Portland Trail Blazers (10-15) vs New Orleans Pelicans (6-17)
Monday, December 14
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Chris Kaman (Questionable - ankle | New Orleans injury report: Ryan Anderson (Questionable - illness), Quincy Pondexter (Out - knee)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard, crown jewels of the 2012 NBA Draft, face off for the 12th time in their short careers, where Lillard and the Blazers hold an 8-3 advantage in their head-to-head matchups.
After a surprising and gritty push to reach the playoffs last season, this was the season the Pelicans were expected to make the leap. But after the controversial firing of Monty Williams in favor of the more established Alvin Gentry (fresh off of winning a title as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors) and a slew of injuries to key personnel, the Pelicans stumbled out of the gate, going 1-11 in their first 12 games -- including a loss to the Blazers on Oct 28.
Before the season even began, Tyreke Evans suffered a knee injury which cost him 17 games, Quincy Pondexter has yet to play this season due to a knee injury, point guard Jrue Holiday has missed six games and is not yet cleared to play in back-to-backs, Omer Asik played only 10 minutes in the Pelicans' first six games due to a calf injury...the list goes on.
Since the first dozen games of the year the Pelicans have played better as they've gotten healthy -- going 6-6 over that span -- but there are still major problems. They sport a 1-11 record on the road and a DRtg of 110.7, worst in the NBA. The Pelicans are allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line, ranking No. 28 and No. 29, respectively. Essentially, outside of Davis, this team has no one who is able to make a positive impact on the defensive end.
Far from just an impact player on defense, superstar Anthony Davis is having another solid year after a slow start, averaging 23.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Already an elite finisher around the rim with tremendous length, Davis has put in considerable work to become a dependable jump shooter, which has paid dividends from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, where he is shooting a solid 45 percent. Curiously, his percentage from 10-15 feet has plummeted to below 29 percent this season, after shooting 45 percent from that range last year.
Davis can beat you with his one-on-one defense, his rebounding, and his scoring. After whispers around the league last season that his teammates weren't getting him the ball enough, his usage rate has exceeded 29 percent this season (for comparison, LaMarcus Aldridge's usage rate for the Blazers last season was a similar 30.2 percent). In order to take the leap into becoming the MVP candidate that many people projected him as before the season, Davis needs to increase his offensive efficiency; he's taking a career high 18.1 shots per game, but shooting a career worst 48 percent from the field.
Davis needs support from the perimeter to lighten the offensive load, and he certainly has that this season, with Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Tyreke Evans (in only six games) putting up nice numbers. Gordon in particular has remade himself as a player. After a string of knee injuries, Gordon is not nearly as athletic as he once was, but takes nearly seven 3-pointers per game, shooting a decent 35 percent on his way to 16 points per game.
Anderson seems to have recovered from the horrific fluke neck injury he suffered in 2014, putting up 18 points per game off the bench. A true stretch four, Anderson has significant range from anywhere beyond the arc, and at 6-foot-10, is able to get his shot off over most defenders matched up against him.
At center, Alvin Gentry has alternated between an ineffective (even when healthy) Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, and Kendrick Perkins' reanimated corpse. None of them are doing anything of significance on either end of the floor.
With the Pelicans lacking any sort of offensive firepower at center, Blazers coach Terry Stotts may elect to start Mason Plumlee on Anthony Davis, assuming that Noah Vonleh again gets the starting nod at power forward. While Plumlee doesn't have nearly the length that Davis does, he is at least a bit craftier on the defensive end than Vonleh and is more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from the officials. Ed Davis is a decent matchup for Anthony Davis off of the Blazer bench. He has the length to bother A.D inside somewhat, and doesn't demand a lot of touches, somewhat negating the Pelican forward's defensive impact. Should he be matched up with Ed Davis for any stretch of time, it does free him up to challenge shots as a weak side defender, but the Pelicans risk giving up offensive rebounds in that scenario.
While Anderson doesn't start, he plays more than 30 minutes per game at either forward spot. Expect Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Moe Harkless to all spend time checking Anderson tonight. Though Anderson is shooting the lowest percentage of his shots from distance in his career, he still attempts 38 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc.
Aminu will start the game matched up with Evans, a slightly undersized small forward who takes most of his shots in close off the dribble drive or via post moves. Evans is shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line in his limited action this season, so Aminu will have his hands full tracking Evans all over the court.
Lillard and CJ McCollum should have no problem going right at Gordon and Holiday. Neither player is able to move his feet fast enough to defend quick guards and neither has particularly active hands, either. Coach Alvin Gentry may elect to go big in the backcourt for stretches and play Evans at shooting guard, where he would be able to post up the smaller McCollum.
This game is going to be a shootout. Portland has the league's sixth-highest ORtg and the Pelicans are the worst defensive team in the league. While Davis is capable of putting up video game numbers, he has yet to win in the Moda Center in his career, going 0-6. As long as the Blazers avoid the stretches of careless basketball that we've seen lately, particularly in the second half, they should be able to keep the Pelicans at bay.