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PREVIEW: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers try to burn New Orleans Pelicans again

Mar 16, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) prepares to shoot a free throw during the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers and the New Orleans Pelicans have played twice this season.

In both games the Pelicans had big leads.

In both games Damian Lillard led Blazers’ comebacks that produced victories.

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New Orleans will visit Portland on Thursday in the season-series finale, just two nights after Lillard had 50 points and 10 assists as the host Blazers overcame a 17-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to beat the Pelicans 125-124.

“I think with how it happened and the position we were in down the stretch, this will be one I remember,” said Lillard, who leads the NBA with five games of 40 or more points this season.

“He continues to do things that are remarkable,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Fifty points and 10 assists, and game-winners, and all the things that he does. I’m never surprised, but I never take it for granted.”

Lillard had 43 points and a career-high 16 assists and converted a game-winning, three-point play with 16 seconds remaining in a 126-124 victory in New Orleans on Feb. 17. The Pelicans had a 15-point lead in the first half and led by 10 at halftime before Lillard led a Blazers comeback.

On Tuesday, Lillard made 13-of-20 field goals, including six 3-pointers, and made all 18 of his free throws. He scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, including the decisive two free throws with 1.2 seconds left.

“I got to my spot and drew a foul and that was game,” Lillard said.

Portland still had to withstand a turnaround hook shot at the buzzer from Zion Williamson that missed off the glass and the front of the rim.

Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 30 points but missed two free throws with 7.2 seconds left. Williamson scored 28 and Lonzo Ball had 11 points and a career-high 17 assists.

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Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 20 points, including six 3-pointers, off the bench, but he fumbled Ball’s inbounds pass out of bounds with 4.2 seconds left, giving Lillard his opportunity.

“We made mistakes that we would rather have them in the first three quarters,” Williamson said. “We just made them at the wrong time. Portland capitalized each and every time we made one.”

The Pelicans scored just nine points in the final seven minutes and got outscored 43-29 in the fourth quarter.

“We just didn’t play the way we played the whole game, like we were trying to run the clock out,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We talked about that before: We’ve got to get the ball down the floor and play the game. And we did not do it.”

The Pelicans were the first team in the NBA to lose when leading by 17 or more points in the final six minutes of a game this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Those teams were 236-0 before New Orleans’ collapse.

“The last six minutes of the game, to me, we just quit playing,” Van Gundy said. “It wasn’t like we were moving the ball, moving the ball and getting good shots. We just stood around. That’s the issue.”

The Blazers will try to complete a sweep of the season series one year after the Pelicans won all four matchups.

–Field Level Media