Two of the 10 teams yet to lose a player to COVID-19 health and safety protocols this season will battle it out inside the Smoothie King Center Tuesday night, and they’re headed in completely different directions in the standings.
10 teams with 0 cases— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) December 20, 2021
Detroit, Houston, Indy, New Orleans, OKC, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Utah and Washington https://t.co/252NLHFqVS
The New Orleans Pelicans are entering this contest having won seven of their last 12 games. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers have lost 10 of their last 13.
Portland has slowed their skid recently, arriving on a two-game winning streak, but they could be without multiple key personnel tonight.
Jusuf Nurkic (left rib contusion), Nassir Little (illness: non-COVID) and Damian Lillard (right hamstring tightness) are all questionable for tonight’s game in New Orleans https://t.co/EJ17KVOz31— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) December 21, 2021
Overcoming the loss of CJ McCollum is one thing, but potentially being without Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic as well would leave the Trail Blazers extremely short-handed.
The Pelicans would do well to take advantage as they did against a Milwaukee Bucks squad without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton last Friday.
In the event the Pelicans don’t receive as much help as possible from the injury report, they may have to contend with a long-time nemesis.
Lillard has torched the Pelicans after Jrue Holiday departed for Milwaukee — averaging 43.0 points, 8.7 assists and 6.3 3s in three games vs New Orleans last season — and he’s arriving in solid form. Since missing five games to lower abdominal tendinopathy, Lillard is posting an All-Star worthy line of 30.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
Norman Powell has also played well during this stretch for the Blazers, averaging 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
The combination of Powell and Lillard has been a formidable 1-2 punch, especially from the 3-point line where the duo has made 40 3s since December 12.
Expect for Herbert Jones, Josh Hart and Garrett Temple to be give the assignments of slowing down Lillard and Powell, but if recent trends are any indication, the Pelicans should be up for the task.
Since December 10, they have the seventh-best defensive rating (106.2) and opponent 3-point percentage (31.9%). They’re also not allowing opponents to turn their turnovers into as many points (14.3 opponent points off turnovers — 8th).
With injuries and COVID-19 issues affecting much of the NBA, the Pelicans can continue to dig themselves out of their early season hole by beating teams not at full strength.
Notching their first three-game win streak of the season feels within their grasp, but make no mistake, they’ll have to play well to achieve it.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (10-21) vs Portland Trail Blazers (13-18)
When: December 21, 2021, 7:00 pm
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.