What a fun and exciting time it is to be a New Orleans Pelicans fan. On Friday night in front of a rowdy crowd inside the SKC, the Anthony Davis-less Pels beat the fully healthy Los Angeles Clippers. A team that had seemed to have recently turned a corner and had begun to look like the Clippers everyone had expected all season.
Then on Monday night, the best team in the NBA, came to New Orleans (rested and healthy) with their 19 game win streak in tow. That win streak did not make it back onto the team plane as the Pels beat down the Atlanta Hawks 115-100.
Which brings the Pels to their most important two game stretch of the season -- when the OKC Thunder come to New Orleans for the front end of a home and home matchup that concludes with the Pels traveling to OKC on Friday. The teams have played two times so far this season with the Pels taking both games. If they manage to win just one of these two games, they will own the all-important tiebreaker against OKC, which is crucial because of how surprisingly inconsistent the Thunder have been this season.
The strange thing about the previous two confrontations is that it is hard to draw much of a comparison between them and the two that will be played this week.
First of all, one big piece that will be missing for the Pels who played an integral role in their previous successes versus the Thunder is Jrue Holiday. His defense against Russell Westbrook in both games was magnificent and will be sorely missed. The Pels have been playing extremely well since Jrue has been out with his stress reaction, but these were the two games I had circled. I just do not know who will be able to defend Westbrook because he is probably the quickest guard in the NBA.
In the first matchup, in which Kevin Durant miraculously returned from his foot injury, the Pels attempted 45 free throws en route to a 112-104 victory. In the second meeting in OKC, the Pels only attempted 10 free throws. That is quite the difference. Conversely, OKC has been more consistent with their free throw attempts I both games with 24 and 27 attempts.
Which leads me to my keys to victory:
Make Russ beat you with his jumper
The early indication from the Thunder is the KD is probably going to sit this game out. Russ without KD is not as dangerous as Russ with KD. I am anxious to see how Monty and the Pels decide to guard Russ without Jrue to hound him all game. I would suggest baiting Russ into taking midrange jumpers and threes and hope for the best because I do not see anyone on the roster that can play in his face and stay in front of him to prevent an easy layup.
Protect the Ball
The Thunder currently commit the 9th most turnovers per game in the league while the Pels are a top 5 team in taking care of the ball. This must be the case on Wednesday night. In the previous meeting in OKC, the Pels were outrebounded and took 14 less free throws than the Thunder but still won. One reason was because the Thunder committed almost twice as many turnovers as the Pels. Tyreke has been doing an admirable job at taking care of the ball during this hot streak, so let’s hope he can keep it up.
Read the Scouting Report
Hopefully the Pels read the scouting report that has been prepared for them. I cannot tell if the Pels have gotten better at closing out on "real" shooters and not rushing out on non-shooters because the Clippers and Hawks have really strong outside shooting.
Please pray for me if one of the Pels closes out hard on Andre Roberson to prevent a three point attempt (21% on the season) and gives up a layup instead. Waiters, Westbrook and Jackson are all shooting under 29% for the season from deep. Keep that in mind while watching the Pels on defense and hopefully that will be in the Pels minds as well.
When: February 4, 2015 at 7pm CST
Where: Smoothie King Center
Link to OKC’s Blog: http://www.welcometoloudcity.com/