The Portland Trail Blazers were unable to continue their modest winning streak on Tuesday night, losing to the host New Orleans Pelicans by a score of 111-97 to fall to just 2-12 away from home this season. Portland hung around thanks to a phenomenal effort from Damian Lillard—who led all scorers with 39 points on the night—but were unable to get enough help around him to overcome the pesky Pels.
New Orleans was led by Brandon Ingram, who ended up with a near triple-double of 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Second-year man Nickeil Walker-Alexander also provided a huge spark for the team off the bench, catching fire in the fourth quarter as part of a 27-point night.
For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, see our Instant Recap. Here were the key storylines from Tuesday’s action:
Lillard continued his torrid stretch from the team’s back-to-back wins, going 13-24 from the field, 6-11 from three, and 7-8 from the line, while notching seven assists in the process. Unfortunately for the letter ‘o’, the game was a familiar story in what has been a mostly unfamiliar season for him to this point. While he was great, his teammates weren’t able to help shoulder the scoring burden, outside of short spurts. The Pels were able to focus in on him defensively, limiting his effectiveness as the game wore on.
Dame carried Portland through a close first half with 22, but as his shots stopped falling in the third quarter, the Pelicans snatched at the opportunity to distance themselves. Norman Powell had his moments, but was never able to truly find a rhythm. Jusuf Nurkic got off to a terrific start in the game, but seemed to run out of steam and dealt with foul trouble in the second half. Neither player had a bad performance, but the team needed someone to take on a larger role, and nobody was able to answer that call.
Portland’s front court depth (and length) was tested against the Pelicans, and didn’t pass. Already thin up front to begin the season, Cody Zeller’s prolonged absence leaves the team with just one true center in Nurkic. Jonas Valanciunas, despite an uncharacteristically quiet night offensively, took advantage and absolutely dominated the glass with 16 rebounds. In fact, the Pelicans won the rebound battle 44-31, as Larry Nance Jr. was the only Blazer with more than five on the night.
In addition, Brandon Ingram took advantage of a size advantage on the wing, being guarded by either the much smaller Powell or much slower Robert Covington for much of the night. Ingram used his impressive combination of length, handle and quickness to give the Portland defenders fits. He was just 2-7 from distance, but did most of his damage either in the midrange on the pull-up, or by driving to the rim.
In the end, it was Alexander-Walker’s heroics that finally sunk the Blazers for good, scoring 18 in the fourth quarter alone. He entered the night shooting just 30% from beyond the arc, but took advantage of being provided too much space offensively to finish 6-9 from downtown. He teamed with Willy Hernangomez (13 points, six rebounds) to form a potent inside-outside combo off of the Pelicans bench, which outscored their Portland counterparts 40-15.
The Blazer subs struggled mightily to generate any offense, in particular Anfernee Simons. Ant was just 1-9 in 31 minutes of action. Robert Covington and Ben McLemore combined to go just 3-12 from three. Trendon Watford was the only other reserve to see time, logging four minutes. With Alexander-Walker and Hernangomez’s production, Portland needed much more out of their second-unit to help stem the tide.
The Blazers’ Thursday home game against the Brooklyn Nets has been postponed. The Blazers now have an unexpected five-day Christmas break, and will pick up on Monday, December 27th at home against the Mavericks.