Losers of 3 in a row and 5 of their last 7, the Pelicans have a tall order tomorrow. Last Friday, Russell Westbrook returned and put up 32 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds to help wallop the Knicks. Worse, Kevin Durant might be back from injury too. He's been putting in full practices and is slated to return this week. I can assure you that one doesn't want to face him in his first game of the season.
Throw All Statistics Out the Window
There has probably been no team hit harder with injury to start this season than the Thunder. Durant, Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Roberson have combined to miss 66 games. Thus, it's rather pointless to give much credence to any 2014-15 statistics.
Instead, let's have a look at what happened last season. In the team's three match-ups, the Pelicans prevailed in one, the second to last game of our season. Although Russell Westbrook sat out, the Pelicans were without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson. Tyreke Evans was the star, going off for 41 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. In the two other matchups, the Thunder soundly beat down the Pelicans.
Click on All Cylinders
During the 2013-14 regular season, the Thunder went 30-12 in games when both Durant and Westbrook stepped onto the floor. To overcome that dominance, the Pelicans are going to have to play really well on both sides of the ball. To beat championship caliber teams, and don't think for a minute they're not, the opposition needs to summon something special.
8 of those Thunder losses came to playoff teams. An couple of flukes went to the Cavaliers and Lakers. However, the final two losses, both to the Suns, interest me the most. In both games, the Thunder offense did their job by scoring a lot of points efficiently. However, they didn't do a very good job on the other end as the Suns scored more points more effectively. The Thunder were unable to slow down the Suns back court as Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe (in the one game he played) and Gerald Green torched OKC. PHX played to their strength, a fast paced offense, and won.
It's generally true of superstars -- you're not going to stop them, so the best you can hope for is slowing them down just a bit. Rather, teams should look to match or surpass the output of the Westbrooks and Durants of the world. The Pelicans have the talent in the back court between Evans and Jrue Holiday. We've already witnessed what Tyreke can do against them when he puts his mind to it, but to have a legitimate chance for a win, both of them will have to put up numbers. Of course, this will likely have to be in addition to Anthony Davis doing what he does.
3 Keys to Victory
- RUN! You see it. I see it. David Wesley sees it. The team needs to come out of the gates with a sense of urgency. No more starting games with a patented Anthony Davis jump shot from around the top of the key. We're young and we can run. It's high time was start taking advantage of this strength and not begin a game passively. You damn well know the Thunder won't.
- Win the turnover battle decisively. Against a juggernaut, it's important to try and give oneself plenty more effective possessions. For the most part, the Pelicans have done a wonderful job taking care of the ball this season. That will need to continue but it would be helpful if can force a few more turnovers than usual.
- Don't fear going small. I've already mentioned the small-ball Suns have had a lot of success against the Thunder. However, did you know that the Spurs successfully broke up their starting tandem of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in the 2014 playoffs against the Thunder to pull Ibaka away from the paint area? Considering Tyreke and so many other Pelicans try to live in the paint, Monty will hopefully not be afraid in giving the Davis/Asik combo a few less minutes if they prove too cumbersome.