PREVIEW: Blazers, Pelicans set to battle after big wins

Feb 16, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder center Isaiah Roby (left) and forward Justin Jackson (background) during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have won a season-best five games in a row, and they will try to extend that streak and finish a sweep of a three-game road trip when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

The Pelicans have been struggling, but they are coming off their highest-scoring game of the season as both they and the Blazers complete back-to-backs.

Portland, which squandered a 24-point lead, finished with an 18-2 run and held Oklahoma City without a field goal over the final five minutes in a 115-104 victory Tuesday.

Damian Lillard, who has averaged 30.2 points during the winning streak, led the way by scoring 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter.

“Dame made some big shots, as an understatement,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, “some big shots for us to pull away.”

Read More: RECAP: Damian Lillard takes over late as Blazers beat Thunder

It wasn’t just Lillard’s scoring that made the difference. The five-time All-Star scored or assisted on every Portland point in the final 4:11, scoring 12 points and handing out two of his 10 assists.

“Damian Lillard is the best leader in the game right now,” said Enes Kanter, who had 21 rebounds for Portland.

The Blazers improved to 10-5 without both CJ McCollum (foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist).

“I think our team played great as a group,” Lillard said. “We got the stops, we made the shots and we were able to pull it out. I love where we are mentally, I feel like we’re coming out sharp mentally. It’s our unit, not one, two or three people. It’s the whole team coming ready.”

Now Portland must prepare for a New Orleans team that had five players score in double figures Tuesday, led by Zion Williamson with 31 points. All 13 Pelicans who entered the game scored points as New Orleans rolled past Memphis 144-113 on Tuesday.

Williamson made 13 of 16 field-goal attempts, helping the Pelicans score 70 points in the paint. After committing 14 turnovers in the first half, they gave the ball away only five times in the second half.

Read More: RECAP: Zion Williamson scores 31 as Pelicans trounce Grizzlies

The Pelicans shot a season-best 61.5 percent and finished with a season-high 33 assists, but afterward coach Stan Van Gundy wanted to talk more about his team’s defense.

“Our offense has been good,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of coaching is fixing problems and we need to get better defensively and that’s where our focus has been and that’s what we have spent most of our time talking about.”

New Orleans took control against the Grizzlies by allowing a total of 49 points in the second and third quarters. The Pelicans had allowed an average of 132 points in losses against the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons to start the road trip that concluded in Memphis.

“We adjusted our pick-and-roll coverage a little bit, but ultimately we put forth the effort into everything we were doing,” said New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram, who had 22 points and seven assists against the Grizzlies. “Everyone helped each other out.”

Now the Pelicans will start a four-game homestand when they face the Blazers.

Ingram said, “Hopefully this starts something for us, going back home, and we can gain some momentum and have the defensive coverages, effort and energy that we need.”

–Field Level Media