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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Preview

Desperate for a win and missing their best offensive weapon in Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers try end their five game road trip on a good note against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (11-19) vs New Orleans Pelicans (8-19)
Wednesday, December 23
Smoothie King Center | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
Chris Kaman (doubtful - illness), Damian Lillard (out - foot), (C.J. McCollum (questionable, ankles) | New Orleans injury reportAlexis Ajinca (questionable - calf), Anthony Davis (probable, illness), Quincy Pondexter (out - knee)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

Update: CJ McCollum will play tonight and start at PG.


The Portland Trail Blazers take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight for the third time this season and second time in 10 days. (Click here to read the preview and recap of Portland's 105-101 victory on Dec. 14.)

Looking to avoid a winless five game road swing, the Blazers will be without leading scorer Damian Lillard, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis. Second leading scorer (and backup point guard) CJ McCollum is questionable for tonight's game after spraining both of his ankles on Sunday against the Miami Heat. Both players sat for the first time this season as the Blazers lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, 107-96.

The Pelicans have gotten through most of their early season injury woes, though Quincy Pondexter is still out after offseason knee surgery. Center Alexis Ajinca is questionable with a strained calf, however, and Anthony Davis has been battling illness, though he is likely to play. Coach Alvin Gentry has bounced Ajinca, Asik, and even Kendrick Perkins in and out of the starting lineup this season, with Asik starting the last three contests. He has battled his own injury issues this season, and has largely underwhelmed since signing his $58 million extension with the Pelicans in July, averaging 2.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.

The Pelicans are slowly starting to click, going 4-4 in their last eight contests; not lighting the league on fire, but much closer to preseason expectations than their 1-11 start to the season. Point guard Jrue Holiday, in particular, has played much better as he recovers from injury. Still yet to play in a back-to-back this season, Holiday has averaged 16 points per game on 50 percent shooting in December, well up from his 10 points and 39 percent from the floor in November.

Getting Tyreke Evans back from offseason knee surgery has made a huge difference as well. Evans is averaging 15.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists since his season debut on Dec. 1.

Since the last time these two teams matched up, the Blazers have gone winless in the first four games of a five game road swing. Portland has been outshot in all four contests, including allowing the Heat to shoot 57 percent from the field. The Blazers continue to need to outgun their opponent, as opposed to getting stops and grinding out victories, a trend all season long.

The good news is that, even with their recent improvement, the Pelicans are still the worst defensive team in the league, sporting a DRtg of 111.2, even with All-Defensive Team member Anthony Davis. The bad news is that the Blazers are going to be missing at least one, and possibly both of the players on the roster who can take advantage most.

Without Lillard and McCollum in the lineup against Atlanta, Portland was not only missing 44 points per game worth of production, but was forced to play third string point guard Tim Frazier for more than 47 minutes. Should McCollum miss tonight's game as well, keep a close eye on Frazier's energy levels after logging such heavy minutes Sunday. He may be rested after not seeing heavy court time this season, but he may not be in elite game shape either. The Blazers don't really have an option at point guard behind Frazier, so it could get ugly if he needs to take a breather.

Allen Crabbe would be expected to again get the starting shooting guard nod in McCollum's absence after continuing his run of solid offensive play with a career high 19 points against the Hawks. Crabbe has not-so-quietly become Portland's third leading scorer and has begun to demonstrate more offensive versatility, including jumpers on the move and a nice floater in the key.

He'll be matched up against Eric Gordon who, after several years of battling knee issues, is finally healthy again. He's not nearly as explosive as he once was, but he shoots well from distance, and can get going in a hurry.

Noah Vonleh will start against Anthony Davis and platoon with Meyers Leonard, who needs to get going in a bad way. After rounding into form somewhat before injuring his shoulder, Leonard is shooting below 40 percent from the field this month and is noticeably down on himself while on the court. During the same period, Vonleh is shooting 51 percent from the floor, but has seen his playing time increase by less than a minute, up to 14.8 per game. Davis is a beast on the defensive end, able to challenge shots from anywhere down low with his length while not giving up position with his body. Tonight would be a good time for Leonard to hit a couple shots from 3-point land.

Al-Farouq Aminu will find himself matched up with former Blazer Alonzo Gee and possibly Ryan Anderson for stretches.  Aminu, who has averaged 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds against the Pelicans in their two previous matchups, has continued to play solid defense at both the small and power forward positions, and matches up well with either player. Anderson has spent most of the season as the Pelican's sixth man and is having a productive season, averaging 17.5 points per game while shooting 38 percent from distance.

The Blazers are going to need to get their scoring from somewhere if their two biggest offensive threats don't suit up again. New Orleans has major defensive deficiencies, but they come predominantly on the perimeter, exactly what Portland will be missing in this game. Ball movement, open looks, and forcing the Pelicans' defense to make decisions will be the key for the Blazers to pull out a win and avoid their first 0-5 road trip since 1974.



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