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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans with very important game against Portland Trail Blazers that could have major playoff implications

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Damian Lillard has been hotter than the sun, but the Pels could be at full strength on Tuesday inside The Blender!

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New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans sit 4.5 games in back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, but they must hurdle two other challengers first before putting themselves into position to make that final leap into an enviable playoff spot. One of those teams is the Portland Trail Blazers — the Pelicans next opponent on Tuesday evening.

Personally, I strongly feel that the Trail Blazers are the team to catch. While Memphis holds a 2.5 game advantage on Portland, the Blazers have the 25th easiest schedule the rest of the way; on the other hand, the Grizz are headed to the gauntlet, needing to battle the toughest collection of teams in the league, per Tankathon. Also, the rosters of each squad must be factored into the equation. Portland is filled with savvy veterans while Memphis is dependent on some tantalizing but awfully young talent.

Of course, every conversation regarding the Blazers begins with Damian Lillard because there hasn’t been a hotter player on the planet over the last ten games. The averages are mind-numbing good: 41.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 6.6 threes. He’s shooting 51.1% from the field, 52% from deep and 89.9% from the free throw line (on 8.9 attempts per game!). Oh and there’s a strong possibility that Dame might still be pissed.

Portland was robbed a few nights ago when the referees missed an obvious goaltending call on Rudy Gobert, handing the Jazz another questionable victory on the season — yeah, I’m still miffed over Brandon Ingram not being awarded two free throws after an apparent Gobert hack on Jan. 6 and then the refs nearly snatching a victory away from New Orleans on Jan. 16 by whistling Jaxson Hayes for a ludicrous foul on Gobert in the waning seconds of regulation.

Back to the business at hand, behind Lillard sits a solid group consisting of CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza (great pickup!) and Hassan Whiteside. In the near future, that roster is expected to get back Jusuf Nurkic.

The good news is that the Pelicans might be at full strength in a few days time, with Zion Williamson and Ingram expected to play after missing the contest against the Pacers.

In addition, it feels like the Pelicans have the Trail Blazers’ number, having beaten them already twice this season. Nabbing just one more victory in the two remaining matchups would give New Orleans an important tiebreaker, but considering the wide chasm between the Pels and the eighth seed today, one hopes that Jrue Holiday and the rest of the crew find a way to win both contests.

Either way, first things first. If they want to open the door to the 2020 playoffs a hair wider, the New Orleans Pelicans need to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. Want to see if they can do it in person? Pick yourself up some tickets from our sponsor StubHub right here!

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