Game On: Pelicans @ Thunder

Published: April 11, 2014

“4 games left, 4 games left..” I mutter to myself as I write this game preview.

The 32-46 New Orleans Pelicans travel to OKC to face the playoff-bound Thunder, who are fresh off of a road win against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder are unequivocally one of the best teams in basketball: they are 7th in Offensive Rating, 5th in Defensive Rating, and have the 3rd best Net Rating in the league. They are the best rebounding team in basketball. They get to the foul line often and they are among the best in the league at defending the rim.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, just announced that Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis will be shut down for the rest of the year. This means that the Pelicans will be severely limited in what they can do against what is undoubtedly a better team. The Thunder are not without weaknesses and do have a habit of turning the ball over often, but the best chance the Pelicans have tonight is for the Thunder to come out flat/lazy. However, the Thunder are in good position to lock up the 2 seed and a win in tonight’s game could allow them to get some rest for their big players before the playoffs. Hell, they can put the game away by halftime if they want to. With that in mind, I’m more focused on watching individual things.

  1. Does Darius Miller get the start tonight?
    Miller has started the last few games but is not nearly long enough to defend Kevin Durant. Al-Farouq Aminu, who is longer and more athletic than Miller, started last game at power forward against the Phoenix Suns.. will that hold tonight, or will Monty slide two of the centers into the starting lineup and move Aminu to 3 to defend Durant? My guess is that Monty will not want Aminu defending Serge Ibaka, so I’d expect Aminu to slide to 3. Unfortunately, Roberts-Reke-Aminu-Withey/Ajinca-Stiemsma would a horrifyingly bad offensive lineup.
  2. Does Roberts go under screens to defend Westbrook?
    Russell Westbrook is the most explosive guard in the league and is a terror getting to the rim. Ideally, Roberts will just give Westbrook the midrange jumper and go far enough under the screen to limit Westbrook’s penetration. I’m guessing the Pelicans bigs will sag on Westbrook P/Rs. Westbrook can also post up and could do serious damage versus Brian Roberts. Will they attack Roberts in the post early on, and will Monty counter with switching Roberts onto Thabo and Tyreke onto Westbrook? Or will he sub in Rivers to mitigate the damage?
  3. How does Tyreke play with little to no firepower around him?
    As good as Tyreke is getting to the rim, he has struggled when teams have no respect for the options around him and just form a shell around the paint. This is partially not his fault, but this is something he will continually deal with until he becomes moderately dangerous from the outside. Tonight, I’d expect the same, as the Thunder have both the athleticism to stay in front of Tyreke and the rim protection to alter his shot should he get there. Doing damage in transition off of Thunder turnovers will likely be of paramount importance for Tyreke tonight.

I expect it to be really, really ugly tonight, so look for the small glimpses of light from individual players. Can Rivers or Tyreke stay in front of Westbrook? Can Aminu limit Durant? Can Morrow continue his blazing hot shooting? Can Withey produce during meaningful minutes against a good team? Does James Southerland, the new Pelican, get any playing time?

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