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Game 30: Can Pelicans ride remaining horses and cash in a few surprise contributions against Thunder?

New Orleans has been very good at home, but they’re still going to need a special effort to knock off OKC.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Since that eyesore of a beginning, where OKC started the season with an 0-4 record and looked the most hopeless team in the league, the Thunder have righted the ship nicely. Actually, that’s understating the turnaround — they’ve gone on to redesign the whole Carnival cruise lines fleet!

As Preston mentioned in his preview, OKC sits atop the Western Conference entering play tonight. They’ve fielded the best defense and 10th best offense since limping out of the gates. Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams are doing their usual things, and Paul George has hit another level, say an MVP-like campaign.

As good as these guys are individually on offense though, the Thunder’s identity is that much more worth drooling over. They’re aggressive, with so much length and speed on their side, and they rarely get beat. They can survive without a top offense because their suffocating defense will turn your mistakes into points in the blink of an eye. Michael Pina of Vice Sports went into good detail about what the New Orleans Pelicans offense faces inside the Smoothie King Center tonight here.

But even without Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City’s defense cedes little ground. They know it’s impossible to take everything away on a nightly basis, but their reach and anticipation turns an ostensibly elusive goal into reality more often than not. They collectively take pride in wanting to get a stop every time down the floor, headway that’s encouraged by new and improved characters who aren’t afraid to tap dance on a tightrope.

Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant are good, bordering on great, in the larger roles they fill. Nerlens Noel is an ideal backup center in this particular context. Dennis Schröder takes nothing off the table. Hamidou Diallo is anti-gravity. Paul George might be the Defensive Player of the Year. Steven Adams is one of a handful of seven footers who flourishes on the perimeter more often than he merely survives.

With no Elfrid Payton, E’Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic, the task will be that much harder. A bunch of guys are going to need to step up and not just Anthony Davis, Julius Randle or Jrue Holiday. Maybe it’s time to roll the Ferrari out of the garage again — Frank Jackson — but can we also see some Jahlil Okafor? Steven Adams is a load and you’re going to need to score to beat the Thunder. Hey, if a couple of surprise storylines emerge, the Pelicans could put themselves in position to pull off the surprise.

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Where: Smoothie King Center

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

How: ESPN, 99.5 FM WRNO

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