OKC Thunder First-Round Playoff Preview Against New Orleans Pelicans

The opening contest of a seven-game collection between the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans is about to kick off tonight. It is going to be the No. 1 seed Thunder internet hosting the No. 8 seed Pelicans in OKC at Paycom Heart, in entrance of a crowd that hasn’t seen a house playoff recreation since 2019.

Through the three contests between these two groups within the common season, Oklahoma Metropolis got here out on high in two of them. The one matchup that New Orleans gained got here within the first two weeks of the season, when the Pelicans got here again from down by 22 factors to get a late victory.

It’s vital to notice that Zion Williamson will miss no less than the primary 4 video games of this collection with a left hamstring pressure he suffered in a recreation earlier this week. Even with out him within the lineup, this can be a high quality Pelicans crew that shall be on the lookout for revenge after the Thunder eradicated them from the postseason a 12 months in the past through the NBA’s Play-In Event.

As this collection unfolds, what are among the key issue that might in the end make the distinction in who comes out on high?

Tempo of Play

Oklahoma Metropolis performs directly of the quickest paces in all the NBA, which in the end means extra possessions happen in a given recreation. Conversely, the Pelicans have performed at a a lot slower tempo total this season, sitting within the again half of the league when it comes to each tempo and whole possessions.

Because of this, the Pelicans don’t take many pictures relative to a crew just like the Thunder. New Orleans is twenty third within the NBA in shot makes an attempt per recreation total and twenty fourth in 3-point tries per contest. With that in thoughts, the Pelicans make their pictures depend, taking pictures at a really spectacular clip from all around the ground. This isn’t a run-and-gun offense, however it’s an environment friendly one.

One factor to observe for on this collection is which crew is ready to dictate the tempo of play. If it’s a quick recreation, OKC might need a bonus. But when New Orleans can sluggish issues down, it may very well be the alternative.

Particular person Defensive Assignments

New Orleans is a really balanced crew, and one of many few on this league that was roughly within the high 10 in each offensive and defensive ranking through the common season. The defensive aspect of the ball is the place the Pelicans thrive, boasting the sixth-best protection within the NBA up to now.

That is pushed by not solely nice crew protection and efficient schemes, but in addition by the spectacular particular person defenders on the roster. Most notably, Herb Jones is ready to change the sport utterly on that finish. When taking a look at who has been capable of decelerate Thunder famous person Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the previous two seasons, maybe no one is best than Jones. Moreover, Jose Alvarado is a pest that may be disruptive on protection whereas Trey Murphy III boasts size and flexibility as a defender.

Because of this, count on Oklahoma Metropolis to change up offensive schemes frequently all through this collection in try and dictate how that situation performs out. If slowing down Gilgeous-Alexander is the focus of New Orleans’ recreation plan, the complimentary items round him might want to step up and contribute. Anticipate Jalen Williams, Josh Giddey and Aaron Wiggins to play key offensive roles at factors on this collection.

Heart Battle

Through the three matchups between New Orleans and OKC this season, the battle of facilities has been an fascinating one. Whereas the Thunder roll out a contemporary, slender heart in Chet Holmgren who areas the ground and operates on the perimeter, the Pelicans begin a robust large in Jonas Valanciunas, who performs a way more conventional, bodily type and does his harm close to the rim.

If Valanciunas is ready to dominate the paint, pull down a excessive variety of rebounds and keep on the ground, it may imply hassle for Oklahoma Metropolis. The Thunder lacks vital dimension and doesn’t essentially have a participant that possesses the scale to match him.

It is going to be within the Thunder’s favor to pressure the Pelicans to play small and preserve Valanciunas on the bench. Even then, Larry Nance Jr. has confirmed to be an efficient small ball heart for New Orleans of late, so keep watch over him on this collection.

Perimeter Taking pictures

Oklahoma Metropolis and New Orleans completed the common season as the primary and fourth best 3-point taking pictures groups within the league respectively. Moreover, whereas each of those squads knock down their pictures from past the arc at a excessive fee, neither takes many.

The Thunder tried 34.2 (sixteenth in NBA) triples per recreation within the common season, which is simply barely greater than the 32.6 (twenty fourth) from the Pelicans. As this collection takes place, there shall be quite a few instances through which the battle from past the arc makes the distinction. Whether or not this turns right into a shootout or not, changing on the 3-point makes an attempt taken shall be on the high of each groups’ priorities.

The winner of this collection will transfer on to play both the LA Clippers or Dallas Mavericks, relying on who comes out on high in that collection. Within the meantime, count on this collection between the Thunder and Pelicans to be a aggressive one, even with Williamson lacking time.