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NBA Preview: Pelicans travel to Pacific Northwest to take on Trail Blazers, likely without Anthony Davis

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New Orleans tries to avoid a schedule loss without their best player in Portland.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Every so often, you’ll look at your favorite NBA team’s schedule and see a particular stretch of games where you tug on your collar and say, “oof, this might not go well.” We call games with this type of potential “schedule losses.”

For the Pelicans, this is about as unfavorable a set of circumstances as they’ll face all season long: coming off a devastating loss on the first night of a back-to-back to only have to play next in Portland, a place that has been a house of horrors for New Orleans in the past — and this time figures to be no different against a pretty dang strong Trail Blazers team. Add all that on top of Anthony Davis most likely missing the game because of a groin injury he suffered last night in Utah and Saturday’s game couldn’t be slanted any further in Portland’s favor.

Offensively, the Blazers are interesting. Portland is 23rd in the league in points per game and 28th in shooting, ahead of only the lowly Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls. The Blazers aren’t even a high volume three point shooting team, but when they do shoot them, they go down. Portland’s top-10 in three point percentage and third in free throw percentage.

What the Blazers may lack in points they compensate by holding their opponents down with them. Portland’s second to only Boston in defensive rating, and their 99 points allowed are the third lowest amount in the league. Go look on the NBA’s team stats page, you’ll find there’s not really a good way to attack that Portland defense: they’re top 10 in opposing second chance points, fast break points, points in the paint and three point percentage. Basically, Portland’s good at keeping you from scoring a basket in every conceivable way.

The Blazers are, of course, led by their dynamite backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The pair are combining for roughly 46 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. McCollum’s the better three point shooter, and so far he’s shooting a career best 47 percent from behind the line. Lillard, on the other hand, is shooting a career worst from three, at 32 percent, but is compensating with his best season from the free throw line, hitting on 92 percent of his attempts.

What to Watch For

  • Rebounding - Portland is one of the absolute best rebounding teams in the NBA. They are second in both total and defensive boards and eighth in offensive. If Anthony Davis is indeed out, does the onus lie on DeMarcus Cousins and Cousins alone to grab every loose ball or can someone like a Dante Cunningham step up?
  • Ball Movement - Interestingly enough, for all the things Portland does do well, they rank dead last in assists. The ball movement’s nonexistent beyond Lillard and McCollum. On the other hand, New Orleans is second in assists so that’s what I’m going to be looking for: Can New Orleans get enough people involved and continue making the smart, extra passes that lead to a lot of open shots?

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers

Where: Moda Center

When: December 2, 2017, 9:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, NSNW, WRNO 99.5 FM