Pelicans vs Thunder Predictions, Picks, Odds for Tonight’s NBA Playoff Game

OKC's only glaring weakness in this opening-round matchup with New Orleans will be down low and in the paint. And with Zion Williamson sidelined, Jonas Valanciunas will be the one to take advantage.

Rory Breasail - Betting Analyst at
Rory Breasail • Betting Analyst
Apr 21, 2024 • 18:30 ET • 4 min read
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This article contains predictions for an old game!

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Jonas Valanciunas New Orleans Pelicans NBA
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The New Orleans Pelicans gutted out a win in the Play-In Tournament despite the absence of Zion Williamson, but they come in as massive NBA odds underdogs against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

The Thunder enter the playoffs as the youngest No. 1 seed in NBA history, but while unproven, they're uber-talented and mature beyond their years.

My NBA picks and Pelicans vs. Thunder predictions believe Jonas Valanciunas will factor significantly in New Orleans’ Game 1 attack plan this evening.

Pelicans vs Thunder predictions

My best bet
Jonas Valanciunas Over 11.5 points (-112 at FanDuel)

Best odds available in your region

My analysis
The New Orleans Pelicans are at a massive disadvantage in this series. Without Zion Williamson in the lineup, they don’t have many lineup advantages or obvious pressure points over the Oklahoma City Thunder. They do still have one though: Jonas Valanciunas.

Jonas is a consummate role player, a big, burly center who feels like he fell out of basketball played a century ago. Because he’s not an elite rim protector nor does he shoot threes, he often loses time in the Pelicans lineup to some combination of Larry Nance Jr. and Zion playing small ball five. 

He’s still a gifted interior scorer and rebounder and when given real minutes, he's consistently provided the Pelicans with solid production. I believe he’s likely to play a significant role against the Thunder on Sunday.

While the Thunder have skill and shooting at every position, they’re sorely lacking in size and strength. It’s why they’ve been one of the NBA’s poorer rebounding teams this season, and why Jonas has had consistent success feasting against their smaller frontcourt in limited minutes.

Chet Holmgren is an impressive rookie and already one of the league’s best interior defenders, but he's painfully skinny. He’s giving up over 50 pounds to Valanciunas, who can muscle him out of the way or draw fouls inside with relative ease.  

Jonas sometimes doesn’t play all that much because the on-court pairing of Zion and Jonas is a difficult fit, particularly as Brandon Ingram would also rather attack inside than from behind the arc. With Zion not playing, however, the Pels will turn to Jonas to get their interior attack going. 

Through three games against the Thunder this season Jonas scored 19, 14, and six points. That 6-point outing came because he played just 11 minutes with Zion playing 39.

Zion’s absence means Jonas is going to get much more consistent opportunities, particularly because offensive rebounding is one of the few ways New Orleans stands any chance of keeping up with the Thunder’s hyper-efficient offense.

The Pelicans have also experimented with guarding Josh Giddey with Valanciunas at times this year. If Giddey hesitates or starts missing threes, the Pels will have all the more reason to keep Jonas in the action, clogging up the paint and gobbling up rebounds.

To my eye, these Jonas Valanciunas odds are based solely on his recent production and don’t take into account his role shift in Zion’s absence.

Pelicans vs Thunder same-game parlay (SGP)

Jonas Valanciunas Over 11.5 points

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Under 28.5 points

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Over 5.5 assists

The Thunder have a lot of ways they can attack New Orleans, but ironically Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — their top scorer and a leading candidate for MVP — is not one of their best.

That’s because the Pels start Herb Jones, a lock for one of the NBA All-Defensive teams and one of the most disciplined and gifted wing defenders in the NBA.

Jones has done a better job defensively against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than just about any other player. SGA’s scoring average dips about five points against Jones, but his assists have jumped to seven per game as a result.

Shai’s teammates will almost always have a more advantageous matchup, so I see SGA playing more of a facilitator role on Sunday.

Learn how to bet a same-game parlay with these helpful tips and strategies.

Pelicans vs Thunder odds

Pelicans vs Thunder live odds

Pelicans vs Thunder opening odds

  • Spread: New Orleans +7.5 | Oklahoma City -7.5
  • Moneyline: New Orleans +260 | Oklahoma City -345
  • Over/Under: Over 214.5 | Under 214.5

Pelicans vs Thunder spread and Over/Under analysis

  • OKC opened as -7.5 point favorites over New Orleans, which has risen as high as -8.5 as of Sunday night.

  • The Thunder were 27-14 against the spread at home in the regular season, the third-best mark in the NBA.

  • The total for Game 1 of Pelican vs. Thunder opened between 214.5 and 215.5 and is still available at either number.

  • The Under is 24-16-1 in Pelicans road games.

Pelicans vs Thunder trend

The Thunder are 27-14 ATS at home. Find more NBA betting trends for Pelicans vs. Thunder.

Pelicans vs Thunder game info

Location: Paycom Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Date: Sunday, 4-21-2024
Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. ET

Pelicans vs Thunder latest injuries

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