OKC Thunder need to capitalize on opportunity facing shorthanded Pelicans

Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) drives around OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) drives around OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s the dog days of winter and with that, the OKC Thunder finishes their pre-All-Star Break schedule with just two teams on the itinerary.

First up, the Thunder will host the New Orleans and finish out the week with the Rockets back in town for yet another match versus Houston (and yes OKC has spent an inordinate amount of time facing the Rockets of late).

This is the third of four meetings against the Pelicans who took both prior meetings on November 28th (105-101) plus the overtime loss on December 23rd (128-125).

Opportunity abounds for OKC Thunder as they face short-handed Pelicans

The common denominator in each of these contests has been injuries and that won’t change for this game. CJ McCollum was out in the first meeting and Zion Williamson missed the overtime game with both potentially out again. Brandon Ingram missed the first two meetings but is available for this contest.

Williamson was expected to be back around this point after suffering a hamstring strain but the Pels got bad news late last week.

While progressing in his ramp-up to return to the court he re-injured the hamstring and is now expected to miss several weeks beyond the All-Star break.  The initial injury occurred on January 2nd with Williamson This game will mark his 21st game missed since that point.

Pelicans front office executive David Griffin delivered the news this past weekend:

“I think we’re looking at multiple weeks past the All-Star break that he’ll be back,” Griffin said. “What that looks like in terms of timeline, I really can’t tell you. Much as we have throughout this, we’ll continue to image him, and post-All-Star that will happen.” – Griffin

Although you never want to wish any ill will or injuries upon the opponent this is an opportunity for the OKC Thunder to seize upon.

They’ve failed to convert either prior opportunity despite the Pels missing their Big 3 (McCollum, Williamson, and Ingram have appeared in only 10 games together).

New Orleans had climbed all the way up to third after 37 games and were within striking distance of the top rung, but Williamson’s injury resulted in the Pels plummeting to their current seventh seed.

OKC sits 10th just 1.0 game back of the Pels so a victory tonight would help their cause. Four teams are separated by a single game:

  • Pelicans: 29-29 (7th)
  • Timberwolves: 30-29 (8th)
  • Warriors: 28-28 (9th)
  • OKC Thunder 27-28 (10th)

Clearly, the Thunder are in the mix but trail each of the series of the trio of teams in front of them. They are down 0-2 to the Dubs and Pels and finished their season series 1-3 versus the Wolves. However, they’ve also played the fewest games of that group, so they have games in hand meaning wins would help catapult them up the ladder.

The more intriguing part of the ladder is the sixth-seeded Clippers and fourth-seeded Mavericks. OKC won the season series 2-1 versus Dallas and has already guaranteed a split against LA having won the first two meetings.

OKC also leads the Lakers 1-0 and will face them twice more while they have yet to play the Suns or Jazz with four games scheduled against each, all after the All-Star Break.

Suffice it to say, capturing this win would go a long way to helping the Thunder especially if they can complete their week with a win versus the Rockets and finally get above .500.

As for the rest of the injury news, the Pelicans will also be missing rookie Dyson Daniels (ankle), and E.J. Liddell (ACL recovery)  CJ McCollum is listed as questionable as he deals with an ankle sprain.

The OKC Thunder still won’t have Aleksej Pokusevski (left tibial plateau, non-displaced fracture) or  Chet Holmgren (out for the season following foot surgery). Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Ousmane Dieng are both on G-League assignment.

Since Dario Saric isn’t listed on the injury report, the belief is he’ll be available to make his OKC Thunder debut.

Just as he has all season Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been stellar in the games against the Pelicans delivering a double-double of 44 points and 10 rebounds (plus six assists, two steals, and a block) in the December 23rd match.

If SGA’s teammates can raise their performance level in this match this could easily result in a victory.

Tip off is at 8:00 p.m. EST (7:00 CST).

Next. A cautionary tale for the OKC Thunder and developing teams. dark