Portland Trail Blazers (21-6) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (13-12)
Saturday, December 20
Smoothie King Center; New Orleans, LA | 4:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum (questionable) | Out for the Pelicans: Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans (game-time decision)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers play the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on the second half of a back-to-back after requiring three overtimes to defeat the Spurs last night in San Antonio.
The Pelicans have been surging lately, at least offensively, winning their last two games and five of their last seven. Over the last five contests, New Orleans is No. 2 in the NBA in scoring (113.2 points per game), No. 5 in turnovers (11.8), No. 1 in field goal percentage (50.3 percent) and No. 9 in three-point shooting percentage (37.4 percent).
Guard Tyreke Evans has been playing well in that stretch, going 50.7 percent from the field with almost 71 percent of his shots coming at the rim. His outside shooting has been unspectacular, but he doesn't shoot a lot of threes and Evans has moved the ball well from the off-guard position, collecting 5.5 assists per game the last five. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Evans sat out Thursday's victory over the Rockets with a bad knee and participated in limited practice time yesterday. He'll be a game-time decision for tonight's matchup.
Though Evans has attempted the most shots for New Orleans lately, the real focal point of coach Monty William's offensive attack has been big man Anthony Davis. Over the last five games, he's taken a third of his shots at the rim, good for a ridiculous 84.2 percent of them. Perhaps more impressive, though, is that Davis takes half his attempts from the midrange and makes 62.1 percent of his jumpers.
The Bird Writes Associate Editor David Fisher explains the impact of Davis' improved jumpshooting:
Most teams want to allow the long jump shot to a big man in a pick and roll. Almost every good defensive team permits these shots to avoid allowing open threes or layups. A Davis catch and shoot long two now functions at an Offensive Rating clip of 113.7. Only three offenses (Dallas, Toronto, and the Clippers) are more efficient so far this season. AD is going to break standard defensive tenets by himself.
The Blazers' defense is designed to force opposing shooters into inefficient long two-pointers, but with Davis knocking down over two-thirds of those attempts, Portland will be tested tonight. The second-year Pelican connected on 14-of-20 shots in a loss to the Blazers just over a month ago, but Davis rarely went to his jumper that night and instead relied on his ability to finish down low en route to 31 points.
Guard Jrue Holiday has struggled to hit his shots at the basket lately, but he's got a reliable floater and a solid midrange jumpshot. His three-pointer has gone in at a 43.8 percent rate the last five games, many of them coming off the dribble. In fact, over 88 percent of Holidays two-point scores are unassisted, and the Blazers will have to play disciplined defense to prevent him from scoring via penetration or kicking it out to open teammates, as Holiday has averaged nine assists per game over the last five.
Forward Ryan Anderson comes off the bench but plays big minutes. He has great touch inside, but he's attempted over seven three-pointers a game the last couple weeks and has cashed in on 45.9 percent of them, the majority of his threes coming in catch-and-shoot situations. Anderson is deadly from both corners, especially if left open.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams plays a pretty short eight or nine-man rotation. Center Omer Asik starts the game, but has played 25.3 minutes per contest the last five and isn't a huge factor offensively. Likewise, forward Luke Babbitt starts on the wing, but attempts just over five shots a night, though his outside shot has been solid recently.
The recently-signed Dante Cunningham, forward, has impressed the fans in New Orleans with his hustle and has hit two-thirds of his limited attempts. Guard Austin Rivers has gotten up over seven shots a game the last five, but his jumper is average at best right now. Rivers' most efficient method of scoring is at the basket. Wings John Salmons and Jimmer Fredette and reserve big man Jeff Withey might get some time tonight, but none of the three gets many shots up.
The Blazers' defense has been good recently at limiting opponents' points scored and assists while patrolling the three-point line effectively. Last night against San Antonio, Portland held the Spurs to 97 points in regulation. The Blazers' defense within the arc was solid last night, possibly bucking the trend of allowing opponents' a solid field goal percentage the last couple weeks.
Portland's offense has been pedestrian lately. Even though the team scored 129 points last night in San Antonio, it took three overtimes to get there and the Blazers shot 42.7 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from deep.
Point guard Damian Lillard completely took over the game against the Spurs, scoring a career-high 43 points on 16-for-29 shooting, making four of his nine outside shots. Lillard showed a dazzling ability to finish in the lane, something he'd been working on all summer, reports Mike Richman of the Oregonian:
The work has paid off as Lillard's finishing numbers have dramatically improved this year. He's shooting 67.5 percent at the rim and has raised his field goal percentage on drives to 49.6 percent. Lillard is in the top ten in the league in points scored off drives and generates 11.5 points a game off his drives according to NBA.com.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge went 13-of-27 from the field last night and scored 32 points. His jumper wasn't falling with its normal regularity but he was able to boost his scoring output by hitting buckets down low. Over the last five games, Aldridge's jumper has gone in almost 45 percent of the time and he's scored on two-thirds of his attempts at the rim.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts opted to start wing Allen Crabbe in place of injured small forward Nicolas Batum last night, but he played only 13 minutes and went 0-for-3 from the field. Forward Dorell Wright -- owner of a 34.6 percent field goal percentage this season -- made the most of his 33 minutes against the Spurs, draining four of his five three-point attempts while playing the majority of crunch-time at the end of regulation and through the three overtimes.
Big man Joel Freeland started for injured center Robin Lopez, going 3-of-4 from the field. Forward Thomas Robinson picked up 27 minutes off the bench a game after starting against the Bucks Wednesday, but he didn't have many shots last night. Stotts faces a difficult decision on whether to start Freeland or Robinson alongside Aldridge in the frontcourt against the Pelicans, because Williams' big man rotation of Davis, Asik and Anderson features plenty of size, length, jumpshooting and outside shooting. Freeland may get the nod from Stotts tonight due to the size of New Orlean's starting frontline, but don't be surprised to see more big minutes from Robinson as Anderson plays a ton off the bench.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews struggled with his offense last night for the second game in a row, but he picked up five assists and his defense against the Spurs' perimeter players was huge down the stretch, so his defense will be key in slowing down Holiday and Evans (if he plays). Matthews has hit just a third of his threes the last five games and went 2-for-9 from deep last night, so he'll be looking to come uncorked against the Pelicans' mediocre three-point defense.
Center Chris Kaman came off the bench against San Antonio but played limited minutes and didn't look particularly aggressive, attempting just five shots and missing three of them. He's been in a bit of a shooting slump lately. Reserve guards Steve Blake and CJ McCollum tried to make up for the lack of bench scoring from Kaman last night, Blake hitting a pair of three-pointers and McCollum going 0-for-5 with no assists in a dozen minutes. Wing Will Barton and big man Meyers Leonard remain stuck on the end of Portland's bench, neither registering a single minute last night. The Blazers went through 63 minutes of game time on the first night of a back-to-back, though, so they may be called into action tonight.
New Orleans' defense has been less than stellar of late, giving up more points per game than any team in the league and easy percentages both from the field and from outside the past five games. The last time the two teams met in November, Portland hit half its field goals and scored an uncharacteristic 46 points in the paint, winning 102-93.
The Pelicans usually rebound pretty well as a team, but haven't been quite as impressive on the boards recently. The Blazers hold advantages on the glass on either end of the court, but Asik and Davis have been gobbling up a ton of rebounds individually, and without Lopez, Portland will have to rely heavily on its frontcourt to get a body on these two players consistently. Aldridge, Robinson and Freeland have been huge for the Blazers the last two games, and Wright chipped in eight rebounds last night. Portland's offensive rebounding led to plenty of second-chance opportunities against the Spurs.
Matthews, Lillard and Aldridge all logged at least 50 minutes last night, as the game lasted three hours and seven minutes. Stotts will have to again dip heavily into his reserves, especially if Batum can't go again. Don't be surprised to see big minutes for Blake, Crabbe, Wright and Robinson.
Davis poured in 31 points on the Blazers a month ago, but wasn't able to carry the load by himself as the Pelicans failed to consistently hit shots around him and faded down the stretch. Davis is again likely to go for big points against a thin Portland frontcourt, but if the contributions from his teammates are limited, the Blazers should have enough scoring to keep up with a Pelicans offense that has produced some fireworks lately.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter