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Pelicans matchup against Thunder presents great opportunity to snap current losing streak

Will facing Shai bring out the best in Nickeil?

New Orleans Pelicans v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans (1-10) will seek to break their current seven-game losing streak tonight as they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (3-6).

The young squad led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off a win against the San Antonio Spurs last Sunday and will be looking for their fourth win of the 2021-22 season. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are hoping to just notch their second and they may be forced to play extremely shorthanded again.

The reeling Pels could be without star froward Brandon Ingram as he continues to nurse a hip contusion. Ingram was officially listed as questionable in yesterday’s injury report, but we should know more closer to tip off. Willie Green maintains that the injury is a bruise and not something more serious.

New Orleans Pelicans v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

“Right now, it’s a case of, like you said, really bad bruising and soreness,” Green said. “He’s just not comfortable moving until that’s ready.”

Additionally, promising second-round rookie Herbert Jones is also questionable with ankle soreness.

The Pelicans desperately need one or both of these players back in action as Zion Williamson’s return remains up in the air.

Despite the slow start to the season, Green continues to strike a positive tone, stressing that this early adversity will strengthen his young team.

“I still believe in our guys; this is just a part of it,” Green said after Monday’s loss to the Mavericks. “This is part of what we have to go through as a team. No excuses. But we’re not healthy. We’re not whole. We really don’t know what we’re going to look like. But I believe this experience for guys is going to be so valuable going down the stretch.”

On paper, there’s a great chance for the Pelicans to end their slide. To get the win, the Pelicans will need to contain Gilgeous-Alexander though. He is on pace for another phenomenal season with averages of 22 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. If defensive ace Herb Jones misses tonight’s contest, we may get to see Gilgeous-Alexander guarded by his cousin, Pels guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. This could make for a fascinating watch considering, you know, they’re family.

Outside of SGA, the Pelicans should have some matchups in their favor. Oklahoma City doesn’t’ start a single player listed above 6’8 and their front court is extremely young. If the Pelicans play intelligently, this should be a huge game for center Jonas Valanciunas, whose size, experience, and skill advantages should dominate 21-year-olds Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Darius Bazley.

Another area to watch will be the contributions from the Pelicans reserves. New Orleans currently ranks dead last in the NBA in bench scoring and shooting percentage according to NBA.com. After Monday’s loss, Green acknowledged that the team’s bench must improve and suggested that perhaps he needs to stagger lineups with starters and bench guys a bit more.

“I think I have to do a better job of having some of those young guys play with the starters,” Green said. “That was unfair to them. However, I’m still proud of our fight. We just have to get over the hump and figure out how to claw and dig and win a game.”

Monitor the substitution patterns to see if the coaching staff follows through with the suggested changes.

This should be a winnable game for the Pelicans, although I’m sure the Thunder are thinking the same thing. Whichever young team executes their game plan better will notch a rare victory — something that’s been difficult to come by for either team.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (1-10) at Oklahoma City Thunder (3-6)

When: November 10, 2021, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @Jamdunn06.