Thunder Turns the Page to the Pelicans
Date: February 13, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusDespite a 2-0 start to the Thunder’s four-game homestand, the squad dropped its next two matches to Boston on Sunday and San Antonio on Tuesday. The Thunder now have one more shot to end on a high note before the upcoming All-Star break.
“We definitely want to get a win,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said. “And before the break, I think everybody's focused on it and we need to get back on track.”
The Thunder’s last two losses came at the mercy of poor shooting performances. Against Boston, the Thunder struggled to get shots to fall around the rim after generating the quality looks it wanted. Turn the page to Tuesday and the grind continued. Out of the nine paint shots the Thunder took in the first quarter, only one went through the rim.
Even then, the Thunder fought to keep the game within arm’s reach. Active defense held San Antonio’s 3-point shooting to only 28 percent while Chris Paul engaged offensively in the second quarter on the way to a season-high 31 points to keep his team afloat.
However, the Thunder comeback efforts were stalled in the fourth quarter when San Antonio sprayed a barrage of mid-range buckets to build a cushy lead. All the while, OKC struggled to find a rhythm offensively and could never quite get over the hump.
Opponent BreakdownThursday’s matchup not only marks the final game before the All-Star break, but also the final matchup between the Pelicans and the Thunder this season with the Thunder sweeping the previous three matchups. However, the Thunder will face the Pelicans for the first time with first-round draft pick, Zion Williamson back in the lineup.
Coming off one of its best wins of the season over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, the Pelicans are in search of its fourth straight win. With an up-tempo style of offense, the Pelicans boast the fourth most points per game, fifth most fast-break points and the third fastest pace per game. Despite a bigger frontline unit with Lonzo Ball at the point guard and Brandon Ingram on the perimeter, New Orleans still poses as one of the better transition teams in the league.
“For them it's always been how they play,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “They play really fast and, they’ve got a lot of guys that are very skilled they can shoot it, put it down and, good rollers to the rim.”
Matchup FocusThursday’s matchup marks the first time this season that the Thunder will face the Pelicans with Williamson healthy and available. The 6-foot-6 rookie notched his first career 30-point game in just his ninth appearance with the Pelicans on Tuesday after scoring 31 points in 28 minutes. With the ability to score at multiple positions, the Thunder will look to show him a crowd defensively and match his physicality.
“[He’s] really, really explosive, very physical, can play a lot of different positions,” Donovan said. “I'm sure for him, being out as long as he's been out, he'll continue to get better and better and improve the more he plays but he's obviously a terrific player and certainly got a very bright future ahead.”
Stat to WatchFast-Break Points – The Pelicans rank fifth in the league in fast-break points per game while also playing at the third fastest pace. For the Thunder, this matchup will serve as a timely test after four straight games in which transition defense faltered. Rather than dropping back on defense on the flight of the ball, Thunder guards got caught picking up the ball at half court where the offense still has the advantage and it becomes difficult to contain defensively. On Tuesday, it will be a matter of not just sending players back after a shot but getting ahead of the play and moving on the flight of the ball.
“We’re a team that we have to get set,” Donovan said.
“For us it's about can we have, in a best-case scenario, five guys, where the ball handler is seeing everybody's chest? That’s the goal, and I don't think that we've done a really good job, there's been some slippage in that area and something we keep talking about with the guys.”
Thunder TrendTuesday’s game marks the first road game of February. In the Thunder’s last 12 road games, it has notched an 11-1 record and seven straight. The seven-game road winning streak marks the second longest in OKC history. In the final game before the All-Star break, the Thunder will look to take advantage of the opportunity on the road to erase the taste from its previous two losses and go into the break on a high note.