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NBA Preview: Short-handed New Orleans Pelicans face tall task against Paul George and Oklahoma City Thunder

Fetching the road victory is probably going to require some special efforts by several unlikely candidates.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Amid all the trade hoopla, the New Orleans Pelicans (27-23) must return to the hardwood on Friday against a particularly tough foe on their home floor: the Oklahoma City Thunder (30-22).

Since losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, the Pelicans have failed to notch a victory against two beatable teams in the Clippers and Kings. Now, they must try to garner their first win without their usual starting center against an OKC team that will be angry after losing their second straight game.

Late Thursday night, the Thunder dropped a 127-124 contest to the Denver Nuggets on TNT. After being down by as many as 20 points, Oklahoma City clawed back into the match and tied the game up at 124 apiece following a Paul George three. However, with one second remaining, Nikola Jokic found Gary Harris on an out of bounds play and Denver’s shooting guard drilled a 25-footer as the buzzer sounded.

To make matters worse, the Pelicans are going to be especially short-handed.

With likely no Mirotic and Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson traded to the Chicago Bulls, the Pelicans will be eight strong. Only two-way contract player Charles Cooke will be sitting in the wings. Barring some late Greg Monroe signing miracle, the Pelicans big men rotation will consist of Anthony Davis, Cheick Diallo and Dante Cunningham.

Alrighty then!

The only thing tilted in New Orleans favor may be the Thunder’s low energy levels. OKC might be fatigued, both from a physical and mental standpoint, as they’ll be asked to play on the second night of a back-to-back and for the fifth time in the last seven days. However, when’s the last time you remember Russell Westbrook coasting through a game at half speed?

Yeah, my point exactly.

Three Keys to Victory

Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore be aggressive. Anthony Davis is going to score between his usual 25-35 points so it’s obviously going to be up to the rest of the roster to provide the substantial rest. However, it can be done, especially with renowned OKC defender Andre Roberson unavailable for the rest of the season. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray combined for 58 points against the Thunder last night, including the final three points of the game. Hey, nice awareness, Russell!

Run the Thunder off the three-point line. OKC isn’t going to want to move all that much so force them to drive into the shot-blocking arms of AD inside the painted area. At the very least, contest the deep perimeter shots well. In their last five losses, the Thunder have combined to knock down just 45 of 143 three-pointers (31.4%).

Don’t be afraid to help. Outside of the Houston Rockets, there’s no team that looks to run isolation plays more often. Consequently, available Pelicans need to react to a teammate getting beat by Westbrook or George and offering smart help defense. Force them to make a difficult pass or shoot the tough shot. Russell is likely to comply 9 out of 10 times.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena

When: February 2, 2018, 8:00 p.m. Central