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NBA Preview: MVP-candidate Paul George descends on New Orleans as Pelicans welcome Oklahoma City Thunder

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PG13 has been sensational of late, but will Anthony Davis somehow dominate the headlines once again?

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

The New Orleans Pelicans (25-33) will host the Oklahoma City Thunder (37-19) on Thursday evening and the game will be nationally televised on TNT. The contest marks the NBA’s final matchup on the schedule before the start of All-Star weekend in Charlotte.

As for the two teams competing, they couldn’t be headed in more different directions. The Pelicans season is lost, with Anthony Davis announcing he wants out more than two weeks ago and New Orleans sits six and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Since AD’s return three games ago, the Pelicans have hit several new lows (90 points scored/worst FG% of season against Memphis Grizzlies and 88 points scored versus Orlando Magic) in what was already shaping up to be a disappointing season.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have won eleven of twelve games and are in great position to finish the season out in one of the top three spots in the West. While Russell Westbrook and his penchant for triple doubles (he’s on a streak of 10 straight) remains a big part of their success, Paul George has been the indisputable MVP.

With seemingly each passing month, George is finding a way to elevate his play to another level. For the month of February, he is averaging — get this — 39.7 points per game. In addition, he’s contributing 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 6.8 threes and 2.2 steals. George has been doing it all, but his ability to score so many points at such an efficient rate is most remarkable. He’s hoisting up an average of 14.5 three-point attempts and getting to the free throw line nearly 12 times a contest.

That’s just ridiculous!

Unless his production falls off a cliff, we should fully expect George to find his name on the short list of the top three candidates for the 2019 MVP Award. Without him, the Thunder might not even be a playoff team because Westbrook, while posting triple-doubles left and right, can’t hit the broad side of a barn. After posting a shooting line of 39.8 FG%, 27.0 3PT% and 69.2 FT% in December, he’s following that up with a 37.4 FG%, 19.0 3PT% and a 66.0 FT% this month.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

As for why Westbrook’s jumper is about as broken as a player you’d find struggling in a recreational league, that remains a mystery; however, one thing is for certain, Russell doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

“He say, she say, what somebody say about me, what they say about shooting, passing, dribbling -- I don’t really care. Every year it’s something. They gotta make up something about me. Which is fine. It’s good. One thing I always know is, if they’re not talking about you, then you’re not doing something right.”

In the team’s last matchup, the Pelicans and Thunder squared off just days before Anthony Davis’ trade request became public. New Orleans fell by a 122-116 margin, but they fought valiantly throughout and with just under 40 seconds left they could have made it a one-possession ballgame. Unfortunately, Cheick Diallo (!) missed a 23-foot three-pointer and that was all she wrote.

The biggest thing to watch for in this go-around — will the Pelicans show that similar fight from three weeks ago? We just witnessed the team’s most lackluster performance to date two days ago, a 30-point drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic inside the Smoothie King Center. How will they respond?

One last thing to remember: there’s a chance tonight’s game marks the last time we see Anthony Davis in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform. Although the organization has not hinted at removing him from active playing status yet, it’s obvious finishing out the regular season schedule would be a chore with AD remaining a fixture of the lineup.

Let’s geaux, Pels?

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (25-33) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (37-19)

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Thursday February 14, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: TNT, 99.5 FM WRNO