Just one month ago the Pelicans are heading into the fourth quarter of their game with the Trailblazers up 80-64. Over the final 12 minutes of the game the Pelicans would get blitzkrieged 34-13 by Portland. Other notable numbers that played a role in New Orleans’ demise include Portland going on a devastating 18-4 run around the 10 minute; the Pelicans failing to record a single assist in the quarter, and Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans combining to shoot 0-12. All those factors added up to the Pelicans walking out of the Moda Center on the losing end of a 102-93 final score.
Since New Orleans gave the game away like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the team’s been fighting to stay above .500. Portland, meanwhile, took advantage of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s absence, and, at 21-6, built an eight game lead over the Thunder in the Northwest division.
The Blazers are a good offensive team but New Orleans is better. The two are top-10 in offensive rating (New Orleans is fifth and Portland is ninth), and both are top-12 in points scored (New Orleans is seventh and Portland 12th), but that’s where the similarities end.
Portland plays outside-in offensively; they take a shade over 25 three point shots a night, the fourth most in the league, and are a top-10 team in three point percentage shooting. However, due to the excessive shots from beyond the arc, Portland only shoots about 20 free throws a game, which is the second fewest amount in the game. It’s hardly a detriment to their offense though; when the Blazers do get to the charity stripe, they hit their shots.
As a team, their 77.5 percent free throw shooting is the ninth best percentage. And when you consider that Portland’s the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the league and are the seventh best team in terms of assists a game, their total offensive package is a scary one.
No Rest Needed for the Weary
Because sports are weird and often never make a lick of sense, I’d like to present this little tidbit of information concerning New Orleans’ opponent: with zero days rest, the Trailblazers shooting percentages are actually higher than their season average. The Blazers are slightly better from the floor (45.9 percent to 45.2), marginally better from three (37.8 to 36.5) and significantly better at the free throw line (81.1 to 78.2) the second night of a back-to-back. They even beat their scoring average with no time off (107.4 to 103.3). Also, the Blazers are better offensively away from the Moda Center than inside of it.
So in the event that you feel sad by the final score, remember that the Trailblazers are apparently cyborgs who need neither rest nor the friendly confines of their home arena to win games. And that makes absolutely no sense.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Endure the Offensive Storm. Portland’s a terrific offensive team, regardless of venue or how much rest they had going into the game. They’re going to score a lot of points. New Orleans is going to have to keep up with the Blazers. They certainly can’t afford to repeat their poor offensive play in the fourth quarter (a collective 4-24) the first time these teams played. Portland’s 21-6 for a reason; they don't need any help winning games.
2. Maintain the High Production from the Bench. The Pelican bench has been playing well in the past couple of games and that streak is going to have to continue for them to win, especially if Tyreke Evans misses a second consecutive game. The Pelican bench scored a collective 18 points in Portland and 12 were courtesy of Ryan Anderson.
It’s worth noting that Dante Cunningham had not yet been signed by New Orleans when the two teams played in November, and he’s seemingly been the reason behind the rejuvenation of New Orleans’ bench play. Hopefully his energy makes a difference. Oh, and if he wants to score 15 again like the Houston game, that’d be pretty wizard.
3. Finish. New Orleans flat out blew the first matchup. They were up 16 going into the last quarter and then soiled it like SpongeBob soiled the Krusty Krab’s good name. And that’s okay because that was, hell they still are, a young team learning how to win in the NBA.
One month later, let’s see if this young team has learned anything from their experience. Let’s see them finish like they did against Cleveland and Houston. Let’s see them do what they failed to do against Dallas and Golden State. Take whatever was learned from those losses, apply them tonight and finish like the young, up-and-coming, soon-to-be reckoned with team that we are all now expecting.