The Oklahoma City Thunder (40-42) travel to face the New Orleans Pelicans (42-40) in the play-in tournament. Kenrich Williams and Aleksej Pokusevski are out for the Thunder, while Zion Williamson and Jose Alvarado hold the same status for the Pelicans. Larry Nance Jr is questionable too; if he cannot play, then Willy Hernangomez or Jaxson Hayes will see increased minutes.
Check out below for Thunder vs. Pelicans prediction, odds, trends, and starting lineups.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans Prediction
Prediction: Thunder +5.5
New Orleans is 3-1 against Oklahoma City this season, but the Thunder are actually +4 in total point differential. They have the tools to defy their inexperience and pull off the upset here.
Jonas Valanciunas provides plenty of value as a scorer and rebounder, but defense is assuredly not his strong suit. He’s frequently caught out of position and doesn’t have the athleticism to contest or recover. As a result, New Orleans allows the highest opponent FG% in the restricted area. Per ShotQuality, they also rank 29th defending finishes at the rim, 25th defending cuts, and 21st defending transition opportunities in terms of average opponent shot quality.
Enter the Thunder, who rank 1st in drives, 1st in restricted area FGA, 2nd in finishing at the rim frequency, 4th in transition frequency, and 8th in cut frequency. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a First Team All-NBA candidate, established himself as one of the best paint scorers in the league this season by averaging 31.4 PPG on less than one made three per game. Shai’s superb balance, flexibility, and deceleration meant defenders simply couldn’t prevent him from getting to his spots.
Herb Jones saw more success than most against Gilgeous-Alexander this season, and New Orleans frequently doubled Shai throughout their matchups. However, Oklahoma City’s second and third options – Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams – also thrive attacking the basket and possess tremendous size too. Whether it’s Shai or not, the Thunder will get to the rim at will.
The biggest concern for Oklahoma City? A Brandon Ingram offensive explosion. In his last 25 games, Ingram averaged 27.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 5.6 RPG on a deadly 50/39/88 shooting split. Standing at 6’8” with a 7’3” wingspan, Ingram has the length to avoid defenders, especially when he weaponizes his fadeaway jumper. It proved to be an issue for Oklahoma City in their last matchup as Ingram simply ignored Luguentz Dort’s suffocating defense and shot over him.
The Thunder’s lack of center size also forces them to frequently collapse inside, and they subsequently allow the second most corner 3PA since opponents swing the ball to the open man. This especially occurred versus the Pelicans because Jaylin Williams couldn’t handle Valanciunas in isolation. Trey Murphy torched Oklahoma City once New Orleans kicked it out – his corner three volume against the Thunder this year is nearly double his season average.
Overall, the Pelicans have the home-court, experience and immediate talent advantage. However, Oklahoma City rosters the best player in this matchup, and their strengths overlap with New Orleans’ weaknesses. They can force this game down to the wire and scare the Pelicans.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans Betting Odds
New Orleans is a decent favorite here as the spread sits at -5.5 Pelicans. For Oklahoma City’s +185 moneyline to hold a positive expected value, they must win at least 36% of the time. In other words, if this game was simulated 100 times, Oklahoma City would only need to win 36 of them for their moneyline to be profitable.
The Thunder finished the regular season 3rd in cover percentage and 5th in over percentage. On the other hand, the Pelicans were 20th in cover percentage and 26th in over percentage.
- Thunder are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games overall
- Pelicans are 8-3-1 ATS in their last 12 games overall
- Under is 20-7 in Pelicans last 27 overall
- Thunder are 6-0 ATS in the last 6 meetings in New Orleans
Which team will win these game-determining matchups?
Oklahoma City manages to keep games close, but their youth shows in the final minutes. During clutch minutes, they shoot a 40.2 FG% and 27.2 3PT%. On the other hand, the Pelicans own a 49.8 FG% and 35.6 3PT% in the clutch. This play-in atmosphere will be the highest pressure game that many of the young Thunder players have played in, which likely leads to nerves and mistakes. If Oklahoma City can calm down and execute their game plan during the closing minutes, then they possess the firepower to advance. Unfortunately for them, that’s a big if.
Pelicans Offensive Rebounding
The Thunder allow the third highest opponent offensive rebound percentage in large part because 6’9” Jaylin Williams is undersized for the center position. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are 9th in offensive rebound percentage, and Jonas Valanciunas ranks 8th in the league for offensive rebound percentage.
Put-backs mostly lead to easy layups or free throws, and both have a high expected points per possession. Therefore, the Thunder must hold their own on the glass in order to stop New Orleans from boosting their offense. Plus, put-backs limit transition opportunities since the defense has time to get set. Considering Oklahoma City leans heavily on their transition offense, allowing Valanciunas to impose his will will hurt their offense as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder Starting Lineup
New Orleans Pelicans Starting Lineups
Oklahoma City Thunder Injuries: Kenrich Williams (O), Aleksej Pokusevski (O), Chet Holmgren (O)
New Orleans Pelicans Injuries: Zion Williamson (O), Jose Alvarado (O), Larry Nance Jr (Q), EJ Liddell (O)