About two weeks ago, the Pelicans eked out a last second win against the Brooklyn Nets to open the 2018-19 season with a perfect 4-0 record. They were one of the early surprises in the league and many jumped aboard the bandwagon. A daunting five-game road trip loomed for New Orleans though. The thought among the staff was if the Pelicans could grab a pair of wins, it’d be about as successful of a trip as could be.
Well, the jaunt began with a stop in Denver and the losses soon began to pile up. One shrugged off a close defeat to the Nuggets because they have one of the more unique home court advantages in basketball, they’re a really good team, and Anthony Davis and Elfrid Payton were still M.I.A. Beating the Golden State Warriors in Oakland? Please, next. Onto Portland, where the Trail Blazers, as expected, showed plenty of eagerness for a little payback from the playoff sweep. And with the losing streak growing to an alarming four games, the San Antonio Spurs did not comply and roll over, marking the Pelicans third straight double-digit defeat.
There’s no such thing as a “must win” game in November, but for the sake of many fans, it would really behoove New Orleans to snap this losing streak and beat road team No. 5, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Like the Pelicans, the Thunder are another playoff team from last season who are spinning their wheels in the early portion of the NBA schedule. However, as to where the Pelicans began 4-0 and fell back to Earth, the Thunder got off to a winless 0-4 start before reeling off four straight wins to climb back to .500.
The Thunder’s season is, basically, Anakin Skywalker’s podracer from The Phantom Menace, slow starting but off and running; whereas the Pelicans’ season more closely resembles Ben Quadinaros’ pod, you may remember him as the little pudgy alien fella whose pod stated up fine and then literally exploded in Phantom Menace.
As the Pelicans decline in performance coincided with Davis dealing with an elbow sprain, Oklahoma City got Russell Westbrook back into the fold and took off. Russ is back with a vengeance averaging 25 points, and over eight rebounds and eight assists through his first six games. But because he’s Russell Westbrook, he’s also been putting up around 20 shots a night. At least he’s true to himself.
Westbrook’s two main running mates, Paul George and Steven Adams, are having their typically stellar seasons so far. George is posting 22 points and seven rebounds, while Adams is averaging a double-double at 13 and 10.
Newly acquired Dennis Schroder is getting run exclusively at point guard, causing Westbrook to slide over to the two-guard spot when the pair are on the floor together. Through eight games, Schrdoer is getting about 28 minutes a night and putting up 14 points and six assists. Schroder isn’t making life easy for the Thunder offense, however, needing 14 shots to score those 14 points.
The Pelicans and Thunder are fifth and sixth in the league in pace so expect tempo, tempo and even more tempo. But while New Orleans is playing fast, the Thunder are playing too fast. The Thunder are 21st in offensive rating and 28th in true shooting percentage. Oklahoma City also ranks in the bottom third in assist to turnover ratio. The Pelicans want to get into a shootout with the Thunder because the end result could be Oklahoma City shooting themselves in the foot.
New Orleans hasn’t done anything worth celebrating on this grueling five-game road trip, but most journeys out West are difficult to stomach — such is life in the Western Conference. A 1-4 road trip certainly doesn’t inspire confidence, but if the Pelicans can snap a four-game losing streak at a playoff contender’s building and get back to .500, things might finally get back on track.
Let’s Geaux Pels!
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
When: Saturday, November 5, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, FSOK, 99.5 FM WRNO