As the dust settles in the Western Conference playoff seeding, the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans will faceoff in the first round. Portland has achieved their best seed since they got the third seed back in the 1999-00 season. That season they went to the NBA finals. That was also the last time the Trail Blazers got past the semifinals. The Pelicans return to the playoffs after missing them the last two seasons. They will go into this series without DeMarcus Cousins which is huge for Portland. Let’s see which team has what it takes to come out on top in this Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Series Preview.
In the regular season head-to-head matchup, both teams managed to win two games against each other. The Pelicans and Trail Blazers each stole a game on the others home court. Both teams have averaged 110 points between the four games they played.
Two important stats to keep an eye on for this series for the Trail Blazers are rebounds and free throws. They rank third in all the NBA in both categories. The Pelicans ranked third in the NBA in points per game, second in field goal percentage, third in blocks per game, and third in assists per game. It’s impressive the Pelicans lead so many categories considering Cousins missed the last two and a half months.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum
Damian Lillard is the x-factor in this series. He will be the reason whether the Trail Blazers lose or move on. Lillard is enjoying another fantastic season averaging 27 points per game. He’s fourth in the NBA in points per game. Lillard is one of the most talented and explosive guards in the league. He’s capable of dropping 40 points whenever he wants.
C.J. McCollum is the second most important player on this team. He is a scorer that the Trail Blazers will lean heavily upon come playoff time. This team’s bench isn’t that deep scoring wise, so if the Trail Blazers are going to come out on top, they need to get at least 20 points per game from McCollum.
Production isn’t the question for both players. Damian Lillard averaged 28 points in last years playoff series against the warriors. McCollum averaged 23 points per game. The question is can they keep playing at this high level. In the playoffs, it isn’t just about scoring the most points, but also being as efficient as possible to avoid giving the other team extra chances.
Jusuf Nurkic and Anthony Davis
Having Jusuf Nurkic healthy for this year’s playoffs is huge. He was injured at the end of last season and it destroyed the Trail Blazers chances of being competitive in last years playoffs. Nurkic is enjoying a career year, averaging 14 points per game and close to a double-double with nine rebounds per game. Nurkic will prove to be one of the most important players in this series. He will have the task of defending Anthony Davis.
Davis is obviously the deciding factor in this series for the Pelicans. With Cousins out, Davis is the number one scoring option. He has enjoyed a great year so far improving his three-point shooting by four percentage points and averaging 28 points. Davis also scored more points this year, than any previous year in his career. He has only been to the postseason once in his career and has played in only four games. In that series, Davis averaged 11 rebounds, three blocks, and 32 points per game. He will need to repeat those numbers for the Pelicans to have any chance in this series.
Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo
Jrue Holiday is enjoying the best year of his career, averaging 19 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the field. These are both career highs. Rajon Rondo will look to return to his playoff form when he was in Boston.
Rondo has become an important player for the Pelicans after signing a contract with them last offseason. Rondo’s defense might be even more valuable in this series than his offense. Both Holiday and Rondo will have the challenge of stopping Lillard and McCollum. These match-ups will decide a lot for both teams.
New Orleans hasn’t won a playoff series since 2008, the Trail Blazer’s haven’t won a series since 2015. Both franchises are starved for playoff success and this looks to be a great match-up for both teams. Only one game separates these teams in the standings so the talent gap might not be as big as some would think. Had DeMarcus Cousins been healthy, the Pelicans would have the advantage. This will be a hard fought series that looks to go six or seven games. Portland looks to have the advantage.
Game One gets underway from the Moda Center on Saturday at 10:30 pm ET on ESPN.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Basketball: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans Series Preview