This was supposed to be the most winnable game in this three-game homestand. Not only are the Pelicans doing relatively badly — 1-10 coming in, and 30th out of 30 in defense — but their ranks have been decimated and then some: Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins are nursing injuries, and Omer Asik was quite ill with something flu-ish. With nine players, Alvin Gentry had basically one option: swap ’em in and out as needed and hope the roof doesn’t fall in. Well, either that last-place defense is better than it looks, or the Thunder are suffering from occasionally forgetting how to score. The Birds were up 27-21 after a quarter, and the 32-18 drubbing they got in the second didn’t daunt them in the least: twice they got within three in the fourth, and in between times, Perkins and the similarly sidelined Kevin Durant talked smack to one another. Oklahoma City eventually prevailed over New Orleans, 110-103, but no one is going to call it pretty.
There was some noise early on about fouls being called on the Pelicans and not on the Thunder, and maybe there’s something to that: New Orleans attempted only nine free throws all night. (Then again, they made them all. The Thunder were, um, 26 of 38 from the stripe.) Ryan Anderson, the one real Pelican shooter, had a Westbrookesque line: 30 points on 13-24, four of nine treys. The only problem with that was that Russell Westbrook doesn’t bother with mere Westbrookesque lines anymore: Number Zero scored 43 on 14-25 and 15 free throws. He needed all of that, too: Ish Smith, his counterpart on the Pelicans, rolled up 18 points mostly by zoom-zooming past everyone else, just the way Westbrook does. And Enes Kanter, almost a passable defender these days, dropped in 24 while retrieving 14 boards, sort of compensating for off nights by Serge Ibaka (2-11, six points) and Dion Waiters (2-10, four points). At least somebody on this squad can score.
The Knicks will be here Friday, and by all accounts, they are much improved over last year’s woeful aggregation: even Derek Fisher seems pleased. Of course, we all love Derek, as we all love Perk; but still we have to beat the socks off of him.