The writers at The Bird Writes all take a turn at predicting the winner of the first round playoff series between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers and the number of games that the series lasts as well as give explanations for their forecasts. Enjoy!
Jason Albert: New Orleans in 6
The Pelicans and Trail Blazers split the regular season series at two a piece, but with the emergence of beardless Nikola Mirotic and the revival of Playoff Rondo, I think New Orleans will be able to counter Portland’s barrage of scoring punches from their potent backcourt. Plus, Anthony Davis being guarded by anyone on the Trail Blazers roster is a massive mismatch in the Pelicans favor.
Kevin Barrios: New Orleans in 6 or Portland in 7
“Cop-Out Alert!!! Cop-Out Alert!!! Woo-Woo!!!”
I truly believe that if you simulated this series 100 times with the injuries turned off each team would win 50 of them. However, this is not how things work so I’ll give you a slightly less non-committal response — if the series is 6 games long, the Pelicans win. If it goes 7, the Blazers win. I feel like while both of these teams are very different they are quite evenly matched.
As David pointed out in a recent Bird Calls podcast, Portland doesn’t create turnovers, coming in at 29th in the league in tipped passes. With the re-emergence of Nikola Mirotic’s game, the Pelicans should be able to dictate tempo and to move the ball freely without much worry in the turnover department. In fact, over the last five games (using this as the sample as it better reflects the Pels since playing Mirotic at center) the Pelicans lead the Western Conference (just trailing the 76ers in the league overall) in TO/AST ratio, which should trend even more positively against a team that doesn’t look to play passing lanes. Conversely, Portland is 17th in TO/AST ratio in the last 15 games (they are 22nd in the last 5 if you are curious), which should open up some transition buckets for a Pelicans defense that has been very opportunistic as of late — a league leading 12.4 steals/game as well as a Western Conference leading 7.0 blocks/game over the last five contests.
However, where the Pelicans might have an issue is on the glass as the Trail Blazers are 4th-best in the league, including 4th on the offensive glass over the last 15 games — which can present a problem because Alvin Gentry has been trending towards much smaller lineups.
While each team has weaknesses the other will expose — Who guards AD? Who can step up to help Jrue defensively in the backcourt? — I believe the tie will be broken by Portland’s superstar being the type of player that can create for himself as the primary ball-handler, has more playoff experience and has home court advantage. That being said, that margin is razor thin and the Pelicans emerging victorious from the series would not surprise me at all.
Chris Conner: New Orleans in 6
We all know the Blazers don’t have an answer for AD offensively, but my belief in NOLA lies on the other side of the ball. I expect Dame Lillard to be the star that he is, but he can’t do it alone. And that’s where the problems will start for Portland. C.J. McCollum struggled against New Orleans this season. Portland has other pieces from Aminu to Napier to Nurkic, but McCollum is the clear number two option.
His 17.5 points per game average against the Pels is the fifth worst when stacked up against the rest of the NBA. His field goal percentage (35.1) against the Pels is also fifth worst among teams he’s faced this season. To me, that’s the key and I expect for C.J. to continue having a tough time against New Orleans defense.
Overall, I say the Pels steal a game or two in Portland and win in six.
Preston Ellis: New Orleans in 7
The matchup could not be more even, and each team has the opportunity to exploit each other in specific ways.
You’ve heard the popular takes: Pelicans need to push the pace, get out in transition, use fundamentals to take away Nurkic’s strengths, help defend on Dame/CJ, possibly hide Rajon Rondo on Evan Turner/Al Farouq Aminu. However, the Blazers can utilize their skills to attack what the Pelicans do well.
The Blazers are top ten in rebounding on both ends of the floor. These extra possessions are more than just an opportunity for points — They’re an opportunity to dictate pace. Should the Blazers be able to disrupt the Pelicans’ rhythm, they’ll be forced to play in half court sets, which will eliminate the 34 points the Pelicans scored in transition against the Spurs, and disrupt what has made them so exciting on that end.
In addition, the Blazers have one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Rondo played well in matchups against Danny Green, Andre Iguodala, and the Clippers’ rookies, but can he stay on the floor against Dame and CJ?
Ultimately, the Pelicans are not afraid of the big stage. Both teams played well on the road this season, but the Pelicans were obviously better at 24-17. The Pelicans WILL steal one at the Moda Center, where the Blazers went 28-13, and then it will be up to the Blazers to respond.
David Fisher: Portland in 7
Portland wins in seven games thanks to Damian Lillard and home court advantage. Pelicans will have at least one game where turnovers doom an otherwise solid effort and a couple more where keeping Nurkic off the offensive glass is a big difference maker. In the end though, it’s the Rose Garden and Lillard as the closer.
Zachary Junda: New Orleans in 6
Give me the team going into the playoffs winners of five straight over the team that lost five of seven prior to Wednesday’s win over a tired Utah squad. The Pelicans needed to go to Oakland and pick up a win against the Warriors — they did that; the Blazers dropped games against the Grizzlies and Mavericks.
The Pelicans have proven they can win on the road, whereas Portland has issues away from the Moda Center. And when the games slow down, as they always do come playoff time, who do you trust more to get a bucket in the post: demigod Anthony Davis or Jusuf Nurkic? Exactly. Basically New Orleans and Portland recent play reminds me of that part in Goodfellas: one team’s playing this way, and the other’s playing the other. Whaddya want from me?
Oleh Kosel: New Orleans in 5
My instincts don’t believe this matchup will be as hotly contested as everyone thinks. While I agree the Pelicans knocking out the Trail Blazers in five games is a bit extreme, my goal is to show the confidence I have in New Orleans emerging the victor of this series.
After a remarkable 13-game winning streak, the Trail Blazers limped to the finish line with a 5-7 record, including losses in four of their final five games. Conversely, the Pelicans won five straight to close out the regular season, and they finished the year strongly after the team seemed to regain their focus following the loss of DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, had Davis — the recipient of the last two Player of the Month awards in the Western Conference — not turned his ankle twice during the last five weeks of the season, I’d bet a lot of money that New Orleans would have concluded with a record more impressive than 20-8. For instance, that recent four-game losing streak wouldn’t have happened. No way.
Yes, injuries occur in the NBA, but that’s my point. New Orleans is entering the 2018 postseason with their successful post-Boogie core fully intact, healthy and in outstanding form. Sorry Blazer fans but Anthony Davis will be the best player on the floor, and Rajon Rondo, the best director. In particular, the Pelicans starting lineup has been on an absolute tear. The unit consisting of Rondo-Holiday-Moore-Mirotic-Davis has outscored opponents by 99 points in 182 minutes since February 10th. Translated to a full 48-minute game, that would net a result of a 26-point victory! #Blowout
Meanwhile, Portland’s best lineup, one that includes Maurice Harkless, isn’t likely to be seen following Mo’s recent knee surgery. A starting lineup with Evan Turner simply isn’t as good. Furthermore, Lillard and McCollum are both coming into the series cold, shooting less than 30% from three-point range over the last 12 games of the regular season.
I do worry some about Playoff Lillard, the Trail Blazers likely rebounding edge and four games to be played in Portland, but New Orleans has so many things in their favor that I’m unusually confident they’ll be advancing to the second round.
Trevor Ritchie: New Orleans in 7
New Orleans’ offense is typically very efficient, with a lot of inside scoring by the hands of Anthony Davis. Though Portland might have depth in size, they do not have enough to control Davis or limit his performance much. New Orleans will test the Blazers with pace — the faster the Pelicans run against Portland, the easier shots they will find. Guard Rajon Rondo showed what type of impact he can still make on a playoff team last season with Chicago, something the Pelicans hope to receive from him this postseason as well. Portland does generate a ton of ball movement or assists due to the high-volume shooting of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. With that said, it will be primarily Jrue Holiday’s responsibility to help contain them, while also stepping up as an aggressive scorer.
New Orleans hasn’t had a great history of success playing in Portland, but with a new outlook on where this team could go, and playoff atmosphere in the Smoothie King Center for the first time in three years, I think the Pelicans can force a win or go situation at the and ultimately win the seven-game series.
Frank Spiro: New Orleans in 6
I think the matchup against the Trail Blazers is one of the best possible pairings the Pelicans could have hoped for. Their offense relies heavily upon their star, Damian Lillard. If the Pelicans can slow Lillard down (which I think they can ), they will put themselves in prime position to win the series.
Travis Tate: Portland in 7
Hate to do it, Pels fans, but I think the guards of Portland will outdo AD, Jrue and gang in 7 games. Lillard, McCollum and Shabazz Napier are all clutch scorers and playmakers and there’s only one Jrue Holiday to go around. I could totally see Nola winning the series — just something tells me Portland is winning enough games at home to take the series.