Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Thursday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Oklahoma City (-4, 237) at New Orleans, 8:05 ET, TNT

All Pelicans fans want from Anthony Davis this Valentine’s Day is for him to show a little heart.

They already know he’s not their long-term Romeo, but since he’s still going to throw on their uniform for the next few months before being shipped out this summer, it would be nice if he supplies an honest effort once he’s out there.

Following a disastrous start in a 118-88 loss to Orlando on Tuesday that saw him shoot 1-for-9 in an impossibly listless effort for someone with his immense skill set, Davis had the nerve to say “we sucked” in reference to the Pels’ performance when discussing it post-game, adding that “no one was interested in playing.”





Davis finished with three points and six rebounds as the Magic built a 28-point first-quarter lead. The effort was unprofessional, but it was obvious that is all started with the guy who will be representing the franchise at this weekend’s All-Star festivities in Charlotte. Not surprisingly, his apathetic effort had people calling for the NBA to rescind its demand that Davis continue playing for New Orleans if healthy, having cited that “league rules governing competitive integrity therefore require that he be permitted to play” despite the fact that the Pels would be just fine if he never suited up for them again in order to protect their biggest asset.

After starting off 0-for-6 in the first half, Davis should’ve been embarrassed into showing up for the second half but didn’t do much there either, so it remains to be seen if he can put that performance behind him and chalk it up to an aberration as he takes the court against the Thunder for a game all eyes will be on tonight. If you’re going to take the Pelicans plus the point, you’re counting on him rebounding with some pride to keep this game competitive since his team is actually nearing full strength with Elfrid Payton close to returning from an ankle injury.

New Orleans has lost eight of 11 and has failed to cover in three straight games despite moving only Nikola Mirotic to Milwaukee at the trade deadline, holding on to Davis, Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle despite getting offers for all three. Unless they want to get embarrassed again, Davis and his teammates have to show up with the right mindset against the surging Thunder, which is a league-best 11-1 over their last dozen games, pulling within 1.5 games of Denver for first place in the Northwest Division.

New Orleans native Paul George has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate since no player, not even James Harden, has been better over the past few weeks. George has topped 30 points in 10 of 12 games during Oklahoma City’s recent surge and is averaging 39.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in February. He’s shot over 50 percent only once in three encounters with the Pels this season and is averaging only 23.7 points per game against them, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him close the series with a big night as OKC seeks out its third win in four matchups. He piled up 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in Monday’s 120-111 win over Portland and has made at least two 3-pointers in 35 consecutive games.

Russell Westbrook is averaging 20.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 10.7 assists against New Orleans despite having to deal with a plus defender in Holiday and is riding a streak of 10 consecutive games with a triple-double, setting a new NBA record in surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s run of nine straight. Despite his tremendous run, Westbrook continues to struggle from the field, coming off a 5-for-19 shooting night against the Blazers. He’s shooting less than 35 percent from the field over his last five and has made just four of 21 3-pointers in February, so he’s got plenty of room for improvement from an efficiency standpoint going forward.

Westbrook might be in for a larger workload if this game remains close since sixth man Dennis Schroder is out tonight due to a new baby in the family. Starting power forward Jerami Grant is likely out with an ankle sprain, so OKC will be working short-handed. Veteran Patrick Patterson will get increased minute up front, while rookie guard Deonte Burton and 13-year-pro Raymond Felton should shore up the backcourt.

The ‘under’ has prevailed in five of the last seven games involving the Pelicans and in three straight Thunder contests.

Best of the Rest

Charlotte at Orlando (-3, 215.5), 7:05 p.m. ET: Despite entering this one two games under .500, the Hornets are going to head into the All-Star break atop the Southeast Division regardless of what happens here. The Magic are on a four-game winning streak currently tied for second-best alongside OKC behind only the Raptors, who have won six straight. Their 6-1 run through seven games is the team’s best in years as Orlando has responded well to the front office hanging on to center Nikola Vucevic and sixth man Terrence Ross, both of whom are unrestricted free agents at season’s end.

The Magic are all-in on a playoff push as they try to snap a streak of six straight season without reaching the postseason. Orlando is just two games behind the Hornets for the division lead and just one game behind Detroit and Miami for the eighth and final berth in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte has posted a pair of blowout wins over the Magic this season, winning by 32 points and 25 points respectively. Kemba Walker, the Hornets’ All-Star point guard, has averaged 25 points in the wins, but his team will have to overcome fatigue in their fourth road game in nine days and is just 8-20 on the road. The Hornets have beaten the Magic 13 consecutive times, winning 11 under Steve Clifford and then beating their former head coach in their first two matchups of the season. Orlando has seen Vucevic and Ross each excel for weeks and has gotten a significant boost from second-year forward Jonathan Isaac, who averaged 18 points and 3.3 blocks over the team’s last three wins.

The Magic remain without rookie backup center Mo Bamba, while the Hornets are likely to be without Tony Parker, who is having back trouble. Shelvin Mack, recently signed after being let go by Memphis, should get backup minutes against an Orlando team he suited up for last season.

New York at Atlanta (-7, 224), 7:35 p.m. ET: The Knicks have lost 18 straight games after falling against the 76ers last night and now visit a Hawks team riding high after taking down the Lakers in front of a big crowd at State Farm Arena on Tuesday. New York’s tank job is going as desired since it is sporting the league’s worst record (10-47) in the race to win the lottery and the rights to select between Duke star freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Atlanta has lost two of three against the Knicks this season, finally getting on the board in the most recent meeting back on Dec. 21.

New York won’t have to deal with old friend Jeremy Lin, who was waived earlier this week and debuted with Toronto last night, so expect them to see more of rookie guard Trae Young, who led the way in the upset of L.A. with 22 points and 14 assists. He’ll be matched up against Dennis Smith, Jr., who has led the Knicks in scoring (16.6 ppg) since arriving from Dallas in a deal that shipped out Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee while also landing center DeAndre Jordan to serve as a mentor for rookie 7-footer Mitchell Robinson. Atlanta list rookie wing Kevin Huerter as probable with an ankle injury, while New York is still without guards Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina, creating more opportunities for rookie free-agent pickup Kadeem Allen, who has averaged 17.3 points over his last three outings.The ‘over’ is on an 11-5 run in Hawks games and has connected in three of the last four Knicks’ contests. The high-side went 10-1 in Wednesday’s NBA action.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]m

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