Portland Trail Blazers (7-3)
Monday, November 17
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Nicolas Batum (questionable), LaMarcus Aldridge (questionable) | Out for the Pelicans: N/A
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Pelicans Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Moda Center tonight. Portland has won four games straight, and six of its last seven; the Pelicans have won four of their last five games.
New Orleans positively dismantled the Minnesota Timberwolves at home Friday night, 139-91, a game in which the Pelicans set several franchise records. The Blazers, meanwhile, took out the Brooklyn Nets Saturday, 97-87, without forwards Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom are questionable for tonight's matchup.
New Orleans produces a large handful of its offense from four sources: forwards Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans, power forward Anthony Davis and point guard Jrue Holiday.
Davis has emerged as one of the best players in the league statistically, ranking No. 4 in the NBA in points per game (24.5), No. 3 in rebounds per game (11.8), and No. 1 in both blocks per game (4.1) and PER (35.5).
Over his last five games, Davis has hit 63.1 percent of his field goals, including 85.7 percent of his shots at the rim, according to NBA.com. Over half his shots come in the paint, where he's an excellent finisher. The rest of Davis' shots come in the midrange, particularly from the left side of the floor, where he's an average shooter. He's not just creating shots on his own, either, as 79.2 percent of his field goals are assisted, indicating that many of his points come in pick-and-roll and catch-and-shoot situations.
Holiday and Evans have been the main hubs for Pelicans coach Monty Williams' offense, averaging 7.8 and 7.6 assists per night, respectively, over the last five games.
Evans has struggled with his shot inside the arc, unable to hit jumpers or finish at the rim consistently. In five outings over the last week-and-a-half, Evans has connected on just 40 percent of his field goals. He has, however, been solid from outside, connecting on 58.3 percent of his three-point tries in that span.
Holiday creates more of his own offense than any other rotational player for New Orleans. He's been a solid jump shooter and has finished in the lane well, converting on over half his field goals and 40 percent of his outside shots the last five games.
Anderson is mostly a three-point shooter, with eight of his 13.6 field goals the last couple weeks coming from beyond the arc. He operates heavily on the perimeter, and has made half his three-pointers in his last five games. Most of Anderson's outside shots are of the catch-and-shoot variety, and he's deadly from either corner.
Starting shooting guard Eric Gordon and his backup, Austin Rivers, both get up about 7-10 shots per game, though Rivers has been markedly more efficient this season: he's made 60 percent of his field goals the last five games compared to Gordon's 38.1 percent, while out-shooting Gordon from the three-point line in that span, 57.1 to 27.8 percent. Both players tend to either take it all the way to the hoop or shoot from outside, largely avoiding midrange jumpers.
A number of other contributors get sporadic playing time for Williams, but his main rotation consists of seven players. Center Omer Asik plays over 25 minutes a night, but he is effective mainly as a screen-setter on offense and rarely gets his own number called.
Overall, the Pelicans are a pretty good three-point shooting team, though their attempts from outside are fairly limited. They get up 87.6 field goals per game, though, which is good for No. 2 in the league in attempts, and they are a top-6 team in field goal percentage. The Pelicans don't get to the free throw line often, but they don't turn the ball over often, either, and they score more points in the paint than any other team in the league. Their ball movement is solid, and Evans and Holiday are particularly dangerous when taking the ball to the hole and finding open teammates.
Defensively, New Orleans does a good job of running shooters off the three-point line and forcing opponents into long, 2-point jumpers. Asik is one of the best rim-protectors in the NBA, and Davis gets a staggering amount of blocks with his help defense, but the Pelicans are still a mediocre team at defending the paint. They're also prone to giving up fast break points, as both big men crash the offensive glass pretty hard. New Orleans does foul often, with their perimeter defenders putting opposing players at the free throw line consistently -- Anderson and Davis rarely foul for big men.
Not surprisingly, Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been huge for his team the last week, first without Batum and now without Aldridge in the lineup. Over the past five games, he's averaged 24 points, 8.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 58.1 percent from the field and a staggering 60.6 percent from deep -- on 6.6 three-pointers attempted.
In the win over the Nets Saturday night, Lillard scored 28 points on 8-for-14 shooting -- including a 4-6 performance from deep while hitting 8-of-9 free throws -- and picked up five boards and 10 assists. He'll again be asked to put the team on his back, and has clearly shown he's capable lately after a sluggish start to the season offensively.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews has cooled off a bit since starting the season as the Blazers' most consistent perimeter scorer. In the last five games, Matthews has hit 36.8 percent of his field goals and 32.5 percent of his threes. He may get more back-to-the-basket touches tonight than he did against Brooklyn, as Gordon does not have imposing size for a shooting guard and Rivers is particularly thin. Keep on eye on Matthews when Rivers is in the game, as he'll likely look to back him down.
The rest of the offensive looks tonight will likely come from a handful of contributors.
Center Robin Lopez got up nine shots against the Nets and big man Chris Kaman attempted 11. Starting power forward Meyers Leonard took seven shots in Aldridge's absence, and wing Allen crabbe -- Batum's replacement in the starting lineup -- took eight shots, including six threes.
Lopez has made 57.4 percent of his looks the last five games, mostly working around the basket. Kaman had a rough shooting night against the Nets on Saturday, but he's otherwise been a very effective scorer, particularly with his jumpshot, and he's been serviceable down low, able to score with either hand near the rim.
Crabbe is still working out the kinks in his shot since being thrust into the starting lineup last week, hitting just a third of his attempts the last couple weeks. Still, he only takes shots in the flow of the offense and coach Terry Stotts has given him the green light to shoot when he's open.
Backup guard CJ McCollum hasn't been able to score much inside the perimeter, but he's been a great catch-and-shoot man from outside, hitting 50 percent of his threes the last several games. Backup point guard Steve Blake, who's playing over 22 minutes a night, has been a decent three-point shooter, converting on 36.8 percent of his attempts the last five games.
Joel Freeland and Will Barton round out Stotts' rotation, though neither contributes much offensively besides hustle plays. Even with the Blazers missing two starters, forwards Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright have been unable to earn any meaningful playing time lately.
Portland's defense has held opponents to 43.4 percent shooting from the field the last five games (No. 7 in the NBA) and 31.3 percent from outside (No. 4), while allowing just 16.6 assists a game in that span (No. 1). The Blazers are average at defending the paint and decent at preventing fast break points, not forcing many turnovers while putting opposing teams at the line fairly often. They've excelled at limiting teams' looks from outside, forcing them into less efficient shots.
The Blazers have been the best rebounding team in the NBA over the last five games, averaging 47 boards a night. New Orleans, from a team perspective, has struggled on the glass in that same span. With Davis, Anderson and Asik hitting the boards for missed shots on their own end of the court, the Pelicans are a decent team at bringing in offensive rebounds, though the Blazers are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league.
New Orleans has a frontcourt rotation with the potential to its Portland counterparts trouble, as Lopez isn't particularly mobile. When Asik is in the game, Lopez should be able to hold his normal defensive positioning down low. With Anderson and Davis in, though, Stotts will be forced to find a man who can keep a hand in Anderson's face on the perimeter and a man to help keep a lid on Davis. This is no easy task, and you can expect to see plenty of time for Freeland and Kaman off the bench if Leonard gets the starting nod at power forward again.
The Blazers' backcourt will also have to deal with penetrating guards, as Holiday, Evans and to an extent, Rivers and Gordon, are all capable ball-handlers -- only Evans averages more than 2 turnovers a game.
If Portland can continue defending the three-point line well while holding down the paint and forcing the Pelicans into long 2-point jumpers, they'll have a chance defensively. The Blazers will also have to manufacture plenty of their own offense, as New Orleans is one of the highest-scoring teams in the league. Being short-handed tonight will challenge Portland against one of the up-and-coming young teams in the West, and the Pelicans are certainly a higher-calibre opponent than the reeling Nets were Saturday night. Don't be surprised to see a shootout tonight at the Moda Center.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter