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NBA Preview: Pelicans must win important game against Thunder to enter All-Star break on four-game winning streak

They’re 0-3 against Chris Paul and company, but it’s time for the status quo to change.

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Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

After squashing the Portland Trail Blazers by a score of 138-117 and grabbing what could become a deciding tiebreaker if these two teams finish in a tie in the regular season standings, the New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of streaking to a great finish right before the 2020 All-Star break. Only one obstacle remains in the way of tying a season-high of four wins in a row before the week lay-off in play: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder have been an unsolved riddle this season, having won all three meetings against the Pelicans to date. While the likelihood of catching OKC in the Western Conference is slim to none (they’re 9 games ahead and sitting comfortably inside the postseason picture), it is important to salvage the season series with a win on Thursday evening. Only 28 contests remain on the schedule and New Orleans must still leap frog three teams to jump into that final playoff spot. So, piling up as many wins as possible is the name of the game.

Before the start of this season, Chris Paul was left for dead. Oh, many still considered him a useful player who could give a playoff contender some extra oomph, but few believed that he remained capable of leading a team to the postseason. In his 15th season, Paul is averaging 17.5 points, 6.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He’s not OKC’s leading scorer (three other Thunder are averaging 19+ points), but he’s the engine — and opponents have had a front row seat to his heady exploits.

Although he’s only averaging 12.7 points in the three contests against the Pelicans, Paul has posted a team-best 9.3 +/-. Paul is fantastic at finding the seams in opposing defenses, and if he can’t find an open shot, he’s done a great job of creating one for Danilo Gallinari on the wing or Steven Adams in the paint. In turn, with the primary focus on Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder have thrived in secondary attacking roles.

It’s a tall ask to beat a team that seemingly has your number, but the New Orleans Pelicans would like nothing more than to enter the All-Star break riding a wave of momentum because it can lead to great things. Two years ago, the Pelicans won three straight games before the 2018 All-Star game. They then proceeded to win seven consecutive contests out of the break too, propelling them to an exciting run that didn’t end until the second round of the 2017-18 playoffs.

This time round, New Orleans doesn’t have Anthony Davis, but they have Zion Williamson and this rookie continues to get better and better with each passing game.

Zion has just nine games under his belt, but with how he and the team are trending, don’t rule out the possibility that the New Orleans Pelicans could still do something special.

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