The Portland Trail Blazers finished a six-game road trip with a must-win contest in New Orleans – at least in terms of the Western Conference postseason race – but a combination of factors led to a 17-point blowout loss and a continued drop down the standings.
The 127-110 defeat moves a play-in tournament spot that much further away from the Blazers’ grasp.
Damian Lillard sat out the loss with calf tightness, Portland had a terrible night offensively, and the team played with almost zero energy. No way could those three things be related, right?
Damian Lillard sits out Pelicans loss
Even in a season that’s spiraled incredibly since a promising start, Lillard missed only his second game of the year because of what the team announced as calf tightness.
Lillard is in the midst of the best scoring season of his career. He ranks third in the NBA behind only Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic. He’s averaging more than 11 attempts from three for the first time in his career, but is hitting them at a better-than-37-percent clip.
Even with Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic back in the lineup, a Blazers offense without Dame was likely to struggle. And it did.
Trail Blazers offense, energy disappear
Without Lillard, the onus would be on Simons – who just scored 34 in a one-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers two nights prior – to carry Portland’s offense.
Simons had 19 in the first half in Philly. He finished with 17 points total in the loss to the Pelicans.
He didn’t get much help, either. Jerami Grant had seven points. Jusuf Nurkic had 0. Committing 19 turnovers, an issue Portland has struggled with all season, certainly didn’t help.
Neither did the team’s lackadaisical effort.
Second-year pro Trey Murphy III came off the bench to score a career-high 41 points for the Pelicans, with a career-high 9 threes, most of which came on relatively uncontested looks.
Sure, it was the final game of a six-game road trip. Sure, Lillard wasn’t playing. But the Blazers looked listless for most of the night.
Portland loses a must-win game in postseason race
Portland had the chance to gain a game on the Pelicans in a sprint to the final play-in spot(s), and would have also had a chance to win the season series, which would come in handy in a tiebreaker at the end of the regular season.
Instead, the Blazers are now two games behind New Orleans, as well as two back of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Utah Jazz. Those four teams are competing for the 9 and 10 seeds in the West. After losing to the Pelicans, Portland is fading.
In addition to that two-game deficit, the Blazers still have to play Boston, the Clippers twice, Sacramento (back-to-back), and the Golden State Warriors in the season finale.
Portland’s chances at making the postseason took a major blow when the team didn’t show up in New Orleans. And those chances were slim to begin with.