The rest of the first round previews will go up tomorrow morning.
No.6 New Orleans Pelicans vs. No.3 Portland Trail Blazers
This series is a matchup of late-season bloomers. The Pelicans seemed done after DeMarcus Cousins went down. Portland was stuck in the middle until Damian Lillard went to another level, and elevated the Trail Blazers like Isaiah Thomas did to the Celtics last Spring.
The difference is that one of these late season runs made sense. Portland frustrated me. When Lillard and CJ McCollum were off the floor, they were screwed offensively. They didn’t have any reliable shot-makers, or any sort of system. That was until Shabazz Naiper started playing like UCONN Shabazz Naiper.
For Portland, it was all about guys finally reaching their potential. We had been waiting for this. We had been waiting for Portland to turn into a contender.
That was not the case with the Pelicans. Ever.
What Anthony Davis did over the last 30 games of the season was magnificent. It was a MVP performance, yet won’t get any credit since there were 2-3 other late MVP runs being made (Dame, Russell Westbrook, LeBron). It was the classic put the team on your back performance. Sure, Jrue Holiday started playing better and the Nikola Mirotic trade helped, but those guys aren’t capable of handling the load AD had. AD took it on and powered through.
The bad news for Portland is that they will struggle to guard Davis, like anyone else would. The good news is that they have all the firepower in the world, and that no matter what Davis does offensively, it won’t be enough.
The Trail Blazers’ best bet is probably Zach Collins. Slapping a rookie on one of the eight best players in the league in a playoff series is usually a poor decision. But Jursurf Nurkic is too lumbering to even attempt the task. Davis doesn’t play down low; he sets up on the perimeter and goes to work. Collins has quicker feet; he can defend more actively out there than anyone else on Portland.
Portland can also switch Al-Farouq Aminu onto Davis, but in that scenario Davis will post up from 15 feet out and back Aminu down.
Portland’s defensive play has risen this year. They ranked 9th in defensive rating, stunningly good considering how bad Lillard and McCollum are on that end and how variable Nurkic can be. But when Nurkic’s on, he’s a monster at the rim. That, combined with their versatility from guys like Aminu, Mo Harkless (Who’s gonna miss the beginning of this season) and Evan Turner have plagued teams.
That’s gonna be a problem for New Orleans, who struggles to shoot three and has trouble getting the offense going without Davis. Sure, playoff Rajon Rondo is incoming, but he won’t be able to match the firepower of Lillard, McCollum and the three-and-D wings of Portland. Plus, the Pelicans are horrific defensively.
The Pelicans will have to feed Davis when he’s on the court and hope it’s enough. Davis may put up massive numbers, but the end result won’t be pretty.
Can they get a game? Possibly. They’re gonna have to hope Portland goes cold, and Davis would have to put up 50-15-11 with five threes and six blocks to go along with it.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in 4