The Portland Trail Blazers edged out an uncomfortable win against an undermanned New Orleans Pelicans team tonight as Damian Lillard moved into second place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday sat for New Orleans. Julius Randle tried to compensate by scoring a career-high 45 points, but contributions across the board for Portland helped them close out a much-needed victory.
The game played like a ping pong match, back and forth. The Blazers struggled with turnovers and couldn’t stop Randle, while the Pelicans failed to recover defensively and left capable scorers open in favorable positions. No team earned a lead greater than eight until the late in the fourth quarter when Portland stretched for the finish line.
The Blazers collected the win they needed on the first night of a back-to-back, but the Pelicans without Davis and Holiday should have provided Portland’s starters with extra rest in the fourth quarter. Instead, they remained on the court to finish the game (except Jusuf Nurkic, who saved 2:33 of energy when he fouled out).
Damian Lillard Moves Up the Franchise Rankings
Lillard barely failed to pass LaMarcus Aldridge for second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list on Tuesday versus the Los Angeles Clippers. He took his time scoring the three points needed to pass his former teammate tonight; the three-pointer that moved him in front of Aldridge came with 3:55 left in the first half.
The franchise scoring list likely didn’t alter Lillard’s offensive flow, but he appeared eager to pass early on. On one first-quarter play, he received the ball with enough space to shoot it, but made the extra pass to Rodney Hood for an even more open three. Hood sank the triple. Five of Lillard’s seven assists came in the first quarter. He would attempt only five shots in the entire first half.
In the first few minutes of the third quarter, Lillard hoisted five shots to kick-start a semi-dormant Blazers offense. He finished the game with 24 points on 8-18 shooting.
Zach Collins Benefits from Moe Harkless’ Absence
Moe Harkless sat the first of a back-to-back for Portland as a precaution, which opened 20 or so minutes for other players to capitalize on. Zach Collins earned the available minutes by defending Randle better than his teammates did. The Pelicans big man scored 21 points in the first quarter, leading his team to 37, but Collins kept him from barreling into the paint better than other Portland defenders. Randle failed to score in the second and New Orleans only recorded 20 points in that quarter.
Collins also showed the offensive flair he exhibited in the first few games of the season. In the post, he channeled Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake” in reverse for an easy layup, then made a one-footed fade away in Dirk Nowitzki fashion not long after. The young center also showed strength, collecting his own miss in the second quarter and finishing a two-handed dunk over smaller Pelicans defenders.
Enes Kanter versus Zach Collins
Enes Kanter shared the court with Collins and the tandem performed well together. Kanter gathered four offensive rebounds and capitalized on the extra opportunities by getting to the line. He finished the game with 17 points, eight rebounds and only one missed shot.
Terry Stotts had a decision to make when Nurkic fouled out in the fourth quarter. Normally Kanter sacrifices defense while Collins sacrifices offense. Against New Orleans, however, Collins displayed the ability to score and maintain his defense. Accordingly, Stotts subbed in Collins for Nurkic throughout the second half.
Defending Julius Randle
Randle plays his best and most aggressive basketball against the Trail Blazers, so it’s only right that he recorded a career-high tonight. He scored 45 points on 20-34 shooting with two triples. Somehow he managed all that while missing eight free throws.
Nearly half of Randle’s 45 points came in the first quarter, when Al-Farouq Aminu struggled to defend him. Aminu sagged off enough to allow Randle good looks from distance. Randle also had room to gain speed before reaching any defenders. A burlier Nurkic can play this way - and he did - but Aminu floundered.
Nurkic encountered foul trouble when playing Aminu’s style of defense, leaving Collins to guard the hard-charging Randle. Collins’ speed and vertical shot contests bothered Randle. Zach finished the game with four blocks; additionally, Randle turned the ball over seven times.
The Trail Blazers face the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow night at 5:30, Pacific.