Playoff Preview: Portland vs. New Orleans

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 49-33

Offense: No. 16

Defense: No. 8

Head Coach: Terry Stotts (12-24 playoff record)

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2017-18 Leaders (SUPERGLOOO season total in parentheses): Damian Lillard 30.43 (1692.39); C.J. McCollum 17.65 (1074.81); Jusuf Nurkic 21.70 (943.95); Al-Farouq Aminu 15.75 (679.88); Ed Davis 18.13 (555.46).

Prolific Playoff Performers (SUPERGLOOO career total in parentheses): None.

The 5,000 Minute Rule: Damian Lillard 18,336 minutes with Trail Blazers; C.J. McCollum 10,715; Al-Farouq Aminu 6671; Meyers Leonard 5363; Mo Harkless 5314.

STARTERS MPG PPG RPG APG NOTE
 G Damian Lillard  36.6  26.9  4.5  6.6  .594 true shooting %
 G C.J. McCollum  36.1  21.4  4.0  3.4  1.0 steals per game
 F Al-Farouq Aminu  30.0  9.3  7.6  1.2  1.1 steals per game
 C Jusuf Nurkic  26.4  14.3  9.0  1.9  1.4 blocks per game
 F Evan Turner  25.7  8.2  3.1  2.2  0.6 steals per game

Key: MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; RPG rebounds per game; APG assists per game; SUPERGLOOO metric derived from Player Efficiency Rating, along with On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games.

KEY RESERVES MPG PPG RPG APG NOTE
 G Shabazz Napier  20.7  8.7  2.3  2.0  1.1 steals per game
 F Ed Davis  18.9  5.3  7.4  0.5  .607 true shooting %
 G Pat Connaughton  18.1  5.4  2.0  1.1  .352 3-point %
 C Zach Collins  15.8  4.4  3.3  0.8  0.5 blocks per game
 F Mo Harkless*  21.4  6.5  2.7  0.9  .596 true shooting %

6. New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 48-34

Offense: No. 9

Defense: No. 13

Head Coach: Alvin Gentry (12-9 playoff record)

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

2017-18 Leaders (SUPERGLOOO season total in parentheses): Anthony Davis 34.10 (1937.31); Jrue Holiday 23.48 (1431.49); DeMarcus Cousins 23.55 (852.22); E’Twaun Moore 14.20 (765.03); Nikola Mirotic 23.58 (733.37).

Prolific Playoff Performers (SUPERGLOOO career total in parentheses): Rajon Rondo 22.38 (1697.70).

The 5,000 Minute Rule: Anthony Davis 14,432 minutes with Pelicans; Jrue Holiday 9449; Emeka Okafor 5978.

STARTERS MPG PPG RPG APG NOTE
 C Anthony Davis  36.4  28.1  11.1  2.3  2.6 blocks per game
 G Jrue Holiday  36.1  19.0  4.5  6.0  1.5 steals per game
 F E’Twaun Moore  31.5  12.5  2.9  2.3  .593 true shooting %
 F Nikola Mirotic  27.2  15.6  7.4  1.5  2.5 3-pointers per game
 G Rajon Rondo  26.2  8.3  4.0  8.2  1.1 steals per play

Key: MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; RPG rebounds per game; APG assists per game; SUPERGLOOO metric derived from Player Efficiency Rating, along with On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games.

KEY RESERVES MPG PPG RPG APG NOTE
 F Darius Miller  23.7  7.8  2.0  1.4  .617 true shooting %
 G Ian Clark  19.7  7.4  1.7  1.5  .533 2-point %
 F Solomon Hill  15.6  2.4  3.0  1.8  0.6 steals per game
 C Emeka Okafor  13.6  4.4  0.6  0.3  1.0 blocks per game
 F Cheick Diallo  11.2  4.9  4.1  0.4  .619 true shooting %
 C DeMarcus Cousins*  36.2  25.2  12.9  5.4  1.6 blocks per game

 

Both Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are willing to do whatever it takes to put their franchises on their back and carry them to Round 2. And one of those two All-Stars will succeed in doing so. However, a just-as-important piece might be their complementary guards in the form of Jrue Holiday and C.J. McCollum who have just as big a voice in this series. Both Holiday and McCollum are recognized by their peers as being among the best at what they do, and this is the type of series where their true merits will shine, as Coach Alvin Gentry and Coach Terry Stotts do whatever is necessary to limit Lillard’s and Davis’ game.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland’s greatest strength and newfound attribute is the defense it now plays, thanks to the anchor D set by Jusuf Nurkic, who has surprisingly became an All-Defense candidate this season. Unlike past Portland teams, this brand actually plays tough defense, and no one sets that tough standard better than Nurkic, who controls the boards and challenges paint shots as well as anyone. Conversely, Davis offers his own brand of out-of-this-world athleticism on defense that is not to be confused with Nurkic basketball.

A.D. has the type of range that allows him to challenge a three-point shooter just as easily as he can read the ball fake and get back to the rim and contest the shot. Because these centers are probably two of the three best defensive centers this year—Utah’s Rudy Gobert being the other—this series will probably be won by the ball-controlling guards and how well they read the three-ball game and the attack-the-paint scenarios.

When playing in peak form, nobody is better at painting-the-paint than Rajon Rondo and Holiday, though Rain Bros fans (did that nickname ever catch on?) will vouch that Lillard and McCollum are the answer to the Splash Brothers any day. Regardless of who you root for, this is the matchup-within-the-matchup that may dictate which way this series swings.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Pay attention to Pelicans stretch forward Nikola Mirotic, who is the X factor in this series. Players like him tend to get lost in the shuffle in a competitive series, and then next thing you know, they tend to be the clutch-shooting game winners ala Robert Horry. Mirotic has that type of game and his space-friendly skills allowed A.D. to take his game to the MVP level, similar to the way Horry himself freed up the paint for Hakeem Olajuwon to Dream Shake his way to NBA championship rings and Finals MVP awards.

If Portland has a weakness, it is the forward positions that have been watered down with the injury to Mo Harkless, leaving Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner responsible to make sure Mirotic does not get out of hand. Now that we have covered all that, we’d be remiss if we did not note how great the Pelicans would be right now if they had a healthy DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup. Now that Mirotic is in the picture, imagine how he would fit in playing alongside Cousins one minute, and then Davis the next. If New Orleans can re-sign DMC this summer, the Pelicans very well could unseat the Trail Blazers for the No. 3 seed in next year’s playoffs. But as for now, Portland holds the slight edge.

TRAIL BLAZERS IN 7.