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NBA Preview: Can New Orleans Pelicans revitalize themselves against the West’s best OKC Thunder?

The Pels are down Nikola Mirotic, Elfrid Payton and possibly E’Twaun Moore against the hottest team in the West. Do they have a shot at home?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans were noticeably despondent in their 113-100 loss to the Boston Celtics.

On the second night of a back-to-back and a grueling 17 game in 30 day stretch, it’s logical that the league-leaders in minutes played (Jrue Holiday first, Anthony Davis second) gave less than their best performances in an inefficient showing against a Celtics’ team without five of their rotational pieces.

The Pelicans were also without three of their starters from that nostalgic 4-0 run six weeks ago (Payton, Moore, Niko). Without much of their firepower, and with Jrue struggling to assert himself, Davis was forced to take a season-high 34 shots, well up from his season-high, 25)

The Pelicans may once again be without the three aforementioned, but with a day's rest they must quickly regroup against the West’s best, and NBA’s best in the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8).

The Thunder have won 17 of their past 21 games to vault themselves into first place in the standings, and Paul George is having quite possibly his best season yet. Averaging 24.3 points per game in 35 minutes, George has led the Thunder even throughout Westbrook’s ailments and missed contests (eight games).

The good news is that the Pelicans play at home, where they have been significantly better in 2018-19 (10-4 v 4-11), and the Thunder won’t slog the speed of play like the Celtics (sixth in pace).

But the Pelicans will struggle to find scoring against the NBA’s highest-rated defensive squad (102.5), especially without their best floor spacing threats. Davis will face a tall task in Steven Adams, who thoroughly outplayed him in their duel on November sixth. Adams finished with 18 points, eight rebounds a game-leading +22 plus minus. Davis, with 20 points and eight rebounds, would carry the worst plus/minus rating of -20.

The Pelicans cannot afford to turn the ball over against the NBA’s sixth best team in transition (16.2), and will have to do a much better job help defending and rebounding in the painted area, where the Thunder are sixth and first, respectively.

The Thunder are the fourth-best team defensively on the perimeter, so the Pelicans will have to assert their will by getting to the rim, where the Thunder are a much more manageable 15th.

The Thunder give themselves multiple opportunities by leading the league in offensive rebounding (12), steals (10), and opponent turnovers (18). The Pelicans will have to play a fundamentally sound contest to have any shot against the Thunder tonight, and the Pelicans have yet to have shown that penchant in quite some time.

Point guard Dennis Schroeder took advantage of the Pelicans in the previous matchup with Westbrook’s forced exit in the third quarter, and contributed 22 points on 16 shots. Look for the recently called-up Frank Jackson to get a shot at him early. Jackson is the only back court player with both the speed and size to keep Schroeder away from the net, where Schroeder is most effective. (Read more about Frank Jackson’s recent progress in the G-League here.)

Jrue Holiday should draw the assignment on Russell Westbrook, who will likely try switching onto the smaller Tim Frazier early and often. Solomon Hill will draw Paul George. Hill did a terrific job on George during his inaugural season with the Pelicans, holding him to 18.5 points on 40% shooting in two contests. Let’s hope for similar success!

The Pelicans are 23-31 all-time versus the Thunder and have lost six of their previous eight.

Can the Pelicans reverse their fortunes and earn a statement victory? Comment below!

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Where To Watch

What: Oklahoma City Thunder vs New Orleans Pelicans

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Wednesday, December 12, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: ESPN, 99.5 FM WRNO