It is the curse of the New Orleans Pelicans to be in the Southwest Division: their 9-9 record coming into this game, relegating them to last place, would be more than enough to lead the Atlantic and, were the playoffs starting tomorrow, would get them the #3 seed.
Okay, one of the curses. The Pelicans have had more than their share of injuries: Anthony Davis and Greg Stiemsma have been out for a while, and Tyreke Evans sprained his ankle in the third quarter tonight after running off 11 points in 13 minutes. All the Thunder had to do was not mess up. Of course, they promptly messed up, showing almost no defense in the first quarter while New Orleans hit eight of its first nine shots. It didn’t help that Jeremy Lamb rolled up three fouls in two minutes. The Big Birds were still in it until just over half a minute before halftime, when Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson hoisted back-to-back treys to put OKC up six, a lead they never relinquished; the Thunder head for home with a 109-95 win.
What must frustrate the Pelicans, apart from the aforementioned curses, is the fact that they were dominant on the glass, especially the offensive glass: we’re talking 49 and 19 versus 41 and 7. (Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu collected 13 and 10 respectively.) Then again, one gets second-chance points by missing the first-chance points, and New Orleans shot a woeful 37 percent, a more-so 20 percent from beside the canal. Still, five Pelicans made double figures, led by Ryan Anderson (18 points), who hit his first four shots before the Thunder figured out how to guard him. Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon each contributed 16.
Westbrook was reported to have some of the dreaded flu-like symptoms, or something, but they didn’t seem to bother the ol’ Honey Badger any: he shot 8-16 for 25 points. Kevin Durant rolled up 29 on a mere 17 shots, and Serge Ibaka added 17 with 13 rebounds and three blocks. (In fact, blocks were a major factor tonight: OKC had 11, New Orleans only four, though steals were even at 9.) Jackson, as usual, led the bench with 15; Lamb ended up with two points and five fouls.
Back into the icebox that is Oklahoma City this weekend, and arriving for a Sunday game are the Pacers, who aren’t afraid of a little cold or much of anything else.