The New Orleans Pelicans are back in the playoffs, and they will be in fine form ahead of Game 1. The Pelicans reeled off five straight wins – two of which coming against the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs – to secure the No. 6 seed in the West. Anthony Davis has been his usual brilliant self, averaging 29 points, 11 rebounds, nearly four blocks, and two steals during that time. However, Nikola Mirotic has been brilliant, while Jrue Holiday has continued his solid overall play.
The Pelicans will meet the Portland Trail Blazers, who snapped a four-game losing skid with a huge 102-93 win over the Utah Jazz to claim the No. 3 seed in the conference. Damian Lillard was brilliant as he dropped 36 points and ten assists on the second-ranked Jazz defense. Lillard doesn’t appear to be significantly affected by the sprained ankle he suffered the previous week against the Mavericks. He’s dropped over 30 points in two of his last three games back.
Three keys to the game
Star vs star – Obviously, all eyes will be on Davis and Lillard. The two have been unbelievable all year long and will probably finish in the top five in MVP voting. Lillard just out-dueled Davis in their most recent matchup a couple weeks ago as his 41 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and four steals overcame Davis’ 36 points, 14 boards, and six blocks. Don’t be surprised if they come up with similarly remarkable stat lines for most of this series.
Nikola Mirotic – Alvin Gentry’s move to re-insert Mirotic into the starting lineup fueled the Pelicans’ end-of-season run. Niko was lights out as he went for 26 points on 56 percent shooting with 12 boards over his last five games. The Pelicans need Mirotic to continue being that consistent source of points alongside Davis and Jrue Holiday to unlock a tough Blazers defense.
Wing production – Wing play is potentially the big X-factor in this series. Neither team’s wings have been that reliable over the course of the season. The Blazers’ already questionable wing rotation was weakened even further with the absence of Maurice Harkless, who will be out of Game 1 as he continues to recover from knee surgery late last month. But if one team can find unexpected production from that position, they will have a significant advantage.
Matchup to watch
Jrue Holiday vs CJ McCollum – While Davis and Lillard hog the spotlight, Holiday vs McCollum will be a fine undercard. The two have been consistent secondary options to their respective stars all year and will be crucial to their team’s success. However, Holiday has had the upper hand over McCollum in recent matchups. He had an impressive triple-double in their latest meeting while CJ went a horrific 3-of-19 for just seven points. McCollum will probably play much better than that, but the Blazers can’t afford another stinker from their star shooting guard against this dangerous Pelicans team that can put points up.
Pelicans projected starting lineup
PG – Rajon Rondo | SG – Jrue Holiday | SF – E’Twaun Moore | PF – Nikola Mirotic | C – Anthony Davis
Blazers projected starting lineup
PG – Damian Lillard | SG – CJ McCollum | SF – Evan Turner | PF – Al-Farouq Aminu | C – Jusuf Nurkic
This series will probably see a lot of impressive fantasy stat lines. The Pelicans love pushing the pace, and the Blazers have at least three players in Lillard, McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic who can capitalize. Nurk has averaged 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in his last two meetings against the Pelicans.
As for the Pelicans, Davis, Holiday, and Mirotic can also put up monster numbers. But their other two starters, Rondo and Moore, can surprise as well. Moore has averaged 16 points on 62 percent shooting in his last six games, while Rondo has been putting up nine points, 11 assists, and nearly two steals during that same span.
The Pelicans will be a tough team to put away. With Davis leading a team that can score in bunches and high on confidence following their recent win streak, the Blazers will struggle to keep them quiet. Take the Pelicans to cover as 5.5-point road underdogs. The total going over 217.5 also seems like quite an appealing bet given all the firepower on display on both teams.
The Pelicans draw first blood as they pull the Game 1 upset over Portland, 112-108.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 10:30 pm Eastern.
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