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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Preview

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The Blazers look to avenge being swept out of the playoffs by the Pelicans.

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NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (5-2) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (4-3)

Thursday, November 1 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Moe Harkless (questionable)
Pelicans injuries: Anthony Davis (doubtful); Elfrid Payton (out); Darius Miller (doubtful)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, Sling Television, DIRECTV NOW
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Portland Trail Blazers return home after a successful road trip to face the New Orleans Pelicans. The Blazers went 3-1 with back to back wins against the Pacers and Harden-less Rockets. Portland got balanced production in each of those games. CJ McCollum and Zach Collins tied for a team-high 17 points in Indiana while Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic led with the way with 22 each in Houston.

New Orleans swept Portland in the first round of the playoffs six months ago. Rajon Rondo who—with Jrue Holiday—helped shut down Lillard and McCollum in that series is now with the Lakers. The Pelicans replaced him with Elfrid Payton, who is dealing with an injured ankle. They also added forward Julius Randle and center Jahlil Okafor.

New Orleans is playing the second of a back-to-back. They lost 131-121 against the Warriors on the road Wednesday night. It was New Orleans’ third loss in a row, but two of those were without Davis in the lineup.

What to watch for

  • What is Anthony Davis’ status? The Brow—unquestionably the most important Pelican—has missed a couple games (both losses for New Orleans) recently with an elbow injury. He returned for Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors, playing 41 minutes, but only scoring 17 on 6-for-16 shooting. Entering Wednesday he was averaging 27.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.75 blocks per game—MVP-caliber numbers. A healthy Davis in New Orleans’ lineup makes things particularly difficult for the Blazers as Nurkic doesn’t have the mobility to keep up with Davis. The former number 1 overall pick averaged 33 points on 57.6 percent shooting in April’s playoff series.
  • Can Lillard exorcise his 2018 playoff demons? New Orleans held Lillard to 18.5 points per game on 35.2 percent shooting in the teams’ series last April. So far this season, Lillard has been lights out. He’s third in the league in scoring with 29.6 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting, contributing six assists and 5.9 rebounds per game as well—MVP-caliber numbers. Will the Pelicans be able to continue stifling Lillard like they did last postseason, or will it be Dame Time in the Moda Center? Worth noting: Lillard did put up 41 points in New Orleans in the teams’ final regular season matchup last March—a game that Rondo sat out.
  • Can Portland run Mirotic off the three-point line? Nikola Mirotic was a big factor in last year’s playoffs. The Blazers had a difficult time preventing the Pelican forward from taking, and making, threes. He shot 46.2 percent on 6.5 attempts per game in the series. Mirotic has continued to play well this season. He opened the season with back-to-back 30-point games and is averaging 23.1 points per game while hitting on 40.9 percent of his 7.3 three-point attempts per game. The Blazer defenders will need to make sure Mirotic doesn’t get many open looks.

What they’re saying

Pelican Debrief’s Charlie Fischer credits New Orleans’ passing for their early season success:

The reason for the Pelicans getting off to a strong start has been ball movement that Alvin Gentry has the team buying into the concept. Currently second in the league with 27.2 assists per contest, only trailing Golden State in that category. The team has bought into Gentry’s vision and it has been paying significant dividends so far.

Jrue Holiday is leading the way for New Orleans, bringing in 7.4 assists per game, with Elfrid Payton assisting on 6.4 per game. The scorching pace Gentry has the team playing at is a solid contributor to the assist numbers, currently ranked third in pace for the NBA. This was the vision that Gentry had, wanting the Pelicans to play even faster than last season, where the Pelicans ended the season the 2017-2018 with the quickest pace out of all 30 teams.

Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes wrote that Nikola Mirotic is the most surprising Pelicans player so far this season:

Niko is off to a fantastic start, averaging 22.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 three-pointers through the first six games of this season. Playing next to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday and then competing for shots with Julius Randle, E’Twaun Moore and scorers off the bench, one would have assumed Mirotic’s numbers were destine to slink off into some dark corner. Instead, he’s 19th in the league in points per game, 22nd in rebounds and tied for 9th in made threes. Best of all, who hasn’t enjoyed watching his passion, his energy and how he tries to maximize every ounce of athleticism in his body to grab a rebound or hustle after a loose ball??

ESPN ranked the Pelicans 5th in their latest power rankings. Tim MacMahon highlighted Davis’ importance:

Not that there was any doubt about Anthony Davis’ extraordinary value, but Sunday’s result while he sat out with a sprained elbow served as a reminder. The Jazz feasted around the rim while handing the Pelicans their first loss of the season, scoring 64 points in the paint in the blowout without the NBA’s leading shot blocker acting as a deterrent. The Pelicans have a plus-20.8 net rating (points per 100 possessions) with Davis on the floor and are minus-16.8 when he sits.