3 keys to Thunder winning first-round series vs surging Pelicans

Apr 12, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2)
Apr 12, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
1 of 4

The OKC Thunder will have their hands full in their return to the NBA playoffs as the New Orleans Pelicans occupied the eighth seed after taking down the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. 

After facing each other in last year’s Play-In game, a matchup in which the Thunder eliminated NOLA, Mark Daigneault's club will be heading toward a rematch of sorts in a best-of-seven series, though will now have Chet Holmgren on their side while the Pelicans remain without superstar Zion Williamson due to another injury. 

With the best young group in the league, it should come as no surprise that Oklahoma City is the favorite to win this first-round.

However, the Pelicans will enter the playoffs geared with perimeter stoppers, like Herb Jones and Dyson Daniels, and spitfire scorers such as CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram to try to mitigate the Thunder’s offensive weapons. 

It is easier said than done, but New Orleans has assembled a crew that could challenge this matchup with the conference kings, even without the services of Williamson. 

Additionally, the Pelicans have a little more playoff experience than the youthful Thunder. Jones, Trey Murphy, and Jose Alvarado had a first-round series from 2022 already under their belt, while McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas boast appearances in conference finals.

The former, in particular, has been a playoff veteran, only missing the big dance once in his entire career.

This series will be a great way for the Thunder to get their feet wet in the postseason in what is hoped to be a deep and prosperous run. 

That said, in order for them to embark on such a journey, they'll need to get past their first-round opponents in the Pelicans, and there are some specific keys they'll need to hone in on should they wish to do so.