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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to exorcise late-game losses in road matchup versus Trail Blazers

Jrue and BI versus Lillard and McCollum in Portland

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans sit at 7-23 wondering how the season got old so quick.

Another heartbreaking, fall-from-ahead 106-102 loss to the listless Golden State Warriors on Friday night, the Pels are picking up right where they left off, just a few days removed from a 13-game losing streak. In order to avoid making it two in a row, the Pels will have to shut down Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and maybe Carmelo Anthony.

The Blazers are back in the playoff hunt thanks to a number of underachieving western teams, currently sitting in 8th at 14-16. It’s been tough sledding in Portland, with their offense ranked 10th in the league and defense at 18th. Top-ranking individual defenders give you a clue as to their lack of defensive impact players: Kent Bazemore, Carmelo Anthony and Skal Labissiere all rank near the top for the Blazers. One of these days they’ll recover some of their injured players like Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, but until then, the Blazers are going to have to ride Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Tolliver, and Nasir Little. This game is winnable!

Lillard Time

If you’re talking Portland, you’re talking unquestioned leader in the locker room Damian Lillard, off to a likely fifth appearance in the All Star game. He’s averaging 26.9 with a career high eFG% of .537 and 7.5 assists per game. Lillard’s iconic shot to end the Russ-and-PG era OKC squad came a year after the Pels swept the Blazers in what would be a surprise turning point for both organizations.

Lillard paired with backcourt dynamo CJ McCollum is the 6th most common two-man combo in the league, producing a 7.5 points per 100 possession advantage for Portland in that time. It’s no surprise to say: watch out for Lillard and McCollum, especially late in games. (There’s a bit of a theme going here about clutch situations).

Need Better Kenrich

Kenrich Williams is starting to get criticized — the former fan favorite hasn’t been producing much, even taking into account his lack of a playmaking role on offense. The idea is he can just find random points like prime-Matrix era Shawn Marion. But these numbers gotta improve:

It does seem like Kenrich is the reason for any loose ball, but you’d hope he could make his fair share of open shots or get more cleanup baskets under the hoop. Especially in clutch time, where he has zero field goals, which leads me to this...

Clutch More Like Blutch

Its been a topic all year, including the very first game of the season, but the clutch failings of the Pelicans are just as big a reason as time missed due to injury from multiple starters, including our beloved Zion, now moving about in warmups before games and on off-days.

The team has a 39.3 eFG% and holds a 4-14 record in games that hit “clutch time,” which paired with some blowouts leave the Pelicans already out of the playoff mix despite poorly performing teams remaining in the race. Jrue hasn’t pulled through and neither has anyone, else (not counting Derrick Favors, who has missed time due to injury and a death in the family), including burgeoning super scorer Brandon Ingram. Jrue holds a usage percentage of 28.9% and an eFG% of 36.4%. Let’s just say those numbers don’t inspire holiday cheer. And, not much better here, Brandon Ingram has put up a 31.2 USG% with a 40.9 eFG%.

That’s your two top guys not performing in the most crucial possessions not making the ball go in the basket. At least Jrue keeps a modest 18.5 assist percentage in those moments, but Ingram’s playmaking goes to a scant 6.5 assist percentage.

The Pels tip-off against Portland at 9pm central on NBATV and FS New Orleans.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (7-23) at Portland Trail Blazers (14-16)

Where: Moda Center

When: Monday, December 23, 2019 9:00 PM CST

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, NBAtv, NSNW