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Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Preview

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The Blazers face off against another potential first round opponent.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (45-28) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (43-31)

Tuesday, March 27th - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Pelicans injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (out), Rajon Rondo (questionable), Nikola Mirotic (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Portland Trail Blazers continue their quest for the 3-seed in New Orleans. After a tough road win in Oklahoma City, the Blazers are three games up in the loss column on the Thunder, Pelicans, and Spurs. A win against the Pelicans would go a long way toward helping Portland lock up the 3-seed.

New Orleans is coming off a loss to the Rockets in Houston on Saturday. They had won their previous four games, but are only 5-5 in their last ten. Portland is 1-2 versus the Pelicans this season, but the teams have not played since DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles in January.

What to watch for

  • Anthony Davis. Davis is having an MVP-caliber season. New Orleans’ big man is averaging 28.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He’s also leading the league in blocks with 2.4 per game. While many expected the injury to Cousins to sink the Pelicans’ season, Davis has put the team on his back. He’s averaged 30.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game since the All-Star break. His size and quickness make him a difficult matchup for any team. Portland has only faced a healthy Davis once this season, and The Brow went for 36 and 9 in a Pelicans victory.
  • Controlling the tempo. New Orleans is fourth in the NBA in points scored with 111.4 per game. That number is inflated somewhat by their pace of play. The Pelicans play at the third-fastest tempo in the league and are third in the league in fast break points with 15 per game. They’ve played with even more pace in the second half of the season — leading the league with 20.9 fast break points. Portland prefers to play at a much more controlled tempo. The Blazers are a top 10 team in limiting opponent fast break points. Look for Portland to try to slow the game down and limit New Orleans’ transition opportunities.
  • Will Damian Lillard get back on track? Lillard has cooled off a bit after a blistering stretch of games that put him in the MVP and All-NBA First Team discussion. His scoring is down to 23.5 over his last six games — not terrible, but still quite a dip from his 31.4 February average. Lillard has only connected on 11 of his last 49 three-pointers in that stretch. He’s still getting to the line and converting (52 for 52 in the last six games) and has done a good job of creating shots for others. It would be nice to see Lillard connect on a few more deep shots, though. It’s possible the Blazers will have to face the Pelicans without their All-Star as Lillard’s son is due anytime (the due date was March 19). A private jet will be lined up to take Lillard back to Portland if the baby comes during this road trip.

What they’re saying

Last week Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes discussed the Pelican’s crunch time performance:

When pondering the most successful crunch time teams in the league this season, there lies a surprise team inside the top five that few would probably guess they belong. That’s right, I’m referring to the Pelicans.

Everyone can probably guess the obvious factor responsible for propelling New Orleans to the finish line, but did you know the resident superstar has been far from alone in his quest? Anthony Davis has scored the fifth most points in the clutch but Jrue Holiday is right behind him at eighth.

Among all nine active Pelicans who have attempted a field goal during clutch minutes, every single one of them has a field goal percentage of 40.0% or higher. Thanks to positive types of production across the lineup, New Orleans boasts a top 10 offense (8th) and a top 10 defense (6th) during winning time.

Micah Adams wrote about how important Anthony Davis is to New Orleans:

Last week perfectly captured the degree to which Anthony Davis controls all things for New Orleans, as the Pelicans were a whopping 28.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the bench than on the floor. The offense in particular cratered in the 55 Davis-less minutes, posting a rating of just 90.9.

ESPN Senior Writer Zach Lowe recently praised Anthony Davis’ improved ball handling (link includes a clip of Davis blowing by Al Horford with a crossover dribble):

We often hear how these unicorn big men dribble like guards, and it is usually an exaggeration. This clip is literally Anthony Davis handling like a guard. I’m scared, too.

One quarter later, Davis absolutely dusted Al Horford -- the rare big man who can at least approach Davis’ foot speed -- with another crossover. It was filthy. If Davis is going to start roasting guys from the arc to the basket, we might as well fold the league and earmark an MVP or three for him.

Davis has seamlessly absorbed more ball-handling responsibility since DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury. He has averaged about seven drives per 100 possessions in that stretch, up from about four before then, per Second Spectrum tracking data.