Wednesday, March 3

Blazers and Pelicans prepare for battle after big victories

The Portland Trail Blazers have won five games in a row, the best of the season, and will try to extend that streak and end a three-game road sweep 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 in a row.

Portland, which blew a 24-point lead, ended an 18-2 run and held Oklahoma City without a field goal in the final five minutes in a 115-104 win 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 to get us away.”

It wasn’t just Lillard’s score that made the difference. The five-time All-Star scored or assisted at every Portland point in the final 4:11, scoring 12 points and delivering 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 CJ McCollum (foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist).

“I think our team played very well as a group,” Lillard said. “We got the stops, we made the shots and we were able to get him out. I love where we are mentally, I feel like we’re coming out mentally sharp. 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 scored in double figures on Tuesday, led by Zion Williamson with 31 points. All 13 Pelicans that entered the game scored points as New Orleans beat 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.

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

“Our offense has been good,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of coaches are solving problems and we have to improve defensively and that’s where our focus has been and that’s what we’ve 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 to the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons to start the road trip that ended in Memphis.

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

Now the Pelicans will begin a four-game homestay when they face the Blazers.

Ingram said: “Hopefully this starts something for us, coming home, and we can build some momentum and have the defensive coverage, effort and energy that we need.”

–Field level media

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