In all honesty, what did you expect was going to happen on the Damian Lillard tour with the Pelicans in town again minus Jrue Holiday?
Dame started out ridiculously hot, scoring 21 points in the first quarter to propel the Trail Blazers to a 31-23 first quarter lead. Remember, this performance was coming on the heels of a 20-point fourth quarter en route to a 50-spot this past Tuesday.
Lillard finished Thursday’s contest with 36 points, but late-game heroics were not required in the Trail Blazers’ 101-93 victory over the Pelicans.
New Orleans never made Portland sweat much because the offense uncharacteristically could not find its groove. They were never able to pose a threat. The Pelicans failed to eclipse 25 points in a single quarter thanks to shooting 39.8% from the field, 27% from the three-point line and 68% from the foul line for the contest.
That’s a shame because after Dame’s first quarter explosion the Trail Blazers struggled with putting up points on the board as much as the Pelicans. For instance, Portland shot 37.9% as a team for the game.
New Orleans played gritty, tough and gave great effort, especially in the second half, but outside of the woeful shooting, there were other flaws that decided this outcome.
A number of transition opportunities came up empty. The Pelicans didn’t register their first fast break points until Josh Hart made a transition bucket with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
The Trail Blazers came up with 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 21 second chance points. Enes Kanter was as instrumental as any Blazer outside of Lillard in handing New Orleans the defeat, finishing with a line of 16 points, 13 rebounds and two steals.
In fact, the Trail Blazers were the better team by doing more of the little things that win games. They had more second chance points, fast break points and points off turnovers than the Pelicans.
Zion Williamson led New Orleans with 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but he wasn’t able to dominate for large stretches. Outside of a couple of alley-oop throw downs, Portland swarmed him consistently and New Orleans was unable to make them pay for collapsing on their young superstar.
Stan Van Gundy called New Orleans offensive performance the worst display witnessed in the last two months to postgame media. He wasn’t wrong.
New Orleans four guards (Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis Jr.) combined to make 5 of 19 from the field for 13 points through the first 24 minutes. In comparison, Lillard had 26 first half points on 8 of 11 shooting alone.
While Lonzo Ball sharpened up some (10 points, eight assists, two threes), no other Pelican outside of Zion scored more than five points after halftime.
Brandon Ingram got off to a very quick start tonight, scoring 10 points in the first four and a half minutes — making fans think he was going to atone for a couple of missed free throws that likely decided Tuesday’s game, but he finished his night with 19 points, making just 7 of 21 shot attempts.
With the loss, the Pelicans fall into a tie for 11th with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 17-24. They’re currently three games in back of the Grizzlies for 10th, the final spot in the upcoming Play-In Tournament at season’s end.
While post-regular season action remains two months away, it’s hard to be optimistic about New Orleans’ chances. They keep finding more ways to lose than win. Tonight, the defense made an infrequent appearance, but the offense was a rare no-show.
Who knows what we’ll see when the Pelicans take the floor next this coming Sunday in Denver against a Nuggets team rising in the Western Conference standings, but it’s hard to imagine everything coming together nicely for a full 48 minutes.