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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Preview

Opening night is finally upon us as the Blazers hope to start the season with a win, hosting the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans at the Moda Center.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans (0-1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (0-0)
Wednesday, October 28
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Al-Farouq Aminu (Probable), Moe Harkless (Probable), Cliff Alexander (Doubtful), Gerald Henderson (Out) | New Orleans injury report: Omer Asik (Out), Luke Babbitt (Out), Norris Cole (Out), Tyreke Evans (Out), Quincy Pondexter (Out), Dante Cunningham (Questionable)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Portland Trail Blazers kick off the 2015-16 regular season against the injury-depleted New Orleans Pelicans at 7:00 tonight in the Moda Center.

The Pelicans opened their season last night with a 111-95 loss to the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors. New Orleans struggled throughout to stop a hot Steph Curry who scored 40 points on 14-26 shooting. Meanwhile, Pelicans superstar forward Anthony Davis struggled, finishing with 18 points on 4-20 shooting and six rebounds.

The Pelicans were devastated by injuries yesterday, dressing only nine players. Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins were called upon to start and Ish Smith played 38 minutes(!) after joining the team earlier in the day. Needless to say, they were not at full strength.

For tonight's game against the Blazers the Pelicans welcome point guard Jrue Holiday back into the lineup after he rested against Golden State, but they will still be missing key rotation players Omer Asik and Tyreke Evans. In addition, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter, and Luke Babbitt are expected to be in street clothes. Dante Cunningham has been added to the injury report, as well, with a concussion suffered last night.

Other than injuries, the key fact to know about the Pelicans is that all-world forward Davis - who has been widely touted as the future of the NBA - will be playing tonight.

After struggling against the Warriors Davis will be looking to get back on track against the Blazers. He is an exceptional two-way player who had one of the best statistical seasons of all time last year and extended his range to the 3-point line during the offseason. Davis has the potential to create serious matchup problems for the Blazers who will likely have to rely on either Mason Plumlee or an undersized small forward to chase him around the mid-range on defense.

After Davis, the Pelicans' identity and style of play get murky. Last season they suffered from a listless, isolation-heavy offense. Often the guards, especially Holiday and Evans, were unable or unwilling to get Davis the ball in the fourth quarter, costing New Orleans scoring opportunities down the stretch of close games.

New coach Alvin Gentry hopes to add some spice to the offense this season, but it was difficult to assess his effectiveness based on last night's game against an elite defensive team with Robinson starting at point. Tonight's game against the Blazers, with Holiday in the lineup, should be a better indicator of any offseason progress the Pelicans may have made.

The other key players for New Orleans are Eric Gordon, who made only four of 20 shots from the field yesterday, Ryan Anderson, and Alexis Ajinca. Gordon is a hot-shooting, former All-Star caliber player who has been slowed by injuries but can still score in bunches. Anderson is a prototypical stretch four and Ajinca is hoping to prove his worth as a low post and mid-range scorer this season. Neither plays much defense.

Crucial Matchups

Ordinarily this section would include key matchups or crucial strengths/weaknesses of the opposing team. But given New Orleans' injury woes the Blazers should be able to execute their gameplan more or less at will, so tonight may offer some clues into what to expect from Portland for the rest of the season. With that in mind, here are three barometers of success with which we can begin to evaluate the new-look Blazers:

Three-point shooting: Outside shooting is a crucial element of Terry Stotts' offense and floor spacing via 3-point shooting will be critical if Damian Lillard hopes to be effective at getting to the rim. Tonight's games should offer clues about how effective Portland's outside game will be. Focusing on shooting percentages for one game can often be misleading, but tracking three basic tenets of effective offenses can be useful in predicting Portland's long-term shooting success. Specifically: 1) Who is shooting threes and from where on the court?, 2) How good are the passes to the shooters?, and 3) Are shooters getting open looks?

Transition game: Cross matches are a typical part of NBA - it is rare that all five players on both teams will be assigned to each other on offense and defense. The Blazers, however, are unique in that they have a stretch center in Meyers Leonard who will play on the perimeter on offense and, presumably, serve as a rim protector on defense. He will likely be paired with Plumlee or Ed Davis who will both generally be guarding the pick-and-roll on the perimeter while on defense and crashing the offensive boards at the other end. The combination of multiple big men who will regularly be transitioning from post to perimeter on either end of the court has potential to cause matchup headaches for the opposition and should give Portland an advantage at establishing position on both offense and defense in transition.

The transition game will be especially interesting against the Pelicans. Davis is one of the few players with the length, quickness, and height to shadow Leonard on the perimeter. Being guarded by Davis, should Gentry choose to go with that matchup, could be a major early season challenge for Leonard and the team in general.

Offensive Rebounding: The Pelicans failed miserably on the boards last night, grabbing only 25 defensive rebounds, while giving up 21 offensive rebounds to Golden State. Much has been made of Portland's offensive rebounding potential after acquiring Davis and Plumlee. If second chance points are to be a strength for the Blazers this season they should be able to push New Orleans around on the glass, especially if Davis is tasked with shadowing Leonard on the perimeter.

Bottom Line

Tonight will be a reliable early season litmus test for the Blazers. The Warriors were able to score and rebound at will last night against the Pelicans, finishing with 95 points after three quarters. A starting backcourt of Gordon and Holiday will not strike fear into Lillard, and with Asik injured, the Pelicans' frontcourt will not offer much defensive resistance either. If the Blazers' offense is to be even remotely effective this season they should be able to torch the undermanned Pelicans playing on the second night of a back to back with a makeshift rotation.

Be sure to check Blazer's Edge regularly leading up to tip-off! We will have full coverage of the start of the new season, highlighted by the staff's guide of "Things to Look for in the New Blazers."