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NBA Playoff Preview: New Orleans Pelicans hope developing confidence translates in Game 3 against Portland Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and company remain focused despite surprising 2-0 series lead.

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

New Orleans holds a 2-0 series lead and comes home to face the Portland Trailblazers in Game 3 of the first-round series on Thursday at the Smoothie King Center.

“We’ve got a ton of confidence,” Davis said after the Pelicans Game 2 victory. “We had confidence coming in. We’re a great road team and we know that. We’re satisfied that we got both of these wins, but we know that the series isn’t over.”

Why wouldn’t he have belief in his team’s chances? New Orleans and its underestimated backcourt should be overwhelmed with confidence after taking a shocking 2-0 series lead on the road, but it wasn’t ‘stolen’ as many tend to say. It was quite clear that the Pelicans were the better team in the first two games. No one on the court can stop Anthony Davis, and Jrue Holiday is leaving his mark as the best guard on the floor in a series against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

But New Orleans does not want to ride this wave for too long; there’s more work to be done with two home games ahead before potentially needing to travel back to Portland.

New Orleans has been able to control the series through the commanding presence of Holiday, especially in Game 2 behind his 33 points, nine assists and an impressive defensive effort against the Blazers’ All-Star backcourt. Not only that, but for one of the few times this season, the entire core came together. In addition to Holiday’s Game 2 performance, Davis contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds, Rondo summoned his inner-playoff ability, nearly reaching a triple-double, and Mirotic added 17 points of his own. This has given the Pelicans, in unison with the exuberating confidence, a heightened level of chemistry for an already tight-knit team.

“It’s a level of focus similar to team I’ve been fortunate to play with,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “I know Dame and CJ said they texted the other night, but after game one, AD, I and a couple other guys, were watching film together in the training room. Coming together on the road is great for team chemistry and allowed us to get these two wins.”

New Orleans has utterly dictated Portland’s offense for this entire series, forcing the Trail Blazers, who prefer to play through their guards, scrambling to find other options as the Pelicans’ defense has done a good job of taking away prime locations on the floor. Rondo, who started the series with a 17-assist night, and Holiday have been the main proponents of such.

Holiday scored a career-high 20 points in the paint during Game 2, shooting 10-of-14 on those attempts — one of only two players to achieve this during the postseason thus far. Once the Trailblazers decide to make a defensive adjustment on Holiday’s drives, he ignites more punishment from outside.

This is different than the last time New Orleans reached the playoffs. In 2015, the Pelicans were just happy to be in the postseason. Now, with a 2-0 series lead coming home, there is pressure...all on the opponent.

New Orleans undoubtedly holds the upper hand, but don’t expect Damian Lillard to lie down and watch his team self-implode. Many consider him to be an All-NBA First Team player this season, likely set to earn a few MVP votes too, but now he needs to show on a bigger stage.

Good news for the Pelicans: Jrue Holiday has done a good job of preventing that.

Such a good job, in fact, to where Lillard has scored just seven points on 11 percent shooting from the field. Will that change in Game 3? Not if you believe in the Pelicans effort during the first two games!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: April 19, 2018, 8:00 pm Central

How: NBAtv, 99.5 FM WRNO