After splitting their four regular-season meetings, the third-seeded Blazers and sixth-seeded Pelicans open the playoffs Saturday night at the Moda Center.
”They stole one from us here, and we felt like that was a game that we should have had. We had a bad third quarter,” Lillard said. ”But they have Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, they’ve got a lot of guys that make them a dangerous team.”
The Blazers won the season’s first meeting with New Orleans, 103-93, back in October. But two months later the Pelicans beat the Blazers 123-116 in Portland without Davis. DeMarcus Cousins had 38 points and New Orleans extended its lead to as many as 18 points in the third quarter.
The Pelicans lost Cousins for the season because of an Achilles injury in January, and many thought the team’s playoff hopes were over. Instead, New Orleans rallied, going 21-13 the rest of the way and ending the season on a five-game winning streak.
”We were just starting to find our groove before he went out and when he got hurt it kind of pushed us back,” Davis said. ”We were trying to figure out how we wanted to play, and then we figured it out and were able to push through it.”
Davis stepped up in Cousins’ absence, averaging 30.4 points and 11.8 rebounds.
”When Cousins went down, everybody kind of wrote them off and they’ve done a great job of really competing since then Jalen Richard Jersey ,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. ”Anthony Davis has been an outstanding player. It’s been a tough matchup for us, games are close.”
Lillard, who goes into the game averaging 26.9 points, had 41 points in the final meeting of the season with the Pelicans, a 107-103 Blazers win in New Orleans.
”Dame had a hell of a game, but it’s playoffs and you can put everything behind what happened before,” Stotts said. ”The playoffs is a different animal.”
Other things to watch as the Blazers and Pelicans begin their playoff series:
GUESSING THE BEARD ISN’T COMING BACK: The Pelicans acquired Nikola Mirotic in a trade after Cousins went out. He initially joined the squad as a sixth man and was inconsistent. But late this season, he shaved his beard, joined the starting lineup and he’s been thriving ever since, scoring no fewer than 21 points in a game during the Pelicans’ season-ending five-game winning streak.
LUCKY THIRTEEN: The Blazers went on a 13-game winning streak, starting with a victory over Golden State just before the All-Star break that boosted their playoff position. And despite their late four-game losing streak, the Blazers still finished 49-33 and clinched the Northwest Division title. ”We would have liked to have a 50-win season but you can’t complain about a division championship or 49 wins,” Lillard said.
ROAD COURT ADVANTAGE: The Pelicans were just as good on the road (24-17) as they were at home (24-17). ”On the road we’ve been really, really good at just locking in and giving ourselves an opportunity to come up with wins … That’s what you have to do in order to be a playoff team,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
HIGH MILEAGE: CJ McCollum topped the NBA for the most miles on the court this season with 218. It was the third straight season he’s led the league in the stat. Jrue Holiday is No. 2 overall with 211.40 miles.
GOING FORWARD: Game 2 is set for Tuesday before swinging to New Orleans for games on Thursday and the following Saturday. The ”if necessary” games go like this: Tuesday, April 24, in Portland; Thursday Patrick Robinson Jersey , April 26, in New Orleans; and Saturday, April 28, back in Portland.
More NBA basketball: Everywhere he looks at the moment Broncos linebacker Shane Ray spots motivation.
Denver selecting another pass rusher in Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 overall pick? Fuel.
Not having his fifth-year option picked up by the team? More incentive.
Being bashed on social media following an injury-riddled 2017 season? Added drive.
Not that long ago, Ray was all the rage – a first-round pick out of Missouri to play alongside Von Miller. But another pass-rusher has suddenly soared in popularity in Chubb, whose selection on draft night had Miller hooting and hollering .
Ray gets it. He takes it all in stride. He’s trying to, anyway.
”For somebody to come and just try to shove me to the side, I’m not that type of player,” Ray said after a team workout Tuesday. ”I’m going to come out here and continue to be what my coaches know that I can be, my teammates, and I’m not going to let the outside people try to characterize who I am and what’s going to happen for this team.
”I’ve got to focus on being me. I’ve got to focus on coming out here and having a great season, and helping my team and securing my future, wherever it is.”
Ray insisted he understands why Broncos boss John Elway and the team balked at picking up his option. Last season wasn’t what he envisioned, either. He broke his left wrist in July, underwent three surgeries that caused him to miss the opening six games. He had one sack over the next eight contests before going back on injury reserve.
His fifth-year option – $9.23 million – would have been worth more than the four-year, $9,118 John Brown Jersey ,894 rookie contract he signed after the Broncos selected him with the 23rd overall pick in 2015. Ray, who recently turned 25, has started just 15 games in three NFL seasons, collecting 13 sacks and recovering two fumbles.
”Do you invest $9 million in a guy who had three wrist surgeries the year prior? You know, maybe not?” Ray said. ”I can’t blame John for that, and I can’t focus on that. That’s not something I’m going to allow to mess up my focus or my commitment to the team.”
On draft night, Ray said he, too, cheered the selection of Chubb, even if it was direct competition. Ray also vowed to teach Chubb the tricks of the pass-rushing trade. After all, that’s what DeMarcus Ware did for him.
So far, Ray’s been impressed by Chubb.
”He’s taking notes from me, Von, Shaq (Barrett), the coaches,” Ray said. ”He’s going to develop into a great player because of that.”
One thing: Ray will be standing in his way of a starting role.
”It’s going to be hell of a fight,” Ray said Cameron Wake Jersey , ”for somebody to come and take what I’ve worked so hard for my whole life.”
While Ray’s wrist continues to heal – he’s not allowed to do push-ups or bench press yet – Ray spent the offseason increasing his leg strength. He’s beefed up from 219 pounds to around 247.
”I haven’t been this big in three years,” Ray said. ”It’s a nice additional weight I felt I needed … playing the run, just getting into the backfield and moving guys around.”
Broncos coach Vance Joseph can almost sense a hungry Ray, who’s trying to hold off Chubb and prove he’s worth a lucrative new deal.
”You’re going to have to go out and earn your keep in this league,” Joseph said. ”If you earn it, you keep it. He understands that. So, Shane has been in a great mood. … I’ve been proud of how Shane’s handled those things because obviously he reads the papers and what you guys write about that stuff.”
He’s not reading this: What’s being said on social media. He’s tuned it out after a series of exchanges with his Twitter followers during the draft weekend.
”It’s stressful, when you’ve got all these other things to worry about in life and have other people that are trying to bash you every moment they get,” Ray explained. ”I don’t have time for it.”
Ray had a solid rookie season that included a pair of tackles and a forced fumble in the Broncos’ win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50. In 2016, he posted eight sacks.
”Last year, I wasn’t the same me due to injury,” Ray said. ”For people holding that against me, hey, it is what it is. I don’t care. … Focus on you and eliminate the outside noise and life will be a lot easier.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.
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