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Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The Blazers are reaching their last gasps. Can they revive a dying season against CJ McCollum and the Pelicans?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (31-36) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (32-35)

Two nights ago, the Portland Trail Blazers played one of their best games of the 2022-23 season. They sprinted ahead to a 20-point lead against the contending Philadelphia 76ers. Starters Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons were back in the mix and rolling. The 3-point weapon was doing damage.

Then the 76ers stormed back in time for MVP candidate Joel Embiid to bury a well-defended fadeaway jumper to win the game with 1.1 remaining. And so it goes, at least in Portland this season.

With that heartbreaker in the rearview mirror, the Blazers have a critical shot at rebounding on the road this afternoon. Old friend CJ McCollum and the New Orleans Pelicans are the challenge, sitting in the 11th spot of the crowded Western Conference, just one game ahead of the 13th seed Blazers.

New Orleans is 2-3 in March, but one of those wins is a 121-110 victory over Portland on March 1. The Pelicans are playing the second game of a back-to-back, falling 110-96 to the Thunder last night.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans - Sunday, March 12 - 6:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), John Butler Jr. (out), Ryan Arcidiacono (questionable), Damian Lillard (probable)

Pelicans injuries: Zion Williamson (out), Jose Alvarado (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), E.J. Liddell (out), Brandon Ingram (day-to-day)

SBN Affiliate: The Bird Writes

The Matchup

Nurkic vs. Valanciunas. In his second game back from injury after an extended time off, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic settled back into rhythm against the 76ers. He was dialed in, affecting the game with his size and motor, while doing an admirable job against Embiid. Today, the challenge is less daunting and New Orleans’ inside game is mooted a little without Zion Williamson, but he will still go up against hulking 6-foot-11 center Jonas Valanciunas. Nurkic tends to do well against lumbering, old-school centers, so this is a matchup where he can be effective again, whether it’s defending or finishing. His presence in the paint and setting screens on the perimeter could swing this game for the Blazers.

Tightening up in transition. As Dave Deckard pointed out in his postgame analysis, Portland surrendered 25 points in transition against Philadelphia. Those are stats you look back on with regret in a one-point loss. New Orleans is 11th in the NBA in transition points (just one spot back of Philadelphia). If Portland doesn’t tighten up in transition and stay sharp, this game could teeter the Pelicans’ way.

A superb Simons. Part of the reason why Portland looked so good in Philadelphia was Anfernee Simons. He returned from injury and was cooking, going 13-22 (8-12 from 3) for a team-high 34 points. With Williamson out and Brandon Ingram possibly out, too, New Orleans may not have the firepower to match a healthy Blazers squad, especially if Simons has it going again.

What Others Are Saying

Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes explains how New Orleans dropped a crucial game to the Thunder yesterday.

The vibes were not good out of the gates. The outlook only got bleaker as the minutes ticked by on the game clock during the first half.

The New Orleans Pelicans fell 110-96 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a matchup that wasn’t as competitive as it should have been from start to finish — given the playoff/play-in tournament implications. (The Pels entered one game up on the Thunder in the standings.)

The Pelicans had the darnedest time scoring, amassing a meager 44 points in the first half. The problems went far beyond the shooting, which included a pitiful 38.1 field goal percentage and a 26.7 3-point percentage, or a 12-7 disadvantage in the turnover category, though.

Placing New Orleans as an honorable mention on his Most Disappointing Teams list this season, Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report writes the injury bug is to blame.

Still, taking the optimist’s perspective, there was more good than bad from New Orleans this season. Though the final record won’t be as stellar as seemed possible when the team was riding high and healthy, we at least learned that the Pelicans have the talent, coaching and competitive demeanor to make noise going permitting.