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NBA Preview: Pelicans to Invade Poku-mania in OKC

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Almost mathematically eliminated from play-in contention, every last win for NOP is a big one

New Orleans Pelicans v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off a 114-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets last night, will head to Oklahoma to play the rumble-less Thunder, themselves having just stopped an epic losing streak that nearly matched a franchise record. They’ve sat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for awhile, and Al Horford, and traded George Hill and even Hamidou Diallo. The tank has been on for quite some time.

The Pelicans should definitely win, but we all know how up and down the New Orleans side has been this year. Anything is possible.

For the Thunder

They’ve got two more years of lockdown defender and absolute tank Lu Dort in the backcourt making less than $2M per year. He scored over 40 recently, and has taken more offensive responsibility since SGA stopped playing. Lanky forward Darius Bazley had a big, impactful game in the win at Boston, and a collection of scrap heap guys, including former Pelican Kenrich Williams, have helped the team remain competitive in the face of an organizational mandate to lose as much as possible.

I’ve seen Ty Jerome make too many shots to ever say they’re out of a game. LOL Imagine writing that.

Which brings us to Alexsej Pokusevski, simultaneously the youngest player in the league and a guy who does not lack confidence. Watch him handle the ball, attempt any pass imaginable, and act like he’s done it a thousand times before. I’ve seen him use crazy pivots near the rim and attempt the intentional miss off the backboard to gain an advantage. The combination of blocked shots, made 3s, and ball-handling is unlike almost any player in the league. Weeks ago, he went to play with the G-League Blue in the G-League Bubble Showcase and came back a better player.

His development has been huge, along that of steadying Theo Maledon, and uber-confident guards Jerome and Svi Mykhailiuk. Moses Brown is massive and also developing in this OKC hotbed of player improvement.

Can Pelicans fans imagine a world in which Kenrich Williams shoots 53% from the field and 43% from 3? Wow... if “HEAT Culture” is real, we also have to acknowledge OKC’s ability to make wine from water.

For the Pelicans

The Pels are desperate for a win — every day, they get closer and closer to official notification that they’re out of the play-in tournament for the second straight disappointing year. No Zion and Ingram in the top 10 of the west? That’s a failure, no doubt.

But are there bright rays of hope for future years? Certainly.

Zion is already one of the most devastating offensive players in the league, while his defense remains a work in progress. Ingram is getting Harden-ed a few times per game, despite showing real ability on defense, but a second option as good as him seems like a good plan.

Near- and long-term questions remain about the backcourt, while youngsters Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, and Kira Lewis Jr. all project as positive members of the team. Jaxson Hayes went from semi-unplayable to a valued member who is expanding his skillset. Naji Marshall was a great find. But are they, or the collection of “others” good enough to expect an uptick in wins simply due to roster cohesion? What type of players are even the best options to slot next to your generational superstar? Does this team even need a traditional point guard if Zion and Brandon Ingram are taking practically all the possession and playmaking?

Another unknown has just entered the chat: Didi Louzada. The Brazilian guard who has played in Australia for the past couple years may or may not play once his work visa is good to go... perhaps he’ll make a spot for himself after playing high level of competition abroad.

There’s more good news: just like the Thunder, the Pels are loaded up with draft capital that can be used to bid on unhappy stars in other locations looking for greener grass. Zion might be the shiniest new reason to hit up the bayou and further your career.

All those questions will remain after this game, but re-assessing both these teams in another year (or four) will provide light on those answers.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (27-35) at OKC Thunder (21-41)

When: April 29, 8:00 p.m. Central

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 @Trabeta.