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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans Game 2 Preview

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The Blazers urgently need to bounce back after losing narrowly in Game 1.

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

Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Series: 1-0, Pelicans)

Tuesday, April 17th - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (questionable)
Pelicans injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (out), Alexis Ajinca (out),
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, TNT
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

It’s hard to overstate how important Game 2 is for the Portland Trail Blazers. A win and the Blazers will go into New Orleans with every reason to believe that they can take back home-court advantage. Another loss, though, and the Pelicans will be flying high, full of confidence and swagger. Historically, teams that lose the first two games at home in seven-game playoff series are 4-29 in overcoming that deficit. Game 2 might not be a must-win, but it is about the closest thing to it.

The Blazers find themselves in this predicament due to their 97-95 loss to the Pelicans on Saturday. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for just three points in the first half on 1/15 shooting. Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis combined for 32 points over the first two quarters. Based on just these numbers alone, it shouldn’t come to anyone’s suprise that the Blazers found themselves down 45-36 at halftime.

Portland’s backcourt duo found their footing for the most part in the second half, but the Blazers’ comeback couldn’t get over the hump. The Blazers never led in the second half, and the winning margin for New Orleans at the final horn was two.

What the Blazers need to improve

Portland needs to get to the the line. The good news is that Lillard and McCollum shot 100 percent from the free throw line in Game 1. The bad news — make that the unacceptably horrible news — is that the pair took just three free throws combined. Credit the Pelicans’ defense: you won’t find too many Blazers fans calling for the head of the officials. Besides very good interior defense from New Orleans, the backcourt needs to shoulder much of the blame. Too many times the guards avoided contact in the paint by either dishing off or pulling up quickly. It’s not that the Blazers were making horrible passes or taking terrible shots. As Kevin Pelton reported, the Blazers took pretty good shots but just didn’t make them. Nevertheless, the Blazers guards need to mix things up more and draw contact in the lane. There’s no guarantee of success with Anthony Davis patrolling the middle, but they need to try. Three free throws for Lillard and McCollum (and only 12 for the entire team) isn’t going to get it done.

Get Jusuf Nurkic more involved. Nurkic had a fine game in most respects. Eleven points on 42.9 percent shooting, 11 rebounds and 5-for-5 from the line isn’t a bad night’s work for the young big man. Still, the Blazers need more. More touches, more banging on New Orleans’ big men and more rebounding pressure. It’s probably too much to ask for more effective defense from Nurkic; Anthony Davis is likely to put up big numbers no matter what. Still, making Davis work just a little harder for what he gets can pay dividends over the course of the series. And it goes without saying that a few more points from the big man would have looked mighty good on the Moda Center scoreboard.

Good shooting. This one is a bit obvious but it needs to be said: The Blazers can’t win shooting around 30 percent from 3-point land and under 40 percent from the field. The good news is that when you look at the average shooting percentage for Portland this year (45.2 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from deep), the odds would seem remote that such poor shooting will happen again. The bad news is that you only have to go back to the April 9 game against Denver to find another game when the Blazers shot so poorly (33 percent from the field and 21.2 percent from beyond the arc). Still, if the Blazers can match or exceed their season averages from both the three-point line and overall, the Pelicans will be hard pressed to find a way to victory. Otherwise, the Blazers better hope for a more successful fourth-quarter comeback than they had on Saturday.

What they’re saying

William Guillory of The Times-Picayune writes that there were two vocal leaders for New Orleans during timeouts:

When the game started slipping away from the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday (April 14), there were two voices in the huddle and on the court that assured the team stayed united.

”Honestly, it’s always (Rajon Rondo) and Anthony (Davis),” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “Every time we huddled up, Anthony would say, ‘We’re still up 12 on the road. We’re still up three on the road.’”

What does history say about the home team losing the first game? Oleh Kosel of the Bird Writes has the details:

According to whowins.com, NBA teams that win the opening game of a 7-game series go on to take the series 76.6% of the time. Specifically, 393 out of 513 teams have moved on or taken home the trophy after winning the first game. And, if you’re wondering about what the numbers say when factoring only first round 7-game series, the ratio is practically identical: 92-28 (76.7%).

Obviously, it’s a very good thing to win the first game, but before getting too excited, realize history isn’t nearly as supportive of road teams stealing that first game. When away teams have prevailed in openers, they’ve only gone on to win their 7-game series 72 out of 137 chances. That’s just slightly higher than 50/50 (52.6%) and the reasoning for it is simple: teams that start on the road are the lower seed and winning just one game is quite possibly an aberration. One-game flukes happen all the time in sports!

Is there Pelican fever in New Orleans? It’s getting there according to Scott Kushner of the Advocate:

For years, strident Pelicans fans have bemoaned the citizenry’s lack of passion for its NBA team. Fans grumbled about placement in local media, and shared stories of asking annoyed bartenders to switch the TV from the NFL Network to watch a professional basketball game with “New Orleans” emblazoned across the scoreboard.

They have a point.

Too often, the general conscious of the city is unaware or simply uninterested when the Pelicans tip off one of 82 regular-season games. And operating in the league’s smallest market, apathy is simply not sustainable over the long haul.

But, this month, as the Pelicans hung around the Western Conference race and sealed a playoff berth, it captured some imagination and a glimpse into what’s possible.