Team Records: Portland (24-6) at New Orleans (13-15)
Game Info: 5 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 620 AM
Vegas Line: Portland -3.5
Refs: Tom Washington, JT Orr, Leroy Richardson
The Skinny: The good thing about the NBA season is that its so packed with games that even when you have a disappointing loss like Portland did against Miami, you have to shake it off and think about the next game right away. Portland begins a 2013-ending back to back in New Orleans against a Pelicans team that has so far under-performed expectations. New Orleans has only won two of their last six games, although they are often close, they are unable to put wins away.
Last Time They Met: Lillard did his usual clutch thing late as Portland overcame a sluggish performance to pull out a narrow victory. Lillard notched 29 points to lead Portland while Anthony Davis led New Orleans with 21 points and 9 rebounds in a losing effort.
Projected Pelicans Lineup:
PF: Ryan Anderson (California, 6th season) – 20.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, .8 APG
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest, 4th season) – 7.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.6 APG
F: Anthony Davis (Kentucky, 2nd season) – 19.1 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.3 APG
SG: Eric Gordon (Indiana, 7th season) – 15.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.1 APG
PG: Jrue Holiday (UCLA, 5th season) – 14.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.1 APG
Player to Watch: Anthony Davis (pictured at right) – It was apparent from the first time Anthony Davis played at Kentucky that he was a special talent. A shot-blocking phenom who could move like a guard (perhaps because Davis had a late growth spurt and trained as a guard through much of high school), Davis was an easy choice with the first pick in 2012′s draft. Davis can hit from anywhere on offense, although he is especially lethal close to the rim, where he shoots over 70%. Davis is also an elite rebounder and scarily enough has plenty of room to grow there and in other areas. About the only real concern is his health as Davis has missed a number of games over his first two seasons with what are hopefully non-recurring injuries. He may not be there yet, but Davis is a potential future hall of famer if he continues on this development track and is a fine piece for any franchise to build around.
Did You Know?: Portland is responsible for three of the nine largest blown leads in New Orleans’s (and Charlotte’s) franchise history, overcoming deficits of 27 (11/10/2006), 21 (1/6/94) and 20 (2/20/09) to win.
Song of the Day: “The City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman as performed by Arlo Guthrie. A classic song cataloging the journey of a famous train line from Chicago to New Orleans. Enjoy:
Portland: Out – PG CJ McCollum (Foot)
New Orleans: Out – C Greg Stiemsma (Knee), Questionable-C Jason Smith (Knee), SG Eric Gordon (Hip)
Re-Evaluating New Orleans: Constantly Digging Yourself Out of a Late Hole
New Orleans actually has a very narrow positive point differential, outscoring teams by an average of .4 points per game. So why then are they under .500? The reason lies in their failure to close out games. New Orleans is only 6-9 in games decided by less than 10 points this season. There are many reasons teams can lose close games, and a lot of it in New Orleans’s case may be due to the sort of randomness that plagues any NBA team over the course of a season. Yet, a closer look shows that New Orleans has a league-best average of nearly 28 points per game scored in the fourth quarter. So what’s happening to the Pelicans is not that they are failing to close out games, it is that they have to fight back from big deficits so often that they run out gas and can’t close the deal. If New Orleans wants to make the jump to a playoff team they will have to learn to play with a lead rather than seemingly always coming from behind.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: Stay focused. Portland played lazy in too much of their win against New Orleans just over a week ago. If they had been focused that game, and if they are focused Monday, they should win.
New Orleans wins if: They have balanced scoring. New Orleans is best when it is not just Davis and Gordon or Jrue and Gordon or Davis and Anderson that are carrying the load. If the Pelicans have a balanced attack, they are much tougher to beat and should be able to beat Portland Monday.