How do the Pelicans win this series?
Jake: Solid defense leading to transition offense. The Pelicans need to contain the Blazers back court as best they can–you’re not going to fully stop them, but slowing them down as much as possible–as get stops so they can get out in run. If they Pelicans are taking the ball out of their own net and in-bounding it, Portland will be set on defense. And the Pelicans do not want to play in the halfcourt. And if they’re forced to? Mirotic needs to be hitting his shots, Rondo needs to be aggressive, and the Pelicans need to run Lillard through as many screens as possible to tire him out.
Jason: The Pelicans aren’t the clear favorite they would have likely been had Cousins not gone down, but this is still a winnable series if they continue playing like they have been in some of the bigger games to end the season. Holiday will be a menace on the defensive end, and an appearance from Playoff Rondo could be enough to lock up the two star guards for the Blazers. The same strategy goes for Nurkic inside, just being active and frustrating players on defense could lead to forced offense, as they averaged the fewest assists per game in the entire NBA this season. It could also come down to shooting luck, as both teams averaged about the same number of three-point makes and attempts this season.
Rory: It seems obvious, but contributions from players who are not Davis or Holiday. The Pelicans need “Playoff Rondo” to be more than just a meme. Clark needs to shine off the bench and provide the same defense he showed when the Warriors played the Blazers in the playoffs. Mirotic needs to make Nurkic have to worry about two big men. If the Pelicans can give a balanced, team effort (and recent history suggests they absolutely can), then they have as good a shot as anyone to beat the Blazers in seven.
Alex: Keeping the pace. The Blazers like to play a lot slower than the Pels, not too surprising since the Pels have played at record pace since mid-February. If Portland can slow the game down and force the Pels to work from the halfcourt, it can put a strain on the Pels offensive efficiency. This will come down to rebounds and stops, the first of which has been a weakness all year and the second is something that Jrue has been huge with in big moments (see his steal from Durant last week). If the Pels can make it a fast game, they have the ability to run Portland off the court.