Similar to much of last season, the New Orleans Pelicans are back to largely alternating wins with losses; however, that represents a step forward for this year's bunch. They have gone 4-4 in their last 8 games, but that record could have looked much better had the team figured out a way to finish stronger on their last road trip, both against the Bulls and tonight's opponent, the Trail Blazers.
Portland has really fallen on hard times, losers of five of their last six. Of course, that lone win came against the Pelicans, but this time around, the game will be played away from the boisterous Moda Center. New Orleans has gone 4-2 in their last six game inside the Smoothie King Center.
For the first time in 276 games, Damian Lillard missed his team's last contest against the Atlanta Hawks. He was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, and his backcourt running mate, C.J. McCollum, was sidelined with a pair of bad ankles. Undoubtedly, Portland was without their bite, and it may happen again Wednesday night.
Lillard has been a big thorn in the side of the Pelicans over the course of his young career. In 12 games, he has averaged 22 points, 3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. If McCollum sits, the Blazers will be without 44.7 points of their average of 101.4 per game.
Against the Hawks on Monday, Allen Crabbe led the way with 19 points, but four other teammates ended up in double figures. If the Pelicans don't come to play, as seen in the recent losses to the Suns and Celtics, this no-name bunch from Portland could score an upset victory.
3 keys to victory
- Rebound. In their wins, the Pelicans have cleaned up on the defensive boards. Their 80.2% defensive rebound percentage in wins is second only to the Spurs. For most teams, it's important to collect a majority of the rebounds, but it's especially vital for the Pelicans. Even in triumph, their defense is abysmal as evidenced by a 107.9 DRtg (leads league by a fair margin) so limiting opponents to one shot is a must.
- Get to the free throw line. The Blazers are a foul-happy crew, leading the NBA in personal fouls drawn. They allow opponents an average of 26.7 FTA a game, another league-worst. The Pelicans had 27 attempts last week in Portland, but only 18 in their first matchup of 2015. New Orleans should strive for 30 FTA. In their wins, they average 28.1 (5th), but only 21.5 in their losses (17th).
- Bring energy. It's embarrassing to ask for something this simple, but it's inexplicably true. Until the lapses become a distant memory, the Pelicans effort levels need to be scrutinized on a game-by-game basis. Step on the gas early and a Trail Blazer team missing one, maybe two, of their key contributors wilts and decides to pack it in early. Would be nice to see this happen to an opponent for a change.