New Orleans stifled the Portland Trail Blazers, thanks to the utter dominance of Anthony Davis and the lock down defense of Jrue Holiday. A series that many, myself included, thought would go the distance turned into a sweep for the Pelicans.
Davis ended up with a ridiculous stat line of 33 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.8 blocks across the four games. He shot 57.6 percent from the field, 30 percent from the arc and 81.6 percent from the charity stripe. In a decisive Game 4, he led his team to the next round by putting up 47 points and ten rebounds on a ludicrously efficient 65.2 percent from the field in what ended up as a 8 point victory. The last time New Orleans made the second round of the playoffs, they were a still named the Hornets and were led by Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler. These are exciting times for the franchise.
The Blazers were expected to match-up well with the Pelicans. Everyone knew the Pelicans had the best overall player, but many felt that the Blazers had the depth the claim the series. Alas, they couldn’t even earn a single W for their troubles.
Davis took advantage of a slower, less agile Jusuf Nurkic, while the defensive displays from guys like Jrue Holiday made shooting incredibly difficult for shooters C. J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. In the opening game of the series, Lillard – a possible All-NBA selection – shot just 26 percent from the field. In the second fixture he finished with seven turnovers and eight in Game 3.
Needs to Improve
The Trail Blazers enjoyed a tremendous regular season, finishing third in the West, but the Conference was so deep this year that three more losses and they would have dropped down to ninth. They are building around two volume scorers, similar to the way in which Golden State started to build around Klay and Curry. The only difference is that the Warriors managed to draft a Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green and all the pieces clicked together. Unfortunately for Portland, they don’t yet have an elite defensive star and due to their salary commitments, it will be difficult to improve through free agency.
The draft is an intriguing option, but adding a young rookie to a 27-year-old Lillard and a 26-year-old McCollum probably isnt the best option. I realize that it has worked in Utah but they have been on the right side of incredible, once-in-a-generation luck with the development of Donovan Mitchell. They could try to trade their pick, but they still have the massive contracts of Evan Turner ($17m), Mo Harkless ($10m) and Meyers Leonard ($9.9m) clogging up the books. On top of that, Jusuf Nurkic, who is currently earning just under $3M looks to at least triple his salary next season, especially considering Leonard contributed just 3.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game this season, before collecting his cheque.
I don’t think the Blazers need to blow it up, talk of trading C. J. or firing Terry Stotts would just be completely unnecessary, but something needs to change. The Blazers have gradually improved over the last few years but this offseason may just be their most important yet.
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Featured photo by Scott Threlkeld/AP