The New Orleans Pelicans (49-33) and Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25) will forever be linked thanks to the 405 hosting the team from the 504 during Hurricane Katrina. The two small market franchises are on a similar championship-building timeline in 2024 with young rosters full of homegrown talent. Both teams are trying to take the next step in their development but are now butting heads on that path regularly.

The Pelicans and Thunder met in the NBA Play-In Tournament last season, but they get to face off in a first-round series. That step up in competitive level brings a spotlight and pressure that can make or break an organization. The Pelicans will rely heavily on a deep bench to turn the tides but the Thunder have options as well. Still, five matchups in particular stand out when it comes to scouting in-game adjustments.

Willie Green vs. Mark Daigneault

Coaching adjustments are amplified in the NBA Playoffs. Say what you will about sneaking in as the eighth seed, the NBA Playoffs experience is invaluable for up-and-comers. That goes for coaching evaluations as well.

Willie Green's defensive-minded Pelicans are leaning on role players as the underdog. The postseason platform is perfect for Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, or Jose Alvarado to have a breakout series. The same goes for Valanciunas, if Green uses the seven-foot large Lithuanian.

Mark Daigneault was just named NBCA Coach of the Year. The Pelicans extended Green's deal last spring. Still, both front offices need larger sample sizes in the NBA Playoffs pressure cooker before making big decisions this summer. It's up to the coaches to make the proper adjustments so the front offices have the data to come to the correct conclusions.

Recent draftees looking to make bank deposits

Trey Murphy III simply has to be a more effective, more productive player than Josh Giddey to secure a max-level rookie contract extension this summer. Anything less gives the front office some negotiating wiggle room. Giddey has been playing some of the best basketball of his career recently. Murphy III is still a hit-or-miss proposition during what has been an up-and-down year delayed by knee surgery.

Murphy (14.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists) has to hit more three-pointers at a better average for starters. Giddey (12.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists) is hitting only 33.7% from beyond the arc this season but is up to 40% over the last 15 games.

Giddey is more of a playmaker, Murphy III is a play finisher. They'll be switched on to each other often in the starting units. Whoever plays better in this series will get the more financially lucrative contract this summer. It's likely their team plays in the second round too.

Respected veteran vs. heralded rookie

Jonas Valanciunas versus Chet Holmgren tilt takes top billing in the paint battle now that Zion Williamson has been ruled out. Valanciunas (12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds) is a double-double machine going into his 55th NBA Playoffs appearance. Holmgren (16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds), who would be the Rookie of the Year if not for Victor Wembanyama, is making his first postseason appearance since playing at Gonzaga.

Valanciunas can drag Holmgren out of the paint on offense. The Pelicans cannot let Valanciunas get schemed away from the rim on defense. He also cannot get caught flatfooted on closeouts. Holmgren is too quick and the Thunder have too many options for the help defense to recover.

Whose ‘J' is dropping?

CJ McCollum (20) and Jalen Williams (19.1) are both averaging around 20 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Williams is the Thunder's second-leading scorer and has been a jack of all trades in support of Shai Gilgeous Alexander. That's supposed to be McCollum's $30 million role with the Pelicans. Williams is 23 years old making $5 million a year.

If you pay a lot more for wine, it may not be a lot better but well-versed connoisseurs can taste subtle differences. Points, rebounds, assists, and fewer turnovers have to be priorities. Further than that though, McCollum has to outclass Williams in ways that perhaps do not show up on the stat sheet. Working with the referees and getting teammates focused is part of McCollum's job description here.

Brandon Ingram is more of a ‘silent' leader according to Larry Nance Jr. The 26-year-old Ingram is in the same boat as Trey Murphy III contractually speaking though. Both could use a big playoff series as leverage in contract extension negotiations. It'll be tough to not give Murphy III a deal even if he has a subpar series thanks to the rookie-scale caps.

Ingram's decision is a bigger headache if the All-Star cannot consistently solve the defensive riddles of Lu Dort. Gilgeous-Alexander is good for 30 points a night, Dort only 11. Ingram (20.8) has to help make up the difference with Williamson out. Any game under 15 points that is not a win will be viewed as a disappointment. Right or wrong, blame for those losses with those types of performances will be placed on Ingram.

First-Team All-Defense versus All-NBA MVP

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) reacts to making a three point basket against New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones (5) during the second half at Smoothie King Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Shai vs. Herb has to be the most anticipated one-on-one war in this first-round series. It might be the best matchup in the entire NBA right now. It will be electric as long as the referees let the two of the most talented players on the planet actually, you know, play.

Gilgeous-Alexander will be in the MVP conversation for the rest of the decade. Jones might be the prototype coaches search for though, according to Larry Nance Jr.

“First-Team. If you could design the perfect player to play in today's NBA it's Herb Jones,” claimed Nance Jr. “The man is shooting forty-something percent from three. He guards the other team's best player every single night.”

Well, that's the task at hand against the Thunder. The tale of the tape does not lie. This pairing should make for a heavyweight matchup. If Jones is hitting three-pointers on one end and denying them on the other, the Pelicans have more than a puncher's chance at pulling off the first-round upset.