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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans Game 3 Preview

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The Blazers are down 2-0 in the series, but are they out?

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Series: 2-0, Pelicans)

Thursday, April 19th - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (day-to-day), Evan Turner (questionable)
Pelicans injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (out), Alexis Ajinca (out),
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

While Game 2 may not have definitively been a must-win game for the Trail Blazers, Game 3 is. NBA teams are 19-273 all-time after trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series — not a great record, but it still provides at least a little hope. No team has come back to win a series after being down 3-0.

Portland is no stranger to overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the first round. The 2016 Blazers came back to win their series with the LA Clippers after falling into a 2-0 hole. Although, Portland benefited from some Clipper injuries in that series and started their comeback at home in Game 3 and 4. This Blazer team will need to get it done on the road against a healthy Pelicans team.

Some things have worked well for the Blazers. They have gotten solid contribution from the bench, especially Ed Davis, Zach Collins, and Moe Harkless. They also did a good job of slowing down Anthony Davis in Game 2. Portland will need to maintain what is working while improving what’s not.

What the Blazers need to improve

Backcourt play. The Pelicans have had the best backcourt this series. Jrue Holiday has been a dominant force on both ends, providing more for New Orleans than Lillard and McCollum combined have for Portland. Holiday is shooting 24-for-44 from the field in the series, while Lillard and McCollum are a combined 29-for-80. Rajon Rondo has also been effective for the Pelicans, averaging a near triple-double. The Blazers need their two best players to step up and take control of the series. McCollum had some good stretches in Game 2, but still shot only 9-for-21 from the field. Lillard has yet to score 20 points in the series and added seven turnovers in Game 2. If the Blazers can’t set their watches to Dame Time, then the clock will strike midnight on Portland’s season very soon.

Win the 3-point battle. The good news for Game 2 is that Portland shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc — a marked improvement from their 30.8 percent in Game 1. The bad news is New Orleans shot 50 percent. Portland is 24-for-71 from 3-point land in the series while the Pelicans are 20-for-48. The Blazers are averaging 11.5 more attempts per game than New Orleans in the series, but have only turned that into four more makes. One hopeful statistic: New Orleans didn’t shoot the 3-ball as well at home (35.2 percent) as they did on the road (37.2 percent) during the season.

Maintain the rebounding edge. The Blazers did a great job of crashing the boards in the first half of Game 2. They out-rebounded the Pelicans 30 to 21 and pulled down 11 offensive boards. That flipped in the second half with New Orleans out-rebounding Portland 22 to 15. The lack of offensive rebounds in the second half — the Blazers only grabbed two — helped the Pelicans control the pace while limiting Portland’s scoring opportunities.

What they’re saying

William Guillory of The Times-Picayune wrote about Jrue Holiday’s breakout playoff performance:

Very few people expected the Pelicans to be here after two playoff games. Even fewer anticipated Holiday would dominate the way that he has. Fewer people yet could have predicted this after the four tumultuous seasons he endured before this one.

“Just to be able to go out there and play again is a blessing,” Holiday said. “I’ve been battling injuries and to be out there and to play, that’s what I train for. ... I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”

“All he wants to do is play basketball,” said Anthony Davis, a sixth-year player who has been with Holiday for a longer stretch than anybody on the Pelicans. “And now that everything that was going on with him is squared away and doing fine, he’s just focused on playing at a high level.”

Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight looked at Holiday’s playoffs in light of his regular season performance:

So far, Holiday has had a hand in basically every facet of this series, which would mark the franchise’s first playoff-round victory since 2008, when it had Chris Paul and was still named the Hornets. Holiday is executing a scary two-man game with Davis, hitting nail-in-the-coffin jumpers and averaging 27 points and 5.5 assists. On the other end of the floor, he’s suffocating Lillard (0-for-4 for zero points and two turnovers when guarded by Holiday on Tuesday night) and McCollum. In fact, the team as a whole is shooting only 25 percent (6-of-24) for the series when guarded by Holiday, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information Group.

And then there are the momentum-busting 50-50 plays you just saw in the video above, in which he’s blocking shots and winning crucial loose balls. He’s single-handedly responsible for enough extra New Orleans possessions to potentially tip the scales of the series.

But here’s the thing: It shouldn’t be surprising that Holiday is doing all this. He’s basically been doing it all season, despite getting limited attention. Consider, for instance, that he finished the season tied for fifth in the NBA in loose balls recovered per game, with 1.6. He had active hands on defense, ranking seventh in the number of deflections per game he caused. And he blocked 64 shots this past season, more than anyone standing 6-foot-5 or shorter, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He ranks best in the NBA among starting guards in defensive efficiency in guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers, according to data from Synergy Sports Technology.

David Fisher of The Bird Writes discussed New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry’s vision for the team:

The Pelicans are up 2-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers and it is thanks in large part to the conviction this team has in its way to play. Gentry could have put Emeka Okafor in the rotation, he could have played to mitigate Portland’s strengths and in turn slowed the game down. Kevin, Preston, and I were all asking for it just seven days ago. No. Gentry has done the opposite. Everything fast. Okafor has yet to log a minute. New Orleans is actively playing Jusuf Nurkic off the floor.

Gentry believes and he has in turn passed that conviction to his players. Rajon Rondo is steadfast executing the game plan. Anthony Davis is running the floor expecting the ball and the rest of his teammates (thank you E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic, and Darius Miller) are adeptly spreading the floor. Jrue Holiday is attacking the rim with purpose and finishing at the highest rate of his entire career. There are few greater compliments to give a coach than that he has passed his belief on how his team should play onto his players.