Upon suffering a non-displaced stress fracture in his left hand on the first of the month, Anthony Davis was anticipated to miss 4-6 weeks. New Orleans Pelicans fans were overjoyed on Wednesday night, when Davis returned to the court after just 17 days. The 20 year old superstar appeared entirely unfazed by the injury, scoring 24 points and snagging 12 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers in his first game back. Tonight he’s Portland’s problem.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard will forever be linked. Davis was the consensus number one pick in the 2012 draft, yet Damian Lillard was the unanimous 2013 Rookie of the Year. Lillard rightfully earned the honors, but I’d be negligent to ignore the hampering injuries that plagued Davis’ rookie campaign. Had he played 82 games as Lillard did, we might not get to revel in that “unanimous” qualifier.
Prior to fracturing his hand, Davis started this season stronger than any player from the 2012 draft class. His 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and league-leading 3.4 blocks per game are good for the fourth highest Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA (behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul). He outshined the early struggles of Damian Lillard, but now finds himself with ground to make up, yet again.
The night of Davis’ return also marked the night of Lillard’s second consecutive 36 point performance. Lillard’s efforts, combined with the Trail Blazers’ 22-5 record (8-1 while Davis was sidelined) were enough to propel him into official MVP consideration for the first time in his career. Presently, Damian Lillard occupies the 10th spot on the MVP ladder, while the newly healthy Anthony Davis remains unranked.
At 7:00 p.m. PST, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard will meet for the first of four times this season. New Orleans won the series battle with Portland last season, 2-1, but not without allowing the most memorable moment of Lillard’s rookie year; his first NBA game winner. As a sophomore, Lillard has relived the feat twice in the last week (to the dismay of Detroit and Cleveland), but hopefully a third time will not be necessary against New Orleans.
I doubt either of them think about their inherent rivalry as much as the fans do, but their matchups will always be watched with an added degree of scrutiny. Rookie of the Year honors are a respectable talent gage early on, however, sometimes draft placement is a better indicator as we begin to see the reasons for high selection (2004: #1 pick Dwight Howard vs. R.o.Y. Emeka Okafor). Enough cards fell in Lillard’s favor last season that the jury is still out on who’s currently better. Will that assessment ever be unanimous?
In the last eight meetings between these two teams, neither has broken 100 points. The Trail Blazers have scored more than 100 points in 14 consecutive games entering tonight’s matchup.
Robin Lopez played in New Orleans last year, averaging career high numbers that he is on pace to eclipse since being traded to Portland last summer.
The Trail Blazers initially drafted Jeff Withey before sending him to NOLA in the Lopez deal. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey played three seasons together at the University of Kansas.
Seven of the last nine games between these two teams were decided by single digits. The teams have been a near even match for each other; Portland leading that series 5-4.
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams spent five years as an assistant coach in Portland from 2005-2010. NOLA is 105-149 (.413) since he took over in the 2010-2011 season.
 In 2012-2013, Damian Lillard led the league in minutes played due to Portland’s horrendous depth issues. He also got to play with a powerhouse starting five, in which he ran the offense. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis missed 18 games due to nagging injuries, and often played with minute restrictions when healthy.