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The Pelicans face off against the Thunder for some late-night NBA action. Can Jonas Valanciunas and the Pelicans keep Game 1 close without Zion Williamson? Ben Rajavuori shares his New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder prediction.
ANALYSIS

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Prediction: Can Jonas Valanciunas, Pelicans Keep Game 1 Close?

The New Orleans Pelicans travel to Oklahoma City tonight to take on the Thunder in the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs. The Pelicans fought hard in the play-in tournament, losing to the Lakers in the first game and then beating the Kings to earn the last spot in the playoffs as the eighth seed. Meanwhile, the Thunder have had some nice rest this week and come into the playoffs comfortably as the number-one seed in the Western Conference.

PELICANS VS. THUNDER GAME 1 DATE, TIME, AND WHERE TO WATCH

  • Date: April 21, 2024
  • Start Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
  • Where to Watch: TNT

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER PREDICTION

The Thunder enter the series off a 57–25 regular season record. They battled with the Nuggets and Timberwolves for the first overall spot down the later stretch of the season but ultimately came out as the top team in the west. The Pelicans had injury issues this year, but still pulled out a very good season, finishing with a 49–33 record. They needed two games in the play-in tournament to get here, this is not a team that should be easily written off. What should we expect in game number one tonight? The biggest story coming into this game is the loss of Zion Williamson to this talented Pelicans roster. Zion suffered a hamstring injury against the Lakers in the first game of the play-in tournament and will be out for approximately two weeks, meaning he could come back sometime during the next series if they were to beat the Thunder. That will be no easy task, though.

The Thunder are led by point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a breakout season last year and carried that into this season, averaging 30.1 points per game, which leads the team by far. Jalen Williams is second on the team with 19.1 points per game. Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the most electric players to watch the NBA this season, and along with the duo of Jalen Williams and the impressive rookie, Chet Holmgren, this team is well-balanced on both sides of the court. The Thunder are one of the most well-balanced teams in the playoffs, as they rank fourth in defensive rating and third in offensive rating.

The loss of Zion Williamson for the Pelicans is a tough one, but it is not one they cannot overcome. Williamson did lead the team with 22.9 points per game, but they have many other scorers who can get it done on the offensive side of the court. Brandon Ingram averaged 20.8 points per game this season, and CJ McCollum added 20 points per game of his own and was one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA this season. The Pelicans are also a balanced team, as they ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive rating and 11th in offensive rating this season. They also have vast playoff experience with Jonas Valanciunas and CJ McCollum.

Ultimately, I think this line is overinflated a bit with Zion news. While he is a key player for them, they can spread the scoring amongst their other veterans and they still have a balanced roster without Zion on the floor. I don’t think they necessarily win this game outright, but 8.5 points is a lot for a playoff game. The Thunder are also a very young team and this will be a lot of the players first playoff game. We may see some game one jitters and I think this game will be a lot closer than most people expect.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER Pick

Pick: Pelicans +8.5 -115 Click here to see which sportsbook has the best odds

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Article Author

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Ben Rajavuori is a handicapper out of Minneapolis, MN. He has been creating sports content for almost four years now and is an expert in all things NFL, MLB, NBA, UFC, and NCAAB. Ben thrives on diving deep into statistics to find the best angle on every bet. You can follow him on Twitter @WeBeatTheSpread.

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