OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Monday, Nov. 20 (7 p.m.)
Why it’s on the list
New Orleans has always had its hands full trying to contain all-around force Russell Westbrook in recent years, including Westbrook averaging a triple-double (34.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists) in a 4-0 season-series sweep for Oklahoma City in 2016-17. Now the Pelicans also must contend with dynamic wing Paul George, a surprising trade acquisition from Indiana who came at the reasonable cost of role players Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Between reigning MVP Westbrook, George and New Orleans’ All-Star duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, that represents four of the NBA’s top 15 scorers from last season (Westbrook led the league at 31.6 points per game). The Pelicans will be looking for some payback against the Thunder, after losing four times in ’16-17, all in relatively close games (none by more than 11 points).
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
Opponent-wise, Nov. 20 marks the beginning of a tough two-game homestand (Nov. 22 brings San Antonio to the Smoothie King Center) and also one of the most brutal stretches of the regular season for New Orleans. Over a 2 1/2-week span that runs through Dec. 6, the Pelicans will also face defending NBA champion Golden State twice, as well as Minnesota, Utah, Portland and Denver. It’s not much fun travel-wise, either, because sandwiched around a one-game homestand Nov. 29 vs. Minnesota are two trips for back-to-backs that culminate on the West Coast (Phoenix/Golden State on Thanksgiving weekend; Utah/Portland on Dec. 1-2).
What’s new in Oklahoma City
The unexpected arrival of George in the Sooner State made major headlines, but it wasn’t the only key addition for the Thunder this summer. In free agency, Oklahoma City signed a pair of veterans who will provide depth, forward Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton. OKC’s ability to move up a few notches in the West is dependent on providing Westbrook with more help, starting with George requiring major attention from opposing defenses. George (career 37.0 percent from three-point range) and Patterson (36.8 percent) should provide the Thunder with a needed boost in a problem area for the squad last season – it finished last in the NBA from beyond the arc. OKC made just 32.7 percent of its trey attempts.
Other 2017-18 games between these two teams
Friday, Feb. 2, New Orleans at Oklahoma City
Sunday, April 1, Oklahoma City at New Orleans