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Oklahoma City Thunder travel to face New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center

Watch the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the New Orleans Pelicans, live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours on Thursday morning (1am)

Thursday 13 December 2018 04:14, UK

Russell Westbrook revels in another Oklahoma City victory
Image: Russell Westbrook revels in another Oklahoma City victory

The Oklahoma City Thunder look to extend their lead at the top of the Western Conference when they visit the stuttering New Orleans Pelicans, live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Live NBA: Oklahoma @ New Orleans

After losing their opening four games of the season, the Thunder (17-8) have roared back into form reeling off 15 wins since November 1. They are leading the Western Conference thanks to high-intensity team defense and stellar individual performances from leaders Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

Westbrook has dialled down his scoring in favour of providing a more all-round game. Through 17 games, he is averaging a triple-double (as he did in his MVP season) with 22.1 points, 10.2 assists and 10.6 rebounds.

The Pelicans (13-14) are trending in the opposite direction. They won their first four games before a run of injuries derailed their momentum and led to a six-game losing run.

Anthony David throws down a dunk against the New York Knicks
Image: Anthony Davis throws down a dunk against the New York Knicks

New Orleans have settled into a maddeningly inconsistent run of late, alternating wins and losses over their past eight games as speculation continues over the future of their star Anthony Davis.

Key Battle: Anthony Davis v Steven Adams

'AD' has the athleticism and strength to dominate any game but he'll have his hands full with Thunder center Adams. The bruising Kiwi is sure to get physical with Davis and do all he can to stop the Pelicans' star man getting to the hoop.

Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Image: Steven Adams goes to work against Kevin Durant

Whether tangling in the post or rejecting shots at the rim, Adams has the ability to stop the Pelicans' franchise star having his way. Davis may have to hit from three or from mid-range early to drag Adams away from the interior.

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Adams - averaging 15.4 points and 10.0 boards per game - will also be a threat on offense, extending possessions with his rebounding and outmuscling defenders close to the basket.

Last time out

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 10: Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 10, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) 1:56
Highlights of the Oklahoma City Thunder's 122-113 win over the Utah Jazz
New Orleans Boston 1:30
Highlights of the New Orleans Pelicans' 113-100 loss to the Boston Celtics

Numbers game

102.5 - That is the Thunder's defensive rating (average points allowed per 100 possessions). It the best in the NBA. And it has been achieved with the team's best defender, long-term absentee Andre Roberson.

After their early-season stumbles, Oklahoma City made defense their calling card and have reaped the rewards, holding the Golden State Warriors to 95 points and the Houston Rockets to just 80 to claim their biggest wins to date.

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The Pelicans lead the league in points scored per game (117.4), thanks in the main to the fast pace their coach Alvin Gentry asks them to play.

Will the Thunder stand up to the Pelicans' rapid-fire offensive onslaught?

One to watch (Thunder): Paul George

Paul George outmuscles Chris Paul
Image: Paul George outmuscles Chris Paul

'PG13' sits among the NBA's elite two-way stars, capable of winning games with his offense and locking down the opposition's best player on defense. He surprised many by opting to re-sign with Oklahoma City in the summer over the bright lights of bigger markets (he had been linked with a free agent move to the Los Angeles Lakers).

George is scoring 24.3 points per game while also leading the league in steals (2.2 per game). He poured in an ultra-efficient 31 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) as the Thunder rolled past the Jazz last time out.

One to watch (Pelicans): Jrue Holiday

Jrue Holiday scores with a lay-up against Washington
Image: Jrue Holiday scores with a lay-up against Washington

The star power of Davis means his team-mates often go under the radar, none more so than Pelicans' guard Holiday, an All-Star player averaging career-highs in points (20.5), assists (8.8) and made field goals (7.9) this season.

He is also a strong defender and will be relishing going head to head with Russell Westbrook.

Wednesday night's games

  • New York Knicks @ Cleveland Cavaliers, 12am
  • Detroit Pistons @ Charlotte Hornets, 12am
  • Milwaukee Bucks @ Indiana Pacers, 12am
  • Brooklyn Nets @ Philadelphia 76ers, 12am
  • Boston Celtics @ Washington Wizards, 12am
  • Portland Trail Blazers @ Memphis Grizzlies, 1am
  • Oklahoma City Thunder @ New Orleans Pelicans, 1am, live on Sky Sports Arena
  • Atlanta Hawks @ Dallas Mavericks, 1:30am
  • Miami Heat @ Utah Jazz, 2am
  • Minnesota Timberwolves @ Sacramento Kings, 3am
  • Toronto Raptors @ Golden State Warriors, 3:30am

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