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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Preview

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Five in a row would look pretty nice. Only the struggling Pelicans stand in the way.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (14-16) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (7-23)

December 23, 2019 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Carmelo Anthony (questionable), Mario Hezonja (day-to-day)
Pelicans injuries: Zion Williamson (out), Darius Miller (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves riding a four-game win streak with every chance at winning a fifth when they face the hapless New Orleans Pelicans. The playoffs seemed a long-shot at the beginning of the month. Now, the Blazers find themselves in the last playoff spot. Portland’s schedule has been favorable lately, but they’ve taken advantage of it and have put themselves in position to turn the season around. There are many tough games ahead, but this isn’t one of them. The Blazers should expect nothing less than a solid victory against the Pelicans.

The New Orleans Pelicans started the season expecting to be a solid playoff team, but they have been nothing short of miserable. They have lost a staggering 14 out of their last 15 games, and there isn’t much optimism in the Big Easy that things are going to get better any time soon. The only real suspense around this team right now is how long the coach will last and who will be left on the roster after the trade deadline.

What to watch for

  • Protecting the three-point line. One of the few bright spots for the Pelicans has been their shooting from deep. Fifth in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in makes, the Pelicans are likely to test their luck early and often from beyond the arc. The Blazers are statistically middle-of-the-road in terms of allowing three-point attempts and in opponent three-point percentage. However, Portland has often failed the eye test. Too many opponents have been allowed wide-open looks from downtown. If the Pelicans are going to have a chance, three-pointers are likely to play a large role.
  • Lots of shots. Only the Washington Wizards attempt more shots per game than the Pelicans and the Blazers. Neither team facing off on Monday is particularly good at making their shots, with Portland 18th and New Orleans 22nd in field goal percentage. Expect to see shots fly and rebounders getting a workout.
  • Kent Bazemore. Bazemore has been disappointing to many Blazers fans since coming to Portland, but there may be signs that he has turned the corner. After shooting 31.4% from the field in November, he is shooting 42.2% in December and that figure is trending higher. Over his last two games he shot 50% from deep and 55% from the field. Another strong performance from Bazemore would go a long way toward a Blazers victory over the Pelicans.

What they’re saying

The Pelicans need fixing, and firing Alvin Gentry is a “logical place to start” according to Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate:

Gentry is a specialist at allowing smart players to flourish, unleashing their creativity and vision to create in an unburdened environment. His style blended perfectly with the 2017-18 team, creating a memorable late-season run and an impressive first-round playoff sweep.

But this team no longer calls for someone with that skill set. It calls for a coach eager to hand-hold young players like Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. It requires someone who demands more structure and emphasizes developmental habits, even if it cuts down on some player freedoms.

Chris Conner13 of The Bird Writes agrees:

When things have been at their worst and we’ve been forced to view Gentry’s living hell smeared all over his demeanor, Alvin’s never elected to enter a witness protection program. He’s kept it real with the media in ways most head coaches won’t while balancing protection of his players. If anything, this Pelicans locker room knows Alvin is riding with them since here refuses to throw anyone under the bus, choosing to suffer all the heat individually.

But unfortunately no matter how brave or supporting Gentry has been, we’ve finally reached time for a change that some will tell you is long overdue. And as battered as Gentry has appeared nightly due to various levels of stress and frustration, even he may secretly agree.

The present is terrible, but the Pelicans have two stars to rebuild around for the future writes Christopher Dodson of Forbes:

The two most obvious contract decisions concern Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Barring any further injury concerns for either, both should receive maximum level contracts as restricted free agents. Ingram will get that second payday next season. Williamson will wait a few years. In that window, New Orleans has a chance to build their first real title competitor.

Looking for the view from a Pelican fan’s perspective? Tara of the Blazer’s Edge Podcast welcomed Dillon Sage of the Holy Backboard podcast to speak about the Pelicans and preview the matchup: