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Pelicans vs. Blazers preview: Can the return of Jrue Holiday get the team back on track?

A stiff test faces the Pelicans point guard in his season debut.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue Holiday is back! Both Holiday and head coach Alvin Gentry addressed the media Thursday afternoon after practice. It does not appear that Gentry will heed our advice; he mentioned bringing Holiday off the bench with a minute cap near 30 minutes for an undetermined (but likely short) period of time. First up for Holiday? A match-up with the Portland Trail Blazers and star point guard Damian Lillard.

Gentry’s plan on easing Jrue Holiday into NBA speed has a couple drawbacks. Chief among them, that the team will now have to make two substantial adjustments. First, getting Holiday into the rotation at all and in this case off the bench. Second, when Holiday does move into the starting lineup a second adjustment will be necessary as role move around once again. Jamile made this point in our round table discussion on Holiday’s return and place in the rotation. Instead of ripping the band aid off Gentry and company are choosing to do this slowly and in a more complicated way.

What does this mean for tonight? Damian Lillard, angry after two poor games, will have Tim Frazier on the court to abuse to begin the contest. Not good. While the Blazers are 7-5 back-to-back blowout losses have plunged their net rating into the bottom third of the league. A calf injury to former Hornet Al-Farouq Aminu broke up their very successful starting lineup (sporting an impressive +15.3 net rating) and head coach Terry Stotts is still searching for answers.

Since the Blazers played Thursday night in Houston this will be the first game all season that New Orleans has a rest advantage. Both teams prefer to play uptempo so this should play into the Pelicans advantage. Circling back to the theme of Jrue Holiday’s place in the rotation the Blazers are extremely reliant on the scoring of Lillard and back court mate C.J. McCollum. Lillard (28.8 PPG) and McCollum (22.0) score nearly half of the Blazers total (107.2) on a night-to-night basis. Small forward Maurice Harkless (11.8) is the only other player averaging double figures.

Seems like a good opponent to start Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore side-by-side, you think?

What to watch for

Who finishes the game? - While Jrue Holiday is not expected to start given Gentry’s comments it feels safe to assume he’s going to finish the game. Who plays beside Holiday and Anthony Davis? If I had to guess both E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill (please not Dante Cunningham) are high on the list. Portland will probably try to force the small-ball issue. Does Gentry respond with Cunningham or Terrence Jones beside Anthony Davis? Or, does he (finally) try something different and go big (and defense) with Omer Asik?

Knocking off the rust - New Orleans is the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, converting a pathetic 29.1% of their 23.5 attempts per game. Jrue Holiday hasn’t played a real NBA game since last March. Will the shorts start falling for the team as a whole and can Holiday’s presence aid (or hurt) the conversion rate?

How healthy is Anthony Davis? - Davis was hobbling around for much of the game Monday against the Boston Celtics. He still logged 38:20 in the game despite obviously playing in pain. Both a right quad contusion and back spasms are ailing the Pelicans superstar. While he’s still capable offensively an injured Davis goes from occasionally effective defensive to unwilling or unable to help in most situations off the ball.

What: Pelicans vs. Blazers

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: 7:00 PM Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans or 99.5 WRNO FM