Thunder-Pelicans Preview

The Associated Press

It's hard to find much fault with the Oklahoma City Thunder's results through the first 17 games, but one distinct pattern has emerged from their four losses - a penchant for stumbling out of the halftime gate.

There's rarely been a quarter in which they haven't dominated the New Orleans Pelicans of late.

With their eight-game winning streak over after another rough third quarter, the Thunder look to bounce back Friday night in New Orleans with a ninth consecutive win over the Pelicans.

Oklahoma City is on pace to win 62 games, but this 13-4 start hasn't been as dominant as it was when it had the same record a year ago. The Thunder then were outscoring teams by an NBA-best 9.2 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent overall and 41.7 from 3-point range.

Scott Brooks' team has a plus-4.1 point margin this season and has particularly struggled from beyond the arc (33.4 percent), but its most concerning issue might be its struggles coming out of halftime. The Thunder were outscored by a combined 31 points in the third in their first three losses, then went from up 11 at the break Wednesday in Portland to down three entering the fourth in a 111-104 defeat.

"We didn't come out with the defensive mindset that we had during that first half," Brooks said. "We have to come out (of the locker room) better. The third quarter has been a problem that we need to address. It came back and bit us again.

"We have to come back and regroup for Friday's game."

They might be facing the right opponent to bounce back successfully. Oklahoma City has outscored New Orleans (9-9) by an average of 15.5 points in winning the past eight games in the series, shooting 50.3 percent and averaging 14.9 fast-break points to the Pelicans' 7.6.

The Thunder have led by an average of 13.1 points at the break in the last six meetings and outscored New Orleans 86-46 in the third quarter of the past three in last season's series.

Serge Ibaka (61.8) and Kevin Durant (60.4) shot above 60 percent against the Pelicans in 2012-13.

Eric Gordon sat out all four of those meetings for New Orleans while Anthony Davis missed two, and the Pelicans are again adjusting to life without the former No. 1 overall pick. New Orleans beat Chicago 131-128 in triple overtime Monday to complete a perfect three-game road trip in its first game after Davis suffered a fractured left hand, but fell 100-97 to Dallas two days later despite outrebounding the Mavericks 58-38.

"Coming off the road we were just (a little rough)," forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. "That starting five (had) been together in practice, but not in games. We are going to go in the lab, fix some of the things that we need to, and get back to what we need to do."

The Pelicans certainly will want to continue getting Aminu involved. He had 16 points and a career-high 21 boards Wednesday, giving him 30 and 30 in the two games since Davis went down.

New Orleans also figures to be eager to run even though Russell Westbrook and the Thunder rank third in the league in fast-break points (17.2 per game). The Pelicans, third-to-last (9.7) in that category last season, are second (17.8) so far and have the NBA's best fast-break point differential (plus-7.6) with the addition of Jrue Holiday.

Holiday can relate to his new team's struggles versus Oklahoma City. He never experienced a win against the Thunder in seven tries while with Philadelphia.

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