The Trail Blazers (2-1) nearly pulled off a sweep of their three-game road trip but headed home after a 113-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. C. J. McCollum and Damon Lillard each scored 26 points, but Portland had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 17 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter.
Still, it was a good trip for the Blazers considering McCollum missed the opener via suspension and they averaged 116.0 points while shooting 48.6 percent (34 for 70) from three-point range. The backcourt duo of McCollum and Lillard are a combined 13 of 24 from beyond the arc, and Lillard has made 18 of 19 from the foul line.
The Pelicans (1-2) picked up their first win by holding off the Los Angeles Lakers 119-112 on the road Sunday night. The imposing frontcourt tandem of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 49 points and 28 rebounds, and Cousins finished two assists shy of a triple-double.
The two 7-footers have combined for 180 points in New Orleans’ first three games and sank 46 of 61 free throws between them. Cousins has been an underrated playmaker with a team-high 15 assists, and Davis has shown an improved perimeter range by going 5 for 11 from beyond the arc.
Three Keys to the Game
Blazers bombing from the perimeter - It will be hard finding penetration lanes against the Pelicans given their size, so the Blazers must continue to be proficient from beyond the arc. Pat Connaughton has seamlessly stepped into the role vacated by Allen Crabbe and is 7 for 13 from three-point range off the bench, giving Portland three legitimate perimeter shooters to spread New Orleans' defense.
Nelson in the half court set - The Pelicans raised eyebrows when they cut Jordan Crawford to bring in veteran point guard Jameer Nelson as back-up for Jrue Holiday. The move leaves Ian Clark as New Orleans' best perimeter threat, but it also brings continuity in the half court set since the goal is to pound the ball inside to Cousins and Davis. Nelson had five assists in 24 minutes in his debut on Sunday, but if that rate of effectiveness is to continue, he must knock down jumpers to keep defenses honest.
Nurkic must contribute more - Nurkic has improved offensively with each game and had a season-high 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting against the Bucks after going 6 for 20 in Portland's first few games. Points may be tougher to come by for the 7-footer with New Orleans' size, but the Blazers must make it a point to at least give Nurkic touches to create spacing for their perimeter shooters.
Matchup to Watch
Anthony Davis vs. Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis - The Pelicans are still sorting their offensive issues trying to play Cousins and Davis together. Aminu is Portland's best rebounder, averaging 11.3 in the first three games, but when New Orleans goes big and plays the two together, Ed Davis could be an important contributor for the Blazers. He provides energy off the bench, especially crashing the offensive glass, and has 27 rebounds in just 50 minutes.
New Orleans Pelicans Projected Starting Line-up
PG - Jrue Holiday | SG - E'Twaun Moore | C - DeMarcus Cousins | PF - Anthony Davis | SF - Dante Cunningham
Portland Trail Blazers Projected Starting Line-up
PG - Damon Lillard | SG - C. J. McCollum | C - Jusuf Nurkic | SF - Maurice Harkless | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu
Though the Pelicans snapped an eight-game losing streak at Portland at the end of last season, Davis wasn't a part of it. But he's still played well in the Pacific Northwest, averaging 23.1 points on 53.7 percent shooting to go with 9.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game in his last eight games there.
Lillard, who also sat out that Pelicans victory, was a part of all eight wins over Davis and the Pelicans, averaging 23.3 points and 6.3 assists. He's a career 38 percent three-point shooter in 16 games versus New Orleans.
While the Pelicans' signing of Nelson brings stability to their half court game, trying to stay in front of Lillard and McCollum defensively on the perimeter will be a chore for him, Holiday and E'Twaun Moore. Portland haven't taken more than 27 three-pointers in a game, but with Cousins and Anthony Davis looming down low, look for that number to range higher to 35 or even 40. The Blazers are 4.5-point favorites but the better play is taking the over of 221.5 points.
This game will likely come down to two factors: who can impose their will playing half court offense and who gets more offensive rebounds. Portland and New Orleans were both in the top four in the league in second-chance points in games through Sunday and in the top three for offensive rebounds. A third factor will be three-point shooting. Golden State made 18 of 40 shots against New Orleans, and while perhaps Golden State is an outlier, remember Portland has three good three-point shooters and Aminu is willing to be the fourth. Look for the Trail Blazers to eke out a close one, 122-119.
This game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and in Canada on TSN. It will also be televised locally on NBCSports Northwest and Fox Sports New Orleans. Tip-off time is 10pm ET.
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