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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors matchup likely to exclude a superstar

Lady luck may provide a favor as Kevin Durant is considered doubtful to play in order to eliminate soreness in his left ankle.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (11-8) will do battle with the Golden State Warriors (14-5) on Saturday night inside what’s sure to be a boisterous Oracle Arena. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. central, so be sure to tune into Joel Meyers and David Wesley on Fox Sports New Orleans or listen to Sean Kelley and John Deshazier over the airwaves on WRNO 99.5 FM.

Days after DeMarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans last February, many immediately started salivating about a potential Pelicans-Warriors matchup in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. That didn’t come close to happening, but fast forwarding to the second regular season game of the 2017-18 campaign, we caught a glimpse of the excitement. Although the Pelicans lost 128-120, we were treated to a world where Golden State couldn’t stop Boogie or Anthony Davis, and had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant not combined for 83 points and a number of crucial blocks on the defensive end, New Orleans might have knocked off the champs.

Well, according to Steve Kerr after the Warriors win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, there is a good chance Durant will not suit up against the Pelicans.

If Durant indeed misses more time, this would be a huge bonus for New Orleans. KD is one of the best players in the league; moreover, Head Coach Alvin Gentry would probably feel better about staying with the Pelicans current three-guard starting lineup.

Three games ago, E’Twaun Moore replaced Dante Cunningham, and New Orleans has not lost since; however, this new look did struggle against the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting five, featuring Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. In 19 minutes, the Pelicans starters were outscored by a ridiculously huge amount of 19 points.

Who is to say New Orleans struggles again versus three dynamic wing players that boast a distinct height advantage, but it would be a shame for the coaching staff to have to tamper with New Orleans recent rotations. Cunningham’s best fit is off the bench while a proficient long distance shooter with AD and Boogie seems a must, yet suggesting Darius Miller doesn’t seem prudent considering his recent adjustment in becoming a productive reserve.

Whatever transpires, the Warriors are a dangerously good team with or without Durant, as they’ve won their three games without Durant this season by a combined 80 points. It’s going to take the Pelicans best effort of the season to merely sniff a possible victory.

Three Keys to Victory

Eliminate the quick strikes. The Warriors average almost 24 fast break points per game, nearly nine more than the second highest team. That’s a glaring problem because the Pelicans give up 12.8 FBPS (26th) on the season, including a league-worst 17.2 FBPS over the last six games. Something has to give — pray it’s not New Orleans transition defense.

Dominate the paint. In the Warriors five losses on the year, they’re averaging 37.2 points in the paint (25th). That mark is nearly 10 points lower than in their wins. In the teams’ first matchup, the Pelicans held the Warriors to just 30 PITP, but the problem was New Orleans totaled only 32 themselves — a far cry from their 54.4 PITP average in 11 wins.

Avoid third quarter lull. The Warriors own the best third quarter point differential in the league at 7.1 points. In their 128-120 loss, New Orleans was upended in the third quarter by a 37-26 margin. The Pelicans need to match the Warriors intensity and focus coming out of the locker room, pure and simple.

Geaux Pelicans!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors

Where: Oracle Arena

When: November 25, 2017, 7:30 PM Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM