Portland Trail Blazers (29-36) at New Orleans Pelicans (26-40)
March 14, 2017, 5:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Pelicans injuries: Omer Asik (out), Dante Cunningham (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes
After starting off their five-game road trip on the right foot against the Phoenix Suns, the Portland Trail Blazers head to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.
The Pelicans, despite pulling off the trade-deadline stunner of the year—acquiring center DeMarcus Cousins for rookie Buddy Hield and a couple picks—have continued to disappoint after Cousins’ arrival, going 3-6 and shrinking the team’s already faint hope of reaching the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
That’s not to say Cousins hasn’t played well since joining the team; he is putting up 21 points and 12 rebounds in 33 minutes a night. However, there is a bit of chatter in New Orleans about how poorly the pairing has worked out thus far. Oddly enough, the Pelicans are outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions when Cousins is on the bench, vs. being outscored by about 11 points when he is on the court. This isn’t necessarily due to a supposed lack of ability on Cousins’ part, but it looks like he and power forward Anthony Davis are still figuring things out how to play together.
To Davis’ credit, he seems to be rolling along just fine, putting up 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game this season, capped by a monster, 46-point, 21-rebound game as he willed the Pelicans to an overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets—with Cousins sitting out the entire fourth quarter and overtime.
Davis has elite length and athleticism, and he knows how to use it on both sides of the ball. He’s also a stellar defender, shot-blocker, rebounder, and excels at scoring in the post or hitting the mid-range jumper. While Blazer fans are likely looking forward to the Jusuf Nurkić/DeMarcus Cousins matchup, they probably are dreading the Noah Vonleh/Anthony Davis battle.
Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, sidelined so often over the last several seasons with knee issues, is finally healthy and is having a nice season, averaging 16 points and 7 assists. Holiday is a willing passer and solid mid-range shooter. He doesn’t overdo the 3-pointer, but shoots a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc.
After Holiday, the Pelicans suffer a serious talent drop-off. They start Solomon Hill and Hollis Thompson at the wings, and feature a bench unit of players such as Dante Cunningham, E’Twaun Moore, and Tim Frazier. Their backup bigs are a virtual “who’s who” of high-upside projects from several years ago that failed to pan out and have provided little production: Omer Asik, Domantas Motiejunas, Alexis Ajinca.
Despite this lack of talent, and despite the failure of Cousins and Davis to figure it out yet, the Pelicans still feature the best big man duo in the NBA. These two have the capability to punish opponents inside and out, on both sides of the ball, all game long. While Nurkić and Meyers Leonard both have a bit of a history with Cousins, it will ultimately fall to players like Vonleh, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Damian Lillard to stop Davis and Holiday from controlling this game.
The Blazers are playing as well as they have all season, having won five of six games, and being a blown call away from riding a nice six-game win streak. This is Portland’s last big road trip of the year before they finish their playoff push with 10 of the final 12 games on their home court. With Atlanta, San Antonio, and the incredibly hot Miami Heat looming on this trip, Portland will want to take care of business against a struggling Pelicans team, and not leave anything to chance in the hands of Anthony Davis.