Trail Blazers vs Pelicans

NBA playoffs 2018: Predictions, picks for Trail Blazers vsPelicans 3-round series

 

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:

When Dame is stifled, there is no Plan B

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.

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