Ben Simmons’ 76ers suffer through cold shooting night, Dwyane Wade lifts Miami Heat to Game
The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves in an awful spot after two games against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Blazers were swept on their home floor by the visiting Pels, and in a few more days, Portland could find itself swept entirely out of the NBA playoffs.
That would be the second straight first-round exit for Damian Lillard’s Blazers, and the third in four years. But more was expected of Portland this time around, given that they are the No. 3 seed and finally put together a strong defense to pair up with their guard-led attack. Many were shocked the Pelicans even made the playoffs after being unable to upgrade the roster much last offseason, and then losing DeMarcus Cousins to injury at midseason. Few expected New Orleans to advance in the postseason once they got there.
But here we are, with Portland heading down to the bayou with their season on the line. Here are the three major reasons the Blazers are on the precipice of doom:
The Pelicans have a smart defensive gameplan: focus on slowing down Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ best player and one of the league’s top guards. If you can make life difficult for Dame or get the ball out of his hands, Portland’s offense will be less effective.
Portland’s offense has, in fact, crumbled without an effective Lillard.
New Orleans is trapping Dame on every high pick-and-roll. This is like 75 percent of the Blazers’ normal offense (or at least that’s what it feels like watching Portland). Lillard is rarely able to attack through the double — he has gotten free a couple of times in the series, and he made some clever passes to rolling big men other times. But, largely, the Blazers’ reaction to the defensive focus on Lillard has been for Dame to force up bad shots (more the case in Game 1, where he shot 6-23), lose control (seven turnovers in Game 2) or to let others, primarily C.J. McCollum, run the offense.
McCollum running the offense essentially means McCollum running isolation or draw-and-kick against Jrue Holiday or E’Twaun Moore, both strong defenders. McCollum did have six assists on Tuesday and finished with a fair 22 points on 22 shooting possessions. But the Blazers need production like that in addition to production from Lillard. If only one performs, Portland is in trouble.
This is a failure of coaching and team-building, straight up. Trapping a star point guard hard isn’t exactly some avant-garde defensive strategy. The Blazers should have an answer. They don’t.
Devils vs Lightning Live online :
NHL playoff action continues at the Prudential Center where the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning in game four.
Watch New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay Lightning Live Stream Free
The Tampa Bay Lightning meet the New Jersey Devils in what figures to be as genuine a representation of the conference-leader-meets-wild-card matchup as we’ve seen. This isn’t a pretty strong No. 1 seed meeting a known commodity that happened to drop to the wild-card spot.
It’s Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, who have been dominating the rest of the league since day one, meeting a Devils team that looked more likely to finish as the league’s first 31st team than an eventual champion.
Tampa Bay might have won the Atlantic to set up a first round playoff series with New Jersey but the Devils have played the Lightning tough the past several years. That trend continued Monday with Tampa Bay absorbing a 5-2 defeat that cut their series lead to 2-1.
The Lightning received power play goals from Alex Kilhorn and Steven Stamkos with both adding assists. Nikita Kucherov logged a pair of helpers and the Lightning saw Andrei Vasilevskiy allow three goals on 39 shots.
The balanced New Jersey attack produced goals off the sticks of Taylor Hall, Will Butcher and Stefan Noesen with Blake Coleman and Ben Lovejoy hitting the empty net in the final minute. Hall gave the Devils a pair of helpers to make the 34 save effort of Cory Schneider a winner.
Lightning are 0-7 in their last 7 when their opponent scores 5 goals or more in their previous game and under is 3-0-1 in Lightning last 4 following a loss of 3 or
Lightning are 0-7 in their last 7 when their opponent scores 5 goals or more in their previous game and under is 3-0-1 in Lightning last 4 following a loss of 3 or more goals and over is 5-0 in Lightning last 5 when their opponent scores 5 goals or more in their previous game.
Over is 3-0-2 in Devils last 5 Conference Quarterfinals games and over is 4-0 in Devils last 4 overall and over is 4-0 in Devils last 4 vs. Eastern Conference. Over is 5-1-1 in the last 7 meetings and home team is 17-5 in the last 22 meetings and Lightning are 5-17 in the last 22 meetings in New Jersey.
The over and New Jersey have been the moneymakers here and I’ll go with the over for now
New Jersey swept the season series against the Lightning, but that’s a bit misleading when it comes to projecting how these two stack up against each other — the Devils squeaked by with one-goal wins every time, and were outshot in all three games, most notably in the second meeting, which saw Tampa Bay fall despite amassing 51 shots to the Devils’ 28.
If Keth Kinkaid continues his standout year and the Lightning’s stars stumble in the bright lights of the playoffs, the Devils can put together an epic first-round upset. But if things keep going as they have when the two clubs have met so far, you have to assume things eventually swing Tampa Bay’s way over the course of a seven-game stretch
Tampa Bay Lightning Outlook: Nobody could beat Tampa Bay at the start of the season, as they went 27-8-2 from October through December. But while they’ve still been a difficult team in the second half (26-15-3) team defence has become a problem.
New Jersey Devils Outlook: One of the best stories in the league this season, the Devils benefitted from a strong 11-4-2 start, but they haven’t coasted into the playoffs.
On the contrary, the Devils faced a difficult six-game road trip in mid-March that included games against Nashville, Vegas, Pittsburgh and the three California teams, which could have been the disaster that allowed the streaking Florida Panthers to catch up. But New Jersey managed to go 4-2-0 in those games, then won two in a row upon returning home. The road trip turned out to be a defining moment for the young team.
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