As the Portland Trail Blazers face the New Orleans Pelicans tonight, they will look to pick up the pieces of their dignity that shattered when they blew a lead (and eventually lost) to the worst team in the NBA on Thursday. The good news? Every game is a fresh start. The bad news? The Blazers have a ton of injuries and the Pelicans have been playing well.
Though New Orleans dropped their last game against the Lakers last night, they were on a four-game tear before that which included wins against the Rockets (a not bad team) and the Clippers (a legit good team that’s been playing better than their record). New Orleans is almost entirely healthy, and Zion Williamson has looked about as effective as he ever has, averaging 26-6-6 with a steal on the season.
For the Blazers, their injury list is longer than the beak of a swordbilled hummingbird, and while half of their eight players on the injury report are “just” questionable, it’s totally possible that none of them will play. If that were to happen, they would be missing Anfernee Simons, Malcolm Brogdon, and Deandre Ayton... and Portland would have to hope for another near-50-point game from Jerami Grant to have a fair shot at winning.
Portland Trail Blazers (15-36) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (30-22) - Sat. Feb. 10 - 7:00pm Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Scoot Henderson, Duop Reath, Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon (questionable); Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Robert Williams III, Moses Brown (out)
Pelicans injuries: Naji Marshall (out).
About the Opponent
The Pelicans (30-21) have won four games in a row. They are in sixth place in the crowded Western Conference. They must finish sixth or higher to avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament, which coach Willie Green’s team advanced out of two years ago but was eliminated in last year... While the Pelicans have a surplus of first-round picks, they do not own a second-round pick until 2030. League sources suggested to The Times-Picayune that the Pelicans could have used Marshall to replenish their stockpile of second-round picks, but that didn’t happen.
Ben Pfeifer of The Bird Writes breaks down - with video - how Zion Williamson’s playmaking has been the engine behind the Pelicans’ offense:
Williamson’s scoring gravity opens up enormous windows for him to pass through, as it always has. Defenses must load up on Zion’s drives as he’s nearly impossible to stop one-on-one consistently for all but the most elite defenders. Williamson slices up defenses from all over the court — he’s deadly kicking to shooters and laying down to cutters on his drives and throwing skip passes to the opposite side from the post. He’s especially deadly in transition where defenses wall up to stop him... While Williamson thrives as an on-ball playmaker, he’s functioned smoothly as an off-ball passer working within the flow of New Orleans’ offense. The processing speed is snappy. When Zion dives to the rim as a cutter, defenses slide to slow him down. He’s been quick to get the ball out of his hands, making extra passes to shooters on the wing for open shots.
Marc J. Spears of Andscape writes about how Pelicans guard Brandon Ingram has taken a more visible leadership role since New Orleans stumble din the NBA In-Season Tournament:
“What bothered me the most was just seeing the difference in how much guys locked in for the Lakers,” Ingram told Andscape. “You could tell the difference between regular season and them actually wanting to go after something. More than bothering me, it motivated me to be ready for whatever was coming. “From that moment on, we just tried to work on our game execution, work on bigger stuff, see the game a little bit differently. That’s how you got to attack different teams. I took more stuff away from it. It bothered me when we walked out of the gym. I was just thinking, ‘Man, we lost by 40 points.’ That was on my mind. I couldn’t do nothing but think about it and rewatch it to see what happened. But we knew we had to respond.”