The Blazers land in New Orleans today to square off against the Pelicans, following a close match-up of the two teams nine days ago in which Portland escaped with a three-point victory.
The Pelicans have been pretty inconsistent this season, evidenced by their 13-15 record. They preceded their recent loss to the Blazers with three road defeats and followed it up with a couple victories against the Kings and Nuggets before losing to the Rockets Saturday night.
Stretch big man Ryan Anderson takes eight three-pointers a night, converting 40 percent of them. Against Portland a week-and-a-half ago, Anderson hit four of his eight three-point attempts. He's certainly not shy about shooting from outside, and he could be a match-up problem for Portland if Blazers center Robin Lopez ends up guarding him at times tonight. Lopez had some difficulty with Miami center Chris Bosh on Saturday as Bosh displayed his jump-shooting ability when covered by the less-mobile Lopez.
Limiting Anderson's outside attempts and forcing him inside would make life easier for Portland's defenders, because he struggles offensively near the hoop. Anderson will get his shots tonight, as he attempts more than any of his teammates except guard Tyreke Evans lately, so getting hands in his face and daring him to put the ball on the floor should help push Anderson to areas of the court where he's less comfortable shooting.
New Orleans starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Anthony Davis are both shooting the ball better than anyone in Pelicans coach Monty Williams' main playing rotation. Aminu doesn't attempt a lot of threes, but he's accurate on the ones he does take. He prefers his attempts at the rim, and he's finished pretty well lately. Davis also takes the bulk of his 14 shots a night near the basket, and he's converted well, also drawing a decent amount of fouls. Unlike Aminu, Davis will take the shots given to him in the mid-range, and he's not bad from a few spots.
Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday has limited his shots recently, even with guard Eric Gordon sitting out the last couple New Orleans games with a bad hip. Holiday is a good outside shooter, nailing almost half his attempts the last several games. He can also get to the rim, but Holiday isn't an elite finisher. Even though he's less efficient at the basket, his shot needs to be respected out to the perimeter because he's not bad in the mid-range and reliable when he pulls the trigger from deep. Holiday is also a good passer, racking up almost nine assists a night lately.
Evans brings scoring punch off the bench, shooting 22 times against the Blazers in their last meeting. In the past five games, Evans has hoisted almost 17 shots per contest. His outside shot and jump-shot are both unreliable, but he has a knack for taking defenders off the dribble and getting to the basket. Evans draws a fair amount of fouls, but his efficiency has been sub-par lately as he's struggled with his shot.
Williams goes pretty deep to his bench usually to form his playing rotation, so centers Jason Smith and Alexis Ajinca will probably see some time tonight and wings Austin Rivers and Anthony Morrow will likely make an appearance. Smith shouldn't induce much fear into Portland's frontcourt players with his offensive game, but both he and Ajinca are aggressive rebounders in limited minutes. Ajinca is a capable scorer near the hoop, but he doesn't attempt very many shots at all and has largely been a non-factor offensively because he rarely looks for his own shot. Rivers and Morrow are both fairly limited with the ball, but they can both hit the three-pointer with consistency and shouldn't be left open on the perimeter.
As a whole, New Orleans is a pretty average offensive team. They push the ball reasonably well, get up a lot of shots and hit their threes, but outside of Anderson, they're not attempting very many. The Pelicans don't shoot well and they foul a lot. They do manage to limit their turnovers and they can sometimes score well inside -- in Portland on the 21st, New Orleans only coughed the ball up 11 times and they dropped 56 points in the paint.
The Blazers have continued bombing from deep, but only point guard Damian Lillard has managed to be a consistent, legitimate threat from outside lately. Guard Wesley Matthews had a rough stretch recently, but he's pulled his deep-shooting out of the tank and has had a few good shooting nights in the last several games. Backup guard Mo Williams and wings Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright are all sub-30 percent three-point shooters in Portland's last five games.
Lopez has been the steadiest shooter for the Blazers lately, followed by Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard in very limited attempts. The rest of Portland coach Terry Stotts' lineup has struggled shooting the ball, except for Lillard who's seen a spike in his scoring outputs in recent weeks and dropped 29 points on the Pelicans nine days ago.
Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been shooting a lot, but he's struggled somewhat with consistency and his shooting percentage is currently in the low-40s. Matthews, Batum, Wright and Williams have all shot below their seasonal averages recently. Portland has managed to find ways to win all season-long despite extended shooting woes for many players, and it's not uncharacteristic of the team to see multiple guys struggling at once. Because both Lillard and Aldridge command so much defensive attention, shots often open up for Portland's secondary scorers and usually, one or more of them -- between Matthews, Batum, Wright and Williams -- steps up and punishes teams for focusing so much on the Blazers' stars. In the recent win against New Orleans, it was Matthews who took the reigns, scoring 18 points on 16 shot-attempts.
Defensively, the Pelicans only excel at preventing easy fast breaks, blocking shots and forcing steals. They're okay at defending the three-point line, but teams have been scoring on them from just about everywhere so far this year.
New Orleans features several good individual rebounders, led by Ajinca and Davis. They're similar to Portland on the boards by struggling to secure defensive rebounds but dominating the offensive glass. The Pelicans edged the Blazers 48-45 on the boards in their last meeting, with no Portland players in double-digits for rebounds. Tonight's match-up has two frontcourts that are both solid at rebounding, so expect another close battle down low. Second-chance points could be huge tonight because both teams will probably struggle preventing the other from picking up offensive rebounds.
New Orleans is a much tougher match-up at home, but the Blazers have actually seen their numbers rise almost across the board in road games. The Pelicans also have a pretty balanced scoring attack, so defending them can be tricky, especially with Anderson's outside-shooting ability in the frontcourt and Evans coming off the bench with a green light to shoot. Portland's players were stung by Bosh's late-game heroics on Saturday night, and Aldridge is looking for a bounce-back game in New Orleans while Matthews said after the loss that the Blazers will look to take it out on the Pelicans.
The last game between these teams came down to the final possessions and New Orleans has some match-ups they can exploit against the Blazers, mainly Anderson with his shooting and Evans coming off the bench. Still, if Aldridge's and Matthews' post-game comments Saturday night are a harbinger of things to come, the score tonight might not be so close.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter