What are the key match-ups in this series?
Jake: I think everyone can give a different answer to this question because that is how wide-open this series could be. One of the biggest aspects of this series will be how the Pelicans do on the defensive glass. Rebounding hasn’t been a huge issue for the Pelicans all year, but the last time these two teams played Portland grabbed 17 offensive boards and poured in 27 second chance points. The team that controls the boards usually controls the tempo of a game, and the Pelicans want that tempo to be fast. If they have to continually take the ball out of their own net, Portland will be able to get the defense set and neutralize the Pelicans fast break attack. The Pelicans will need Mirotic to pull Jusuf Nurkic out of the paint. If his shot is falling that will happen. If he’s off, the Pelicans offense will struggle in many ways.
Jason: The narrative of the two games early in the season was dominated by the matchup of the bruising centers in DeMarcus Cousins against Jusuf Nurkic while Anthony Davis was injured. Now with Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and possibly Emeka Okafor likely to be thrown at Nurkic in different situations with Cousins out, it should be interesting to see how the matchup plays out, as there are potential mismatches on both sides of the floor.
Raby: I’m looking at Lillard vs. Jrue. The past few weeks has been a coming out party for Jrue, who has gotten a lot of national attention for doing pretty much what he’s always done (EXCEPT NOW HE’S HEALTHY ZOMG). He’ll be tasked with staying in front of Portland’s MVP, who has been on fire lately. Lillard is never going to be completely shut down, but if the Pelicans want any sort of success, Jrue is going to have to be every bit of the two-way player he can be.
Rory: The bench. When everyone was healthy, the Blazers were the inverse of the Pelicans: two elite backcourt players with one very, very good frontcourt player. The Pelicans have found ways to be successful without Cousins in the form of Mirotic and Rondo, making each team’s starting lineup more or less equally formidable. The difference will come down to the bench. The Pelicans will need strong performances from Ian Clark and Darius Miller to get over the hump.
Luis: The biggest matchup for me is positions 1-3 and how the Pels guard it. But mainly, where Playoff Rondo gets matched up. While I think he has had some great games down the stretch, his and Moore’s defense worries me a bit in this matchup. Especially going against Dame, McCollum, and to a much, much lesser extent, a bigger guard/forward in Evan “The Other Logo” Turner. It’ll be interesting to see if Jrue locks down Lillard from jump or if they let Dame get his and choose to shut down McCollum, something I think would be a lot easier and preserves Jrue more for the offensive end.
Alex: One of the interesting things is how the Blazers use Nurkic and Aminu against two bigs. Often times Nurkic isn’t on the traditional center but is instead on a power forward, which creates a mismatch where Nurkic dominates the boards. According to Cleaning the Glass, Nurkic is in the 84th percentile for collecting defensive rebounds, getting to a whopping 23.4% of opponents misses. I’m not sure how the Blazers will match up Aminu and Nurkic against Davis and Mirotic, but if they continue their trend of using Nurkic on the 4, the Pels can create space in the lane by having Mirotic hang on the perimeter. If Niko keeps shooting the ball like he has since he shaved the beard, Nurkic will need to step out to guard Mirotic, opening the lane for Jrue, Moore, and Clark to do what they have done all year. If the Blazers have Nurkic on Davis, expect Davis to do work down low to get Nurkic in foul trouble and take advantage of the mismatch. Making Nurkic uncomfortable on the court, where he has been the anchor for the Blazers improved D, will allow the Pels offense to flourish.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think are the key match-ups in the comments!