Portland Trail Blazers (35-34) vs New Orleans Pelicans (25-42)
Friday, March 18
Smoothie King Center | 5 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | New Orleans injury report: Alexis Ajinca (Out - Sternum), Norris Cole (Questionable - Back), Bryce Dejean - Jones (Out - Wrist), Tyreke Evans (Out - Knee), Eric Gordon (Out - Finger), Quincy Pondexter (Out - Knee)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes
With the amount of prognostication and speculation online, in the paper, and on the radio, it's never been easier to find predictions of team performance based on advanced metrics, shot charts, non-linear regression, and anything else you can shake a stick at.
At a certain point, you actually have to play the games.
Way back in October, the New Orleans Pelicans were perhaps the trendy pick to surprise the league and take the next step after having snuck into the playoffs last season with a 45-37 record. After all, in Anthony Davis, they have one of the league's premier big men; still only 23 years old and already elite. 3-point sharpshooter Ryan Anderson seemed to be recovered from the personal tragedy and fluke neck injury that threatened his career several years earlier. Point guard Jrue Holiday and shooting guard Eric Gordon are the perfect second tier players for a high-level team. New coach Alvin Gentry was fresh off of winning a championship ring as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. A 50-win season made perfect sense.
But you actually have to play the games.
To say that the Pelicans' season has been disappointing would be akin to saying that the the Titanic encountered a minor inconvenience on its way to America. Evans injured his knee in the preseason. Holiday had difficulty coming back from a knee injury of his own, and the Pelicans came roaring out of the gate to a 1-12 record. Aside from a nice 7-2 stretch in January, things haven't been much better in The Big Easy, as the Pelicans sit at 25-42, No. 12 in the Western Conference.
Obviously, a team facing the kind of injury difficulties that New Orleans has put up with this season is going to have problems, but the issues extend well beyond fluke injuries. Despite the talent on paper, the team has struggled to mesh. Evans, primarily used as a playmaker in Sacramento, has struggled to fit with Holiday. Davis, for all of his talent, has struggled defensively when playing alongside center Omer Asik.
The alternative is to go big and let Davis play center with Ryan Anderson at the stretch-four, but with Davis susceptible to nagging injuries, there is hesitation to let him bang with physical centers for extended periods of time.
Finally, and possibly most concerning, is the players' seeming lack of basketball IQ. The Pelicans have struggled all season with miscommunication, botched plays out of timeouts, and focus in general. Of course, the players know that this is a lost season, and some let up is understandable, if unacceptable, but this has been a problem from the get-go.
All this said, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, and are capable of stealing a win at any time.
Though he hasn't taken the leap from superstar to super-duper-star that many predicted, Davis is still having a great season, putting up 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.1 bocks, and 1.3 steals. He is an elite finisher around the rim with tremendous length, and has developed a dependable jumpshot from the top of the key out to the 3-point line.
On defense, Davis is a dangerous shot blocker, capable of altering nearly any attempt at the rim. He possesses solid footwork and knows how to position his body for maximum impact.
Holiday, still only 25 years old, is starting to return to form as he continues to recover from knee problems, putting up 16 points and 6 assists per contest in only 27 minutes a night. New Orleans has rightfully brought him along slowly this year and limited his minutes, as well as his starts as outlined above.
With Evans out for the season, former Blazer Dante Cunningham has moved into the starting lineup. Cunningham is a fine backup pick-and-pop hybrid forward, but lacks the playmaking ability of Evans, which may actually be a good thing for New Orleans in the grand scheme of things. He does lack Evans' footwork and speed, as he is a small forward/power forward, where Evans is more a big shooting guard/small forward.
With Eric Gordon out for the season (detecting a trend here?), Toney Douglas is the Pelicans' primary shooting guard of the present, though he is historically more of a point guard. Douglas takes half of his shots from 3-point territory, where he connects at a near 40 percent clip. He can play solid perimeter defense, too.
Anderson is the Pelicans' main weapon off the bench, able to get hot from distance with the best of them while stretching the floor as a 6-foot-10 power forward. "Ryno" can shoot from anywhere on the court and is the perfect complement to Davis, if it weren't for that whole "even though their games are completely different, they actually play the same position" thing.
Coming off of their big win over Sacramento on Wednesday, most of the buzz in New Orleans is about new signee (and former Trail Blazer) Tim Frazier. After a dominant couple of weeks in the D-League where he averaged nearly a triple-double (15 points, 9.4 assists, and 9.1 rebounds), he signed a ten-day contract and promptly put up 14 points and 9 assists with no turnovers against the Kings. It's good to see Tim get some run.
The Blazers are coming off of a loss against the San Antonio Spurs that, while they kept it relatively close, had a feeling of inevitability, even when they were leading in the first half. Portland continued struggling on defense, allowing 118 points and giving up 100 or more for the 15th time in their last 18 games.
Of course, getting beat by a team that hasn't lost on their home floor in more than a year isn't cause for alarm by any stretch of the imagination, but Portland continued its trend of allowing free-flowing ball movement, which ends up in easy looks for good teams that know how to exploit it.
There is little evidence that the Pelicans, outside of Davis, have the capability to capitalize on every Portland defensive miscue, but, you know, they actually have to play the game.