LIVE: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder

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FRI, NOV 29, 2019
8:00 PM ET
New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The New Orleans Pelicans aim to put an end to their three-game losing streak in Friday’s head-to-head showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After dropping back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, the young Pelicans gave the Los Angeles Lakers all they could handle in a 114-110 loss at home. They’ll be looking for a turnaround performance on the road against the slumping Thunder, who have lost six of their last eight games, including a 136-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Pelicans still an NBA mystery

Seeing the Pelicans compete valiantly against the Lakers was a positive sign ahead of the eventual NBA debut of rookie No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson. Guard Lonzo Ball also missed the game with a stomach virus. The pieces are slowly coming together for the Pelicans, and things in the Western Conference will get interesting once they do.

New Orleans could use Williamson in Friday night’s game against the Thunder. It’ll be a daunting task in dealing with Thunder center Steven Adams in the paint. The veteran is the driving force behind the Thunder’s work down low and averaging 8.7 rebounds per game.

Despite an injury-plagued season and plenty of young talent, the Pelicans surprisingly rank fifth in scoring offense. They haven’t necessarily been the most efficient offense, but they have proven scorers on their roster like Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and Josh Hart to put some pressure on the Thunder.

All of their work will have to come on the offensive end of the floor considering they have the third-worst defense in the league. The Thunder may no longer have a Russell Westbrook sort of talent, but they can get buckets with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari being featured at the center of the offense. Teams are averaging a 47.5 field goal shooting percentage against the Pelicans. Until they tighten up defensively, they’ll still have problems against an average shooting team like the Thunder.

Where’s the rebounding for the Thunder?

Does anyone remember when the Thunder used to crush opponents on the boards? There was a time when they were the dominant force in the paint, and they could bully their way to wins over opposing teams.

But the predator has now become the prey.

The Thunder are the ones getting bullied this season with the fourth-worst average rebounds per game. Losing Westbrook has obviously had a negative impact on the team’s paint presence. Few can replicate the hustle that seemingly always put him in the right place at the right time. There is also the steady decline of Adams, who is clearly struggling to adjust to the new lineup.

He’ll try to turn it around against a Pelicans team that has looked anemic on defense. Teams are averaging a ridiculous 123.1 points per game when New Orleans is playing on the road. The fact that they’ve leaned towards a smaller lineup should also open up plenty of opportunities for Adams to step up his offensive contributions.

While the Pelicans have been an absolute mess on defense, they can be downright dangerous on the offensive end of the floor. Oklahoma City hasn’t been as good defensively as they’ve been in the past, but they still hover around the middle-of-the-pack in efficiency, which is good enough to at least keep them in the fight.

They’ll have to continue that fight without shooting guard Hamidou Diallo on the floor. He could reportedly miss four-to-six weeks with an elbow injury.

The Pelicans showed some fight in their ability to hang with the Lakers in Wednesday’s game. It won’t get much harder than playing against LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the NBA. They haven’t been the most consistent team in the league (most young teams aren’t), but they have pieced together some impressive wins over the Clippers and Denver Nuggets.

The Pelicans could easily waltz into the Chesapeake Energy Arena, get hot from the floor and proceed to blow the Thunder out of their home building. I’m not suggesting they’re going to make easy work of the Thunder, but they will get the job done and avoid a fourth straight loss.

The Thunder have been too inconsistent on the defensive end of the floor, and I have more faith in the Pelicans’ scorers to get buckets when they really count. This will be one of those Brandon Ingram takeover games. I’m taking the Pelicans and the points on Friday.

Prediction: New Orleans Pelicans (+4)

The Pelicans have been criminally underrated on the offensive end of the floor due to a lack of mega-superstars. It truly is a surprise when the team has a long list of guys that are capable of getting buckets like Ingram, Reddick, Holiday and even Josh Hart. The foursome will punch the Thunder in the mouth on Friday and never get a response.

They are averaging 115.7 points per game, while the Thunder are averaging 112.0 points on their home floor. It’s hard to have much faith in the Thunder after seeing them get lit up for 136 points by a returning Carmelo Anthony and the Trail Blazers. I’m taking the over betting total here.

Prediction: Over (228.5)

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