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Can Damian Lillard and the Rest of the Blazers be Curtailed?

In 2013-14, Portland cut through the New Orleans defense like a hot knife through butter.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The Pelicans only managed one win in four tries against the Blazers, but they were competitive in all the games last season as evidenced by a loss differential of less than 6 points. So why couldn't they get over the hump more than once?

Mama, there goes that man!

The problem was the Blazers offense. When the Pelicans needed a stop or two, they couldn't get it. One need to look no further than their Offensive Rating average of 113.5 against us. For reference, the Blazers had a 108.3 Off Rtg on the season and the Clippers led the league last year with a mark of 109.4.

The key difference maker was Damian Lillard. In those 4 games, he averaged 26.3 points, 5.0 assists 3.5 rebounds and 3 three pointers against the Pelicans. In addition, he shot over 50% from the floor and barely turned the ball over. Not once, but twice Lillard was responsible for dashing New Orleans hopes in walking away with a win.

Are the Blazers a Top 4 team in the West?

Going into Monday, the Blazers are 7-3. Last season, they didn't lose their 4th game until December 7, 2013. That's right, they posted a record of 17-3 in their first 20 games.

Although they appear to be on a similar pace, I'm not certain they have proven themselves as worthy yet. They have lost to the Kings, Warriors and Clippers. They beat the Mavericks convincingly, but all their other wins could be considered questionable: two wins over the lowly Nuggets, the Nets who finished up a Western Conference road trip at the Moda Center, a two point escape at home against the Hornets, a Cavaliers team before they were firing on all cylinders and a Thunder team without Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow.

3 Keys to Victory

  1. The Three Point Line. Last season, Portland averaged 9.2 made three's a game, just .3 behind league-leading Atlanta. This season, they've increased that mark to 10.8, currently 2nd in the NBA. On the other side of the floor, the Blazers only allowed 6.7 makes in 2013-14 (3rd) and this year it's down to 5.2 (1st). Conversely, the Pelicans allowed too many of them last season and didn't attempt nearly enough on offense. Interestingly, this script has flipped for the Pelicans in the early goings so it'll be very interesting to see if New Orleans can significantly reduce Portland's advantage from the perimeter.
  2. Get to the Free Throw Line. Portland was stingy in allowing opponents charity stripe opportunities in 2013-14, but this season, they've been a lot more lax. Considering the Pelicans have not been getting to the line with the same propensity as a year ago, it would go a long way if they can manage to turn it around for this game.
  3. Starters Must Set the Tone. According to Hoopsstats, the Blazers had a top-3 starting lineup last season, meanwhile the Pelicans were 22nd. Thus far, that discrepancy has vanished in 2014 as the Pelicans are 3rd and the Blazers are 5th. Considering Nicolas Batum is currently listed as doubtful, having missed 3 games due to a knee contusion, and LaMarcus Aldridge could be possibly remain weakened from an upper respiratory illness that sidelined him against the Nets, New Orleans could have an advantage before the ball is even tipped.

Hopefully, this season we'll see an increase in euphoria levels post games against the Blazers. It was a rare sight in 2013-14, but at least we'll always remember Tyreke Evans game winner.

Please don't forget to stop by our good friends at Blazer's Edge. They have an enviable fan base that can be second to none when measuring the support of their franchise.