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NBA Preview: Pelicans must contend with a hot Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers squad

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Sitting 3.5 games behind Portland, New Orleans faces must win against a division rival.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the New Orleans Pelicans stepped onto the court, they posted an interesting win over the Charlotte Hornets. DeMarcus Cousins was benched for most of the fourth quarter and all of overtime, yet Anthony Davis was able to lead the team to a narrow victory with 46 points and 21 rebounds.

On Tuesday evening, the Pelicans will square off against the Portland Trail Blazers at Smoothie King Center. The Blazers were on a four-game winning streak before losing to the Washington Wizards by a point on Saturday. Safe to say the Blazers are rolling right now after having won five of six games this month.

Portland has managed to score 110 points or more in their last five games, and they are finding quality production from role players. For example, in their 114-108 over the 76ers, Jusuf Nurkic dropped an incredible line of 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, and six blocks. Not to mention, Allen Crabbe’s team-high 23 points were solid gold as the Blazers defeated the Thunder 126-121 just under a week ago. Portland’s offense has found its stride, and it is not just coming from the deadly backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

The Pelicans would love to follow suit and see offensive production from other than their two superstars, Davis and Cousins. They caught a glimpse of this from two wings in their win over Charlotte.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After signing him to a 10-day contract, Jordan Crawford has really impressed for the Pelicans. In his three outings, he has averaged 16.0 points, 4.0 assists, and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc. His performance against Charlotte was crucial, as he dropped 19 points and shot 5-for-7 from three-point land. Crawford’s 10-day contract expires soon, so if the Pelicans know what’s good for them they’ll re-sign him in a few days.

Another face who sparkled against Charlotte was Solomon Hill, the third year small forward out of Arizona who has disappointed this season. Hill scored 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting on Saturday. Although he’s been flat for most of the season, maybe this latest performance can spark a run of greater consistency.

The last time these two teams met, the Trailblazers beat the Pelicans 119-104 in Portland. Davis led the game in scoring with 31, but Lillard and McCollum combined for a more potent 51 points. Both teams shot similar shooting percentages, at 47 percent, but the Pelicans shot an unbelievable 56.5 percent from beyond the arc, while Portland shot just 37.5 percent.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The big story in that game back in November was the rebounding. The Pelicans were out rebounded by 15, 61 to 46 in Portland’s favor. Mason Plumlee, who is no longer with the team, was the leading rebounder with 14, while his other teammates contributed on the glass when he could not: Maurice Harkless had 11, Meyers Leonard had nine, and the gritty Ed Davis had six.

Things have changed since their last meeting. The Pelicans have acquired an All-Star center in DeMarcus Cousins, and the Trail Blazers traded for Jusuf Nurkic. Moreover, Ed Davis is out for the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. So, the rebounding situation will be a lot different in this matchup. It will be Nurkic and friends trying to take down Fire and Ice on the glass and down low. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis could very well take over this game and absolutely dominate Portland’s young bigs down low.

While Davis and Cousins will be doing work down low, Jrue Holiday and company will have to take care of one of the deadliest backcourts in the NBA. Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and 5.9 assists per game, while McCollum is averaging 23.5 points and 3.6 assists per game. An athletic duo that essentially has every move and shot in the book. The defensive minded Holiday will have his hands full covering Lillard and instructing the other Pelican guards to cover McCollum as well.

With New Orleans teetering on the edge of the playoff race, the Pelicans need to come up with the win on Tuesday evening against the Blazers.

Geaux Pelicans!

What: Pelicans vs Trail Blazers

Where: Smoothie King Center — New Orleans, LA

When: March 14, 2017 at 7:00 PM Central

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, CSNW, 99.5 FM WRNO