Pelicans try to get back on track at Thunder

Apr 1, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Thunder defeated the Pelicans 109-104. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

OKLAHOMA CITY — Nothing went right for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the season’s first 10 days.

The Thunder started 0-4, losing thanks to poor shooting, spotty defense and Russell Westbrook being unavailable for the first two games and working his way back into shape in the next two.

The start for the New Orleans Pelicans was the opposite, with Anthony Davis looking like a Most Valuable Player candidate en route to a 4-0 start.

But since those first four games, the teams’ fortunes reversed, with the Thunder winning four consecutive games and the Pelicans dropping five straight.

On Monday, the teams meet at Chesapeake Energy Arena with Oklahoma City trying to continue its turnaround and New Orleans doing its best to swing its fortunes back in a positive direction.

“We’re trying to get grand slams when all we need to do is hit singles,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after Saturday’s loss in San Antonio. “We need to just move the basketball and let the game come to us and stop trying to force the issue. We’ve done that the last few games. We have to get back to being who we are.”

Davis hasn’t played in three of the five losses during the streak, returning from a sprained right elbow Saturday and playing in 40 minutes.

That helps, but Gentry said New Orleans’ problems go deeper than Davis’ absence.

“We’re a good basketball team when we move the basketball,” Gentry said. “We had 70 assists in the first two games and now all of a sudden we’ve gone away from moving the ball and making simple plays and that’s what we’ve got to get back to.”

The Pelicans have been without guard Elfrid Payton, who is suffering from a sprained ankle, for all five of those games.

All but the first of New Orleans’ five consecutive losses have come on the road, with Monday’s game wrapping up one of the Pelicans’ longest road swings of the year.

The Thunder return home after a two-game road swing with wins at Charlotte and Washington.

During this winning streak, Oklahoma City is outscoring opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions, third-best in the league in that stretch.

Unsurprisingly, Westbrook has helped key the Thunder’s charge, shooting 50.4 percent from the field — and attempting an average of fewer than two 3-pointers per game — during the current winning streak.

He’s also averaging just 3.8 turnovers per game, which would be his lowest total since 2013-14. Westbrook has had just seven turnovers combined in the last three games, his lowest total during a three-game stretch since December of last year.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said his bench has also been critical to the turnaround, with Alex Abrines and Denis Schroder combining for 46 points against Charlotte on Thursday and the group as a whole playing strong defense in Friday’s win.

“The biggest thing for me with them is just we need to be consistent defensively,” Donovan said of his reserves. “If we’re consistent defensively, that’s usually a good place for us to start where we can build off of that.”