Western Conference – No. 8 Pelicans vs. No. 1 Thunder

In the 1 vs. 8 matchup in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder clash in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Keep reading for a preview and prediction for this series. And make sure you check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Guide, which will serve as the hub for all of our postseason betting content!

Pelicans vs. Thunder Series Preview

The Pelicans were able to overcome the absence of Zion Williamson and earn a comfortable win over the Sacramento Kings in the Play-In Tournament. New Orleans now has a date with Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that Williamson will be back early in the series, if he returns at all. Williamson is going to be re-evaluated in the coming weeks to see how he’s progressing from a hamstring injury. Without him, it’s hard to see the Pelicans beating an elite Thunder squad.


New Orleans is a top-10 team when it comes to adjusted defensive efficiency, and the team is capable of maintaining that level without Williamson. However, Oklahoma City is third in the NBA in adjusted offensive rating, and the team also plays at the fifth-fastest pace in the league. So, the Pelicans are going to have their work cut out for them defending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams. Sure, Herb Jones can do an admirable job on one of them. But whoever isn’t on an island with the Pelicans wing is going to cook. Oklahoma City will also run a ton of pick-and-pop plays to get Chet Holmgren the ball with Jonas Valanciunas on him in space. Valanciunas really struggles to defend away from the basket, and that could force Willie Green to pull him. He has been doing it regularly over the last few months.

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It’d be huge if Valanciunas ends up being unplayable in this series, as the Thunder are very vulnerable on the glass. They’re the worst rebounding team in the playoffs, and it’s possible to bully them a little bit. But outside of potentially dominating around the basket, it’s going to be hard for New Orleans to hurt Oklahoma City. CJ McCollum is a very good isolation scorer, but Gilgeous-Alexander can handle that defensive assignment. And Williams or Luguentz Dort should be able to cover Brandon Ingram, who the Pelicans will have to rely heavily on. It’s also going to be tough for New Orleans to get anything going at the rim. Holmgren is one of the best rim protectors in basketball, and the Thunder gave up the lowest field goal percentage at the rim this year.

The Pelicans also have to overcome a pretty significant home-court advantage in this series. Oklahoma City is 33-8 straight-up and 27-14 against the spread at home this season. New Orleans is an impressive 28-14 straight-up and 23-18-1 against the spread on the road, but coming up with victories in this building will be tough.

The Thunder also happen to do a good job of defending the 3-point line, as opponents only shoot 36.1% from 3 against them. So, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Pelicans just jack up a bunch of triples and drill them at a high clip. But that’s one of the only ways New Orleans can level the playing field in this series, by winning the math battle.

Oklahoma City also won back-to-back games against New Orleans after dropping the first meeting of the season. And one of those victories was a 24-point blowout win.

All in all, this Thunder team is just far too talented for a Zion-less Pelicans group. And Mark Daigneault is a tremendous head coach, so he’ll have Oklahoma City dialed in — both mentally and tactically. With that in mind, look for this series to be a quick one. This should be a gentleman’s sweep, at most.

Lean: Under 5.5 Games (-130)

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