After a ghastly performance on opening night New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis looks to get back on track against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Pelicans are expected to welcome back Jrue Holiday into the lineup. Holiday sat out last night due to his recovery plan returning from a nagging stress fracture. The addition of a superb creator should do wonders to light a fire under the Unibrow.
Their opponent is nothing like the Trail Blazers you remember from the past two seasons. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez all departed in free agency. Instead Damian Lillard breaks in a new, much younger rotation. CJ McCollum, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Mason Plumlee, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, and Noah Vonleh are figure to get minutes.
There's some flexibility for head coach Terry Stotts to get weird. Does he go big with Aminu at small forward in the starting lineup or look to create as much space as possible with Meyers Leonard (a 3-point ace last season shooting 42%) at the five? How does he divvy up minutes among five rotation bigs in Aminu, Leonard, Plumlee, Davis, and Vonleh? This roster appears to be build to play big, which should be helpful to get Anthony Davis going.
For the Pelicans, the injury bug could not be avoided even last night. A nasty collision gave Andrew Bogut a cut above his eye and Dante Cunningham a trip to the team doctor for a concussion evaluation. It was really too bad as Cunningham had knocked down both of his corner 3-point attempts. He looked confident and decisive lining up both shots.
Dante Cunningham is being evaluated in the @PelicansNBA locker room with a concussion.— Daniel Sallerson (@dsallerson) October 28, 2015
Thankfully the Pelicans got just a little good news on that front according to head coach Alvin Gentry.
Alvin Gentry said #Pelicans F Dante Cunningham is fine. The forward had been evaluated for a concussion in 2nd half— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) October 28, 2015
The Pelicans should start Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, and Kendrick Perkins tonight. Portland will counter with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and two question marks. Do they go big with Aminu at the three (Mason Plumlee starts at center) or small with him at the four and Harkless at the three? I have no idea.
Keys to the Game
Keep Feeding the Brow: If the Pelicans are going to win games it is going to be with a healthy dose of Anthony Davis. Last night the Warriors tilted their entire defense toward AD daring anyone else on the roster to beat them. While many players performed admirably it was Davis who was off. He forced shots quite a bit and was willing to take jump shots off the dribble. Tonight, with Jrue Holiday at the controls, expect Davis to get involved in different ways without requiring him to create his own offense nearly as frequently.
Control the Glass: Portland features a young roster chock-full of long, bouncy big men who are going to crash the glass. A fast break starts with a turnover (less often) or a defensive rebound. Last night the Pelicans collected just 54% of available defensive rebounds. That is never, ever going to cut it in the NBA. To win tonight every Pelican on the floor must contribute to ending Portland possessions by securing those rebounds.
We miss you Omer Asik. Get well soon.
Attack the Basket: Those young, bouncy big men also present an opportunity for the Pelicans to get to the free throw line often. It struck me that as the Pelican offense ground to a halt in the second quarter that three consecutive possessions ended with free throws. Those cold streaks used to kill the Pelicans because getting to the foul line was a pretty rare occurrence. Both Holiday and Eric Gordon got to the line with some frequency during the preseason. Carrying that over to the regular season will keep the offense afloat.
Survive when Jrue Holiday Sits: Damian Lillard, like Jrue Holiday, did not play last night. However, unlike Holiday he is not on a minutes restriction whatsoever. The Trail Blazers have Thursday night off and the Moda Center (it will always be the Rose Garden to me) is going to be electric on their own opening night. With Lillard on tap for 36 minutes or more New Orleans is going to have to do a much better job corralling him than they did Stephen Curry on Tuesday for the 16+ minutes Holiday is not out there to get it done.
What: Pelicans vs Trail Blazers
Where: The Moda Center
When: October 28th, 9:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass