Trail Blazers-Pelicans Preview

When the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans met

earlier this month, it was the late-game heroics of Damian Lillard

that led Portland to a three-point victory.

After a quiet couple of games since and with Portland trying to

bounce back from a last-second loss, Lillard and the Blazers will

meet the Pelicans in New Orleans on Monday night.

Lillard scored 29 points – 13 in the fourth quarter – and had

five assists when the Pelicans visited Portland on Dec. 21, helping

the Trail Blazers to a 110-107 victory.

Lillard has struggled in his last two games, shooting 4 for 12

in a 116-112 overtime win against the Clippers on Thursday, then

being held to 16 points – just one after the half – as Portland

(24-6) fell 108-107 to the LeBron James-less Heat on Saturday on

Chris Bosh’s 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left.

“We made a lot of mistakes,” Lillard said after finishing with

four of the Trail Blazers’ 19 turnovers. “It was kind of a lesson

that all of those things came back to bite us. But you can’t win

them all. We’ve won so many of them and tonight we almost had

another one.”

Defense, already hardly Portland’s strong suit, has been an even

bigger issue of late. The Trail Blazers are allowing 111.8 points

per game over their last four – 10.6 higher than what they’d

allowed on average in their 22-4 start.

Lillard placed direct blame on the defense for the loss to

Miami.

“We had a decision to make if we wanted to start to play better

defense and try to take over the game and we didn’t do that,” he

said.

The Pelicans (13-15) have the offense to take advantage of

Portland’s defensive woes, though they’ll almost certainly be

without one of their top scorers. Eric Gordon, who scored 18 points

in the first meeting against the Blazers, has missed the last two

games because of a right hip contusion and there is no timetable

for his return.

Still, New Orleans has averaged 105.8 points over its past four

games, though it was a leaky defense that cost it Saturday in

Houston. The Hornets were ahead by three with 3:58 left and were

outscored 16-4 the rest of the way in a 107-98 loss.

“Those are the games where you’re watching and you can’t blame

that on youth. That’s basketball,” coach Monty Williams said. “To

give up some of the buckets we gave up down the stretch was tough

because coming off a back-to-back and playing against a team like

that, you were feeling like we had a chance to win the game.

“You look at some of your mistakes and it just sticks with you

for a while.”

The Pelicans have averaged 106.7 points in winning three

straight at home, and held the Blazers to 79.5 points per game

while taking both meetings in New Orleans last season.

LaMarcus Aldridge totaled just 22 points on 8 of 25 shooting and

nine rebounds in those losses while Anthony Davis totaled 39 points

and 21 boards.