The Trail Blazers’ 13-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt when they lost to first the Rockets, then the Celtics, but they returned to the winners’ list with an impressive 108-105 result in Oklahoma on Sunday. C. J. McCollum was the star in the win, scoring 34 points and hitting the go-ahead bucket with less than 30 seconds to go.
The win was particularly important given Portland’s place in the standings relative to the Thunder. They remain in third position in the west with a 45-28 record, two games ahead of OKC in fourth with just nine games to go.
One place further back are the Pelicans, who sit in fifth with a 43-31 record. The Pelicans lost comfortably against the Rockets on Saturday, but won their four games prior to propel themselves up the standings.
Three keys to the game
Lillard’s efficiency - Damian Lillard’s hot streak earlier in the month was well documented, but he has cooled off of late. He is still playing good basketball, but his efficiency has gone significantly downhill, to the point where he is shooting just 35.5% from the floor in his past six games.
Who is in better form? - Both sides can lay claim to being two of the form teams in the competition. In their past 20 games, the Pelicans are 15-5, while Portland are 14-2 since mid-February.
The battle in the paint - On the Pelicans’ offensive end, this could be the battle that determines the game. New Orleans are the second best team in the league at scoring in the paint, thanks largely to Anthony Davis, scoring 52 points inside per game. They will face one of the best interior defensive sides in this game though, with the Trail Blazers’ 41.8 opposition points in the paint the third lowest in the league.
Matchup to watch
Jrue Holiday vs Damian Lillard - With Rajon Rondo likely to miss a second consecutive game with injury, Holiday will take up the bulk of the ball-handling duties. He has been doing plenty of this for much of the season regardless, and has been a vital part of the Pelicans' recent good form. He averages 19.0 points on 48.8% shooting this season, both of which are career highs, and dishes out 5.8 assists.
His opponent in Lillard, however, is one of the better guards in the league. This season, the Portland point guard averages 26.6 points and a career-high 6.5 assists, and his run of form over late February and early March was probably the best of his career.
Portland Trail Blazers predicted starting lineup
PG - Damian Lillard | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Maurice Harkless | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu | C - Jusuf Nurkic
New Orleans Pelicans predicted starting lineup
PG - DeAndre Liggins | SG - Jrue Holiday | SF - E’Twaun Moore | PF - Darius Miller | C - Anthony Davis
Davis has played just five minutes combined in the two matchups between these sides this season. But he has played the Trail Blazers 19 times during his career, and averages 22.7 points on 54.3% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
Lillard has endured mixed fortunes in his two games against the Pelicans this season. In the first, he struggled severely, shooting 3-for-16 on his way to 13 points, and turning it over six times to go with seven assists. He bounced back in the second though, scoring 29 points and dishing out eight assists.
Portland have been given a one point head start in this game, and they should be able to cover this line. Though the game will be played in New Orleans, the Blazers have a more well-rounded roster, and should be able to earn an important win on the road.
This will be a tight game. Holiday will need to be at his best without his backcourt partner in Rondo, and up against one of the best guard combinations of the league in Lillard and McCollum. The latter will prove the most dangerous in this game, and will score 30-plus points in what is fast becoming a patch of good form for the enigmatic shooter. Davis will have a huge role to play, and will be far too nimble for Nurkic at center. His performance won’t be enough though, and the Trail Blazers will sneak over the line with a 108-105 win.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSNOLA and NBCSNW. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.