The New Orleans Pelicans will take on the 8-12 Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at home in the Smoothie King Center.
The Pels will be shorthanded, but it’s a game they should win, though you can never take anyone for granted in the NBA.
Especially not the Thunder, who are one of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA and have a guy in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who has been scoring over 30 a night.
This is the start of an important 10-game stretch that will have a big impact on the Western Conference standings, so the Pels really need to get this one at home tonight against the Thunder.
Here are three keys to the game for New Orleans.
New Orleans Pelicans vs Oklahoma City Thunder: 3 keys to the game
New Orleans has to slow down Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
This is probably the most obvious take of all time, but if the Pels can slow down SGA, they are likely to win this game.
Six of the Thunder’s eight wins have come in games in which SGA scored at least 30 points and there is no one else on the team averaging at least 15 points, so shutting him down is pretty much the key to beating the Thunder.
New Orleans will throw a lot of looks at him tonight, likely starting with Herbert Jones, but I am sure he’ll see plenty of Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III and Dyson Daniels as well. I’d really love to see Daniels come in off the bench and make it his mission to stop OKC’s best player.
The Pels have the players to get it done, but Gilgeous-Alexander is a crafty scorer who can get buckets in a lot of creative ways. Keeping him out of the lane will be paramount, as he shoots 54 percent on 2-point attempts and just 35 percent from long range.
The battle of points in the paint
This game will be won or lost in the paint, as both of these teams are near the top of the league in points in the paint per game.
In fact, the Thunder currently lead the NBA in that category, mostly because of SGA and Josh Giddey, who average over 14 attempts per game from inside of five feet and shoot 63 percent and 61 percent on those shots, respectively.
It’s the guards getting most of the paint attempts for the Thunder, so stopping them at the point of attack will be crucial.
OKC is also 10th in the NBA in offensive rebounds and get them from a variety of guys, so keeping them from getting easy put backs will also be important as the New Orleans Pelicans try to win this battle down low.
Battle of the benches
The Thunder don’t have any one guy who will come off the bench and kill you, but they are 7th overall in bench points per game and have a positive net rating overall.
The key to winning this battle is not getting out-hustled, as the Thunder have bench guys like Kenrich Williams and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl that affect games with their energy.
The Pels bench could be depleted with both Larry Nance Jr. and Naji Marshall listed as questionable, so this is a game when Willie Green could use more of guys like Dyson Daniels, Willy Hernangomez and Jaxson Hayes.
Devonte’ Graham could get more run as well and New Orleans will need one of these guys to step up and have a big game.
This is a potential “trap” game for the New Orleans Pelicans with some big ones looming on the schedule, and they can’t look past the Thunder, who play hard and can put up points.