The Trail Blazers suffered their fourth loss in five games after falling to the Pelicans 115-104 on Tuesday. CJ McCollum was thrust into lead duties with Damian Lillard (back spasms) on the sideline. McCollum’s 22 points led the way for the Blazers, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the pace-pushing Pelicans on their home court.
Outside of the result, Tuesday’s contest served as Carmelo Anthony’s return to the NBA. The 35-year-old forward showed off a few of his vintage moves in the first quarter, but Melo lost steam as the game continued.
Melo made his presence felt early by opening the scoring for the Blazers with a three-pointer. McCollum followed suit on the next possession with his own bucket from beyond the arc. The Blazers’ 6-0 run quickly faded and was followed by a series of sloppy passes, including a Jaxson Hayes steal on a blown pick-and-roll set initiated by Melo.
For the Pelicans, Kenrich Williams, Brandon Ingram and Hayes combined for aggressive offense early in the shot clock—a recipe the Blazers struggled to adapt to throughout the night. After five points in six minutes, Melo headed to the bench in exchange for Nassir Little. Portland managed to match New Orleans’ pace with Little’s highlight-worthy bursts of offense.
Led by Little’s seven points, the Blazers finished the first quarter with a 28-27 lead.
Down a ball handler with Lillard on the sideline, Mario Hezonja picked up facilitator duties when McCollum headed to the bench. Hezonja had a few moments, but he looked his best when he created for himself moving downhill. Melo added two points to his point total during his second shift. Like the first quarter, the Blazers defense was caught flat footed early in defensive sets. That led to foul trouble and a handful of uncontested looks for the young-and-energetic Pelicans.
Buoyed by six points from Rodney Hood in the final two minutes, the Blazers headed to the locker room clinging to a 54-53 lead.
The Blazers offense returned to the floor sluggish, producing stagnate possessions that featured too much isolation. On the other end, the Pelicans utilized a five-out setup that spread Portland’s defense thin. Whiteside and Melo looked out of place as New Orleans strung together series that involved multiple movements and passes. Those defensive woes were compounded by JJ Redick’s hot hand from beyond the arc. The former Sixers sharp shooter notched nine points in the quarter.
The Blazers surrendered five offensive rebounds to the Pelicans in the third quarter. Energized by the extra possessions, the Pelicans exploded for 35 points in the third quarter, finishing the frame with a 88-79 lead.
The Blazers fruitless effort to climb out of a hole continued into the final frame. Portland routinely settled for contested outside shots. New Orleans spread the floor and finished wide open looks from all three levels. When the Pelicans pushed the pace, they were met with little resistance. When play slowed, Jrue Holiday picked apart the Blazers’ rudderless defense.
Unable to string together stops on defense, the Blazers fell to the Pelicans 115-104.
After a year away from the court, Melo’s early returns were promising. He connected on an open three-point shot, got to his familiar spots in the midrange and garnered extra attention when facing friendly matchups in the post. Defensively, his rustiness and lack of familiarity with his teammates combined for a handful of cringe-worthy moments. Unsurprisingly, Melo racked up fouls as his defenders blew by him.
Late in the game, the wheels completely fell off on the offensive end. Mismatch or not, Melo was unable to finish in isolation and failed to draw fouls. He recorded 10 points, connected on four of his 14 field goal attempts and committed five turnovers in 24 minutes.
It was Melo’s first game back in over a year. He was effective early in the first quarter. Hopefully that becomes more of the norm as he gets in true game shape.
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Stepping in for Lillard, Simons connected on three of his five attempts from beyond the arc. He was tasked with the toughest defensive assignments on the perimeter and was active on the offensive end. Simons finished with 13 points on a 4-13 shooting night.
Little stole the show for Portland on this dismal night in New Orleans. Back off the bench, Little’s energy remained the same. He, along with Whiteside in the first half, did an excellent job turning misses for second-chance points. Outside of the paint, Little connected on both of his three-point attempts.
The Blazers return to action to face the Bucks on Thursday.