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CJ vs Dame, Hart vs former Nola teammates — Pelicans-Trail Blazers matchup promises to be must-see action

Josh Hart friskily texted Brandon Ingram that he’s going to “lock that shit up”

New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Home, home at last, but with a reunion of sorts.

The New Orleans Pelicans will kick off a six-game home stand tonight after playing eight of their first 11 games on the road, welcoming the Portland Trail Blazers in what should prove to be an emotional game for players on both rosters.

For the first time since the big pre-deadline trade, CJ McCollum is expected to square off against his former backcourt running mate. He and Damian Lillard spent nine seasons together in Portland so Thursday will be a weird situation for both guards.

“It’s weird because I’ve never played against CJ unless I was practicing,” Lillard said. “We played against each other in practice a lot. Seeing him in a different uniform is weird enough. Playing against him is gonna be even more different.”

Lillard missed almost the entirety of the 2021-22 campaign with an abdominal injury that required season-ending surgery last January. Thus, he was unavailable for the two matchups between the Pelicans and Trail Blazers after his friend was dealt to New Orleans.

With McCollum leading the charge, the Pelicans won both contests rather easily as the Trail Blazers were also without other key components, like Josh Hart.

The former fan favorite in New Orleans, Hart also missed both meetings between the two teams after switching addresses. Not surprisingly, the small forward is really looking forward to this matchup.

“I would say I had a good 2.5-3 years there,” Hart said after Portland’s win over the Hornets Wednesday. “Love the city. Love the guys on that team. It’ll be fun. It’ll be funner if we can get the W, so that’s the most important thing.”

Hart says that he even reached out to Brandon Ingram to start a little friendly trash talk a few days ago.

“I was texting with BI the other day and I told him I was going to lock that shit up. Brandon Ingram, that’s my dog.”

While Hart’s scoring is down, his averages of 8.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals is nothing to scoff at.

“I think that’s the best way to describe him,” Lillard said in Miami. “His last name is the perfect last name for him. He rebounds like he is 7 feet, he’s always in the passing lanes, he’s physical, playing hard, passionate, cares about winning. He doesn’t care about shots.”

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

New Orleans recalls that player fondly. That’s why it was so difficult to say goodbye to Hart, even though the trade was expected to improve several weaknesses on the Pelicans. Who will ever get Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker sitting courtside in New Orleans after they had been traded?

In addition to McCollum solidifying the starting point guard position, Larry Nance Jr. has been invaluable for the Pelicans, filling the small-ball five role to perfection.

It remains to be see if Nance will be available for Thursday’s matchup after missing last night’s game with a left knee hyperextension suffered in Indiana.

Watching how the events unfold in pre-game, the action during and then in post-game will surely be an experience that no one should miss. Two teams that have gotten off to good starts, with so much lingering history ... yeah.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (6-5) vs Portland Trail Blazers (8-3)

When: November 10, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.