Pelicans back in win column with 119-113 victory over Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS — After sitting out Wednesday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies with an ankle injury, Anthony Davis came up big for the New Orleans Pelicans in their 119-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Davis scored 16 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans were able to hold off Portland and inch closer to the Blazers in the Western Conference standings. New Orleans now leads the season series between the teams 2-1. The Trail Blazers come back to the Smoothie King Center on March 27 for what could be an important tie-breaker come playoff time.

“We were tied with (Portland) at the moment and it was good to get the lead in that tie-breaker to better position ourselves for this playoff run,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “It was a big game tonight.”

“It’s about taking care of home,” added Ian Clark. “We know it’s one of those teams that’s ahead of us. We already split the season series with them 1-1, so it was important tonight to come out and get a win.”

The victory also gave the Pelicans their first winning record (21-20) at the midway point of the regular season since 2010-11.

“I just thought we did a good job, really, all around,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “You have to be able to guard their perimeter players and then they played three of them tonight (Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Shabazz Napier). I thought we did a good job on it. That being said, obviously those guys (Lillard and McCollum) end up with 23 each, but they shoot 18-for-43, so anytime you can do that, I think you’ve done a good job with them, defensively.”

While the Blazers’ shooting stars were falling, the Pelicans’ “Big Three” of Davis, Cousins and Jrue Holiday all rose to the occassion. Cousins added 24 points and had game-highs with 19 rebounds and eights assists, while Holiday posted 25 points on just 11 shot attempts while dishing out six helpers of his own.

It was business as usual for a trio that averages 70 points 27 rebounds and 14 assists per game.

It was also business as usual for a Pelicans team that continues to play inspired basketball for stretches, adequate for others, and dreadful for a few just for good measure.

But ultimately, it was the play of Davis that seperated the two teams. His attituted and intensity over the final 12 minutes changed the game, and saved the day.

“When he plays with that kind of energy, and then defensively I thought he and DeMarcus did great jobs of being able to switch out on the guards and still contain them,” said Gentry. “But when AD plays with that kind of energy and everything, I think it energizes our whole team.”

The Pelicans entered the quarter with a tenious two-point lead that was quickly erased by a Napier jumper. Darius Miller would put New Orleans back in front 91-88 with a long three-pointer. Davis pushed the lead to six with a driving layup and an “and-one.” He followed that up with an offensive board and putback.

After a brief rest, Davis came back to dominate the next six minutes, outscoring Portland 11-8 on his own as the Pelicans built their lead to eight points, 113-105, with 1:14 to play. Holiday would ice the game with six straight free throws.

AD finished the quarter 7-of-8 from the field, grabbed three rebounds (two offensive) and blocked a shot. All of it was needed as the rest of the Pelicans shot a combined 4-for-12 in the period.

“His presence tonight, it was felt throughout the whole entire game,” said Cousins of Davis. “His play, it basically spoke for itself.”

“Throw him the ball and get out the way. That’s our finisher, that’s our scorer, so it takes a load off of everybody on the floor.”

“I just wanted to get the win,” Davis added. “This is one we needed to have. We just wanted to go out there and attack.”

It seemed that early on the Blazers small lineup was a big problem for the Pelicans as Portland took a 19-11 lead with 5:21 to play in the first quarter. But New Orleans would close the quarter on a 20-6 run to go up 31-25 after one period.

Jrue Holiday carried the offense early, going 6-6 for 12 points by repeatedly attacking the rim.

“At the beginning, with Damian (Lillard), CJ (McCollum) and (Shabazz) Napier, just getting to the basket was my thought process,” Holiday said.

The Pelicans run carried over into the second quarter as the lead swelled to 16 with 6:40 to play in the first half. Then, seemingly instantaneously, the Pelicans completely stopped doing everything that they had done to build the lead.

From that point until the buzzer sounded, the Pelicans defense allowed Portland to get whatever shot it wanted, whether at the rim or behind the arc and closed the quarter on a 30-14 run to tie the score at 61 at the half.

“I thought we were a little loose with the ball when they started to make that run when we were up sixteen,” said Gentry. “Just a little careless and we had a couple of tough possessions and they were able to come back. In this league, sixteen is not a whole lot.”

At least to the Pelicans it isn’t, as they once again squandered a double-digit lead at home. The third quarter was essentially a draw with the Pels falling behind by eight early in the period as the Trail Blazers opened the quarter with a 14-6 burst led by former New Orleans Hornet Al-Farouq Aminu, who had five points during that stretch. Aminu finished with 17 points.

Cousins and Davis would keep the Pelicans in the game with seven points each and a Darius Miller three gave New Orleans a six point lead. Portland chipped it down to two, leading to the dramatics of the fourth quarter.

Now the Pelicans head back onto the road for a three game set. New Orleans has had success on the road, so anything less than two wins on this trip would be a setback for a team trying to put together one solid stretch of basketball that lasts more than three games.

“Right before a road trip, to be able to have this confidence and win at home and go to another arena and feel like it’s us against the world,” said Holiday. “New York, Boston – that’s a big game – and then Atlanta. They’re all three big games. If we can win on the road, that would be awesome.”

“We’ve been good on the road, so we don’t see why we should slack when we go on this road trip,” added Davis.

To make it a successful road trip, the Pelicans will still have to correct the mistakes that still impact them halfway through the season. New Orleans has to avoid the defensive lapses that allow cutters to move freely through the lane and the lack of rotation that create open shots for the opposition. They also have to eliminate the dead periods on offense when the team is caught watching Davis or Cousins with the ball and end up with tough shots from the floor. There were moments when the Pelicans had it all together, but not enough to believe that they’ve figured it out yet.

“I still think we made a lot of mistakes,” said Cousins. “I still don’t think we’re back to that level as a defensive team that we were early in the year, but a win’s a win and it’s tough to win in this league. With that being said, I think there are a lot of things we need to improve on.”

They get their next chance to show some improvement tomorrow against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

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David Grubb

Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter

David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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