on defense, such as trying a 2-3 zone.
The Heat are notorious for using this scheme to clog driving lanes and the paint; OKC should try this scheme if the interior defense continues to be nonexistent in traditional defensive sets.
SGA going up against the Pelicans’ backcourt
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s worst game this season came against the Pelicans, where he only dropped eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
This was a concern of mine heading into that game and will be a concern heading into their second game against New Orleans this season as they own arguably the best defensive backcourt in the league in Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe.
If SGA is to develop into an All-Star type of player, he will need to adjust to tough defensive assignments and still find ways to impact the game. Ball and Bledsoe are elite perimeter defenders who will make life hell for the opposing star guards, but the best of them still find ways to contribute to the game. Wednesday will provide a good test for Shai.
Can the Thunder hit their 3s?
This one might be simple, but really makes a huge impact on the outcome of games. The Thunder have been struggling from outside in their last three games, shooting a combined 41-of-137.
The three-ball is the ultimate equalizer and if the Thunder hit at a decent clip against the Pelicans, who concede the three-ball in their defensive philosophy, then this game should be much more competitive than the first one.
This will be the Thunder’s third road game in four nights. Even with this roster being relatively young, I can see players getting tired late in this game. Especially for the starters, who all average over 24 minutes a game.
Young guys like Shai, Darius Bazley, and Lu Dort might be able to delay the exhaustion, but eventually, it will set in. Shai played the eighth-most minutes last year at 2,428 and is averaging 32.5 MPG this year.
The fact that all three games have been on the road will also make it worse for the team.
It is one thing to play three games in four nights at your home arena, where you can just go home and sleep in your own bed; but it’s another thing when it is on the road with all the constant travel involved, especially now with COVID-19 protocols in place.