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Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Preview

The Blazers get their first look at Zion Williamson as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) at New Orleans Pelicans (22-31)

Tuesday, February 11 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Nassir Little (out), Mario Hezonja (out), Anfernee Simons (probable)
Pelicans injuries: Darius Miller (out), Kenrich Williams (out), Zion Williamson (probable), Brandon Ingram (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Trail Blazers head out for a short two-game road trip before the All-Star break. Both games are important for the playoff run as Portland plays one of the teams right behind them in the standings (the New Orleans Pelicans) on Tuesday before facing the team right ahead of them (the Memphis Grizzlies) on Wednesday. The Blazers have won seven of their last ten, but haven’t had as much success on the road in that stretch (one win, two losses).

The Pelicans have won five of their last seven games. They have already defeated Portland twice this season, and that was before number one overall pick Zion Williamson returned from a preseason injury. If the Pelicans are looking to make a playoff push (and they are), they’ll want to win at least one of their two remaining games against Portland to ensure they have the tiebreaker.

What to watch for

  • Zion Williamson. Zion Williamson is one of the most hyped rookies to enter the league in a long time. After missing the first half of the season with a meniscus tear, Williamson made his NBA debut on January 22. In his first eight games the Duke star has not disappointed, averaging 19.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting and pulling down 7.8 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Williamson missed the Pelicans’ previous game with an ankle sprain, but he’s expected to be back on the court on Tuesday.
  • Jrue Holiday trying to slow down Lillard. You may have heard about the insane scoring streak Damian Lillard has been on. In his last ten games he’s averaging 41.5 points and 9.4 assists while connecting on 51.5 percent of his threes. Jrue Holiday will be the next defender tasked with slowing down the hottest player in the NBA. Holiday has defended Lillard well in the past. In December, New Orleans held Lillard to 18 points on 6 of 21 shooting (don’t expect Dame to go 0-10 from three again though). Holiday can also contribute offensively: he led the Pelicans in scoring in each of their matchups with Portland this season.
  • A high-scoring game. Portland and New Orleans are both top ten scoring teams with 113.5 and 115.3 points per game, respectively, on the season. They shoot threes equally well, and when I say equally I mean it literally as both teams connect on 37.2 percent of their threes (tied for the fourth best mark in the NBA). Another thing these offenses have in common is that they’ve both been on a tear. Over the last 10 games the Blazers lead the league in scoring with 122.2 points per game; the Pelicans are third with 120.2. Portland lost 102-94 the last time these teams faced each other. I would expect the winning team to score more than 102 this time.

What they’re saying

Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes explains why Tuesday’s matchup is important for the Pelicans:

Nabbing just one more victory in the two remaining matchups would give New Orleans an important tiebreaker, but considering the wide chasm between the Pels and the eighth seed today, one hopes that Jrue Holiday and the rest of the crew find a way to win both contests. Either way, first things first. If they want to open the door to the 2020 playoffs a hair wider, the New Orleans Pelicans need to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday

Jasmyn Wimbish of CBS Sports discussed Jrue Holiday’s commitment to his team:

The Pelicans’ recent turnaround might have something to do with Holiday’s reported happiness in New Orleans, but he’s also genuinely enjoyed building chemistry with this new cast of teammates. After shootaround in Chicago, when most of the Pelicans players were packing up to get back on the bus before their game against the Bulls, Holiday was playing one-on-one with Jahlil Okafor and Jaxson Hayes. Some veterans might want to get iced down after shootaround and decompress, but Holiday stayed on the court with Hayes and Okafor for nearly 20 extra minutes.

Christian Clark of recorded Pelican’s coach Alvin Gentry’s answer to how his team held Lillard to zero threes (Lillard’s only game without a three this season):

“I won’t even address that,” Gentry said. “You trying to set us up for him to get 100? I won’t even address that. I don’t think he has bad games anyway. He may shoot the ball badly, but I think his presence on the court, it’s a situation where he gives his team confidence anyway. He did not have a bad game. We’re not going to go there.”