Things were exciting for a moment, but now the New Orleans Pelicans have seemingly resigned themselves to their fate for the remainder of the season.
In addition to sitting Jrue Holiday (abdominal strain) and E’Twaun Moore (left quad contusion) and limiting Anthony Davis’ minutes, Alvin Gentry curtailed the minutes of Jahlil Okafor and Cheick Diallo in their previous game against the Bucks.
Gentry on Okafor not playing: We like him enough. We know what we are getting out of him. ... it was unfair to play him against their centers who play on the perimeter 80-90 percent of the time, especially on his ankle.”— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) March 13, 2019
Losers of four straight, including against the woeful Atlanta Hawks, the Pelicans might be competitive in spurts but it’s difficult to imagine them knocking off too many opponents over the 12 remaining games to end the season.
However, the growth of Elfrid Payton and Frank Jackson has been more than encouraging. With consecutive triple-doubles and double-digit scoring in four of the past five games, Elfrid Payton has begin to display what Dell Demps saw in him in what has been an injury-shortened season. Jackson, meanwhile, nearly broke his career-high against Atlanta with 23 points (25) and has scored in double-digits in four consecutive games, averaging 19 shots per game over the past three.
The duo will have their hands full with one of the game’s most dangerous backcourts in the Portland Trailblazers. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have everything to play for in what has become a dog fight between seeds 3-7 in the West. Three wins separate the seeds and Portland finds themselves locked in the center, trailing the 3rd-seeded Rockets by just one game.
Lillard (26 ppg) and McCollum (21.4 ppg) continue to pace the league’s ninth-scoring squad, but the Blazers’ staff have to be most impressed with the continued evolution of Bosnian big man, Jusurf Nurkic.
Nurkic tripped Russell Westbrook so he got back up and decked him pic.twitter.com/W3atBbxwW1— Utpal Singh (@connectwidutpal) March 8, 2019
On top of being the league’s largest pest, Nurkic is quietly enjoying the best season of his career. 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 blocks in just 27 minutes per game hardly tell the story of Nurkic’s impact thus far though. The Blazers have been an astounding +10.6 points better offensively and +5.4 better defensively, creating the makings of a +16 point difference maker per 100 possessions.
The NBA’s fourth-best offense (113.8) and 16th defense (110.3) has been further buoyed by the recent additions of Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood. Seth Curry is the sharp-shooting (45%) reserve, but the Blazers continue to wait on the development of top-ten pick Zach Collins. Jake Layman has improved his three-point stroke up to 34%. Evan Turner has been disappointing off the bench, shooting a paltry 15% from three-point range and scoring just seven points per game. His role continues to diminish as he averages just 23 minutes this season.
Though the Blazers take a middling pace (17th), expect a lot scoring in this one. The Blazers don’t mind getting up and down the floor with CJ and Dame, and they’ll invite Payton and Jackson to push the pace with their Bosnian rim protector lying in wait.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (30-40) vs Portland Trailblazers (41-26)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Friday, March 15th, 2019. 7:00 PM CST
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO