The last and final game in this challenging road trip is finally here. The Portland Trail Blazers (42-23) will try to finish with a win against the New Orleans Pelicans (26-38). To say this second to last road trip of the season has been a disappointment is an understatement. Tonight’s match-up would seem to favor the Trail Blazers as the Pelicans are the only team with a losing record on this current road trip. Yet, if the first two meetings are any indication of what’s to come, it won’t be easy for the Trail Blazers to avoid a fifth straight loss.
The Trail Blazers and Pelicans have played two entertaining games so far. The Trail Blazers took the first meeting in Portland 110-107. Nine days later, they played in New Orleans and lost another close game 108-110 when Tyreke Evans hit the game-winning jumper with 1.2 seconds left. Winning in New Orleans will be a much more difficult task without LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams.
LaMarcus Aldridge suffered a lower back contusion in San Antonio on Wednesday. Aldridge left the game early in the second half and was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair. David MacKay updated us on Aldridge’s status yesterday and even though X-rays were negative, Aldridge will sit out tonight and Sunday’s game against the Warriors. After Sunday, he will be reevaluated and we will know if any further absences are necessary. Aldridge has averaged 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds against the Pelicans this season.
Mo Williams sat out Wednesday against the Spurs with a right hip strain. An MRI confirmed the strain and it is reported that Williams will miss at least two weeks. Losing an All-Star like Aldridge is always a gigantic blow. However, I’m convinced that the loss of Williams will be more devastating. Williams is averaging 9.4 points and 4.5 assists per game. He is the most efficient scorer off the bench and normally provides the first spark. The other bench players will need to step up and fill in for Williams and Aldridge, which won’t be easy.
Before their 90-88 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, the Pelicans had a nice three-game winning streak. During the streak, New Orleans was averaging 118.3 points while shooting 51.4 percent from the field. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon were sidelined with illness on Wednesday and the Pelicans struggled on offense. Anthony Davis will once again be a tough match-up for Portland. In two games against the Trail Blazers, Davis is averaging 24.0 points and 10.5 rebounds. The Pelicans lead the NBA in blocks which can be highly attributed to Davis who averages 2.9 blocks per game.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- LaMarcus Aldridge is out with a low back contusion.
- Mo Williams will sit out as he deals with a right hip strain.
- Joel Freeland is out as he continues to nurse an MCL sprain.
New Orleans Pelicans:
- Tyreke Evans is questionable after sitting out against Memphis due to illness.
- Ryan Anderson is out for the season with a herniated disc in his neck.
- Jrue Holiday is out for the season after undergoing successful surgery on his right tibia.
- Jason Smith is out for the season after having surgery on his right knee.
Keys To The Game
Dorell Wright & Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis. Losing Aldridge one game before facing off against Anthony Davis is tough. Dorell Wright will most likely receive the starting nod from Terry Stotts. I would not be surprised if Stotts threw Robinson into the starting rotation but Wright has the experience. In Aldridge’s last absence, the Trail Blazers played small ball, which was highly effective. The Trail Blazers won four of five games without Aldridge and will need to have small ball magic again tonight. Anthony Davis is proving to be a fantastic NBA player. I’ll admit that I had my doubts about the one-and-done Kentucky star. Davis is averaging 20.8 points and 10.2 rebounds this season. He recorded his 31st double-double on Wednesday and now has 23 games this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Trail Blazers reserves face a difficult task tonight.
Slow Tyreke Evans. Evans has been a huge lift for the Pelicans. Since being inserted into the starting lineup at the end of February, Evans is averaging 22.0 points per game. That is a huge increase from his season average of 13.1 points. Evans did not play on Wednesday because of illness but has a good chance of playing tonight. The Trail Blazers backcourt will need step up their defense in order to contain Evans. It will most likely be up to Lillard and Matthews to attempt slowing Evans down.
Head Home Happy. I’ll take any praise for that fantastic alliteration. The concept is simple: Play hard and leave happy. The Trail Blazers are on a four game losing streak for the first time this season. It was reported by Chris Haynes that after the loss on Wednesday, the Trail Blazers had their first hash-out session of the season. Led by Damian Lillard, the players were vocal about what changes need to happen from here on out. Upon being asked why he initiated the dialogue, Lillard said, “I just felt like it was something that needed to be said. At some point, it’s up to the players.” I respect that Lillard, in only his second year in the league, was able to step up and try to make a change. This is the last game of a long road trip before heading home for three games. The change needs to start tonight.