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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Preview

Zion and the Pelicans come to town to take on the Lillard-less Blazers.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (25-31) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (23-32)

February 21, 2020 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Damian Lillard (out), Mario Hezonja (out)
Pelicans injuries: Darius Miller (out), Kenrich Williams (out)
How to watch on TV: ESPN, NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The All-Star break may be over, but injury concerns remain for the Portland Trail Blazers. Chief among them is Damian Lillard of course, who will miss the game with a groin injury. With Lillard expected to be unavailable at least three to four games, the Blazers will need to pick up some wins without him if they want to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs.

The New Orleans Pelicans have had their own injury issues this season of course, but Zion Williamson is now playing and optimism for the future is soaring. The Pelicans are a young team with loads of potential, and oh by the way, are capable of pretty good basketball right now. Five games behind Memphis in the win column for the last playoff spot in the West might be too much to overcome, but this season is bound to be a springboard to the future for the talented Pelicans regardless.

What to watch for

  • Can the Blazers slow down Zion? Zion Williamson has played in ten NBA games, and he’s already averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds. When the Blazers faced the Pelicans on February 11, Zion went for 31 points and 9 boards. Early days, but he looks like he will be a major thorn in the side of the Blazers for years to come. Portland would like to limit his impact to below his season averages, but don’t bet on it.
  • Big night from CJ. With no Damian Lillard on the court, eyes will naturally fall on CJ McCollum to see if he can shoulder an increased share of the scoring and playmaking. That won’t be easy. He’s already averaging 21.3 points per game and is playing 35.7 minutes each night. Fair or not, fans will be looking to CJ for more scoring. Somehow the Blazers need to find other sources for Lillard’s 29.5 points. If CJ can account for a third of them and drop 30 on New Orleans, that could go a long way for Portland.
  • Some threes, please. The last two times these two teams faced off the Blazers shot 13.8% and 24.1% from deep. Eeek. Sub-25% shooting from beyond the arc won’t get it done for Portland. On the other hand, the Blazers shot a blistering 55.2% from three in the first meeting between these two teams this season and still lost. Nevertheless, let’s go out on a limb and say that it would be helpful for the Blazers to shoot the triple well.

What they’re saying

Fletcher Mackel of WDSU says that the Pelicans will fall short of the playoffs this year:

During our WDSU preseason Pelicans special (before we learned about Zion’s knee injury), I picked New Orleans to make the playoffs. But, losing Zion for 44 games and digging themselves into a 6-22 hole to start the season, it’s too much to overcome. As ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler said last week, “New Orleans is probably the best team between 8 and 13, but they’re just gonna run out of time.”

Playoffs or not, Aaron Kellerstrass of Pelican Debrief sees good things in New Orleans’ future:

It would be easy to look at the Pelicans’ roster and record and think that they are underachieving. They are nine games under .500, out of the playoffs and had a historically bad start to the season. But with both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram missing significant time with injuries, it’s impossible to grade the Pelican’s team success thus far. Since Zion’s return the Pelicans have been a different team, and with Ingram returning after the All-Star break, the Pelicans have an outside chance at the eight seed in the competitive Western Conference. Not bad for a team being led by a bunch of players under 25.

You might think that everything is fine in New Orleans with all of the excitement surrounding Zion. You would be wrong according to prestonellis of The Bird Writes:

And yet, the anticipation of Zion’s potential effect in New Orleans is still leading to sweeping changes to Pelicans’ season ticket holders, creating an adverse reaction. In some instances, benefits are being stripped. In others, escalating prices are forcing holders out of their seats.