The New Orleans Pelicans are stuck in the middle at the moment. They'll win some games, and remain just on the outside of the actual playoff race for the final seed in the Western Conference. Yet, they aren't good enough to make that leap, so any win they pick up hurts their lottery positioning. It's a tricky spot they're in at the moment, and Omer Asik's injury didn't help matters.
The Pelicans should be tanking. Six games out of the Western Conference doesn't really help matters, but they should look to add as many ping-pong balls to their arsenal as possible. Eric Gordon is around the bend, and if they continue to patch together several wins like they have all season, they're going to at least make the push. Looking at a roster with Norris Cole and Toney Douglas getting game action has me dubious.
Maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder can help them with going one way or another. The Thunder are 41-16 at the moment, good for third in the Western Conference. The combination of All-Star MVP Russell Westbrook and second-best player in the league Kevin Durant at the top of the roster, combining for 60-70 whenever they can. Serge Ibaka floats around on defense, Enes Kanter is one of the best offensive players off the bench and I, personally, like Cameron Payne.
The Thunder are one of the top teams in the NBA - 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency and 13th in the league in defense. And yet, we truly don't understand how good they are. Golden State and San Antonio are really, really good, and the Thunder are just under that point. In a normal year, they probably win the championship. This year, they seem to be on the road to a second round loss, maybe surprising by getting to the Western Conference Finals.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Thunder is their struggle for a shooting guard. Dion Waiters is fifth on the team in scoring, but he's upgradable. Andre Roberson is a consistent jumper away from being the perfect compliment, but he's shooting 26.9% from three. Sam Presti and staff added Randy Foye at the deadline, but he doesn't seem like much of an upgrade, either.
To beat the Warriors, you have to match them on defense when they go small, while being able to play pristine offense on the other end. The Thunder have two of the best five players on offense, but can't find that other wing to throw on the court. Unless Roberson can start spacing the floor, and thus, not be an offensive liability, the Thunder should try to avoid Golden State at all costs.
Three keys to victory
Big Anthony Davis game - This this is a given. The Pelicans need to have a strong performance from Davis to get the wing. Durant and Westbrook are going to cook in the first unit and Kanter in the second. In order to keep up with that, the Pels are going to need a 30-10 - maybe even more - performance from Davis.
Jrue Holiday on Russell Westbrook - You can't stop Russell Westbrook, you can only hope to contain him. In their last matchup before the All-Star break, Holiday did a fine job on Westbrook at points on defense, even though the near triple-double suggests otherwise. If I'm Gentry, I continue that, keeping Holiday attached to Westbrook's hip on defense.
Someone else - Alongside Davis and Holiday, the Pelicans are going to need someone else to step up. Bryce Dejean-Jones needs to hit a couple threes, Alexis Ajinca will have to put some points up against their center tandem and Ryan Anderson will have to have a solid game as well.