Trail Blazers Vs. Pelicans Preview

December 30th, 2013

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By ELI KABERON

When the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans met earlier this month, it was the late-game heroics of Damian Lillard that led Portland to a three-point victory.

After a quiet couple of games since and with Portland trying to bounce back from a last-second loss, Lillard and the Blazers will meet the Pelicans in New Orleans on Monday night.

Lillard scored 29 points - 13 in the fourth quarter - and had five assists when the Pelicans visited Portland on Dec. 21, helping the Trail Blazers to a 110-107 victory.

Lillard has struggled in his last two games, shooting 4 for 12 in a 116-112 overtime win against the Clippers on Thursday, then being held to 16 points - just one after the half - as Portland (24-6) fell 108-107 to the LeBron James-less Heat on Saturday on Chris Bosh's 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left.

"We made a lot of mistakes," Lillard said after finishing with four of the Trail Blazers' 19 turnovers. "It was kind of a lesson that all of those things came back to bite us. But you can't win them all. We've won so many of them and tonight we almost had another one."

Defense, already hardly Portland's strong suit, has been an even bigger issue of late. The Trail Blazers are allowing 111.8 points per game over their last four - 10.6 higher than what they'd allowed on average in their 22-4 start.

Lillard placed direct blame on the defense for the loss to Miami.

"We had a decision to make if we wanted to start to play better defense and try to take over the game and we didn't do that," he said.

The Pelicans (13-15) have the offense to take advantage of Portland's defensive woes, though they'll almost certainly be without one of their top scorers. Eric Gordon, who scored 18 points in the first meeting against the Blazers, has missed the last two games because of a right hip contusion and there is no timetable for his return.

Still, New Orleans has averaged 105.8 points over its past four games, though it was a leaky defense that cost it Saturday in Houston. The Hornets were ahead by three with 3:58 left and were outscored 16-4 the rest of the way in a 107-98 loss.

"Those are the games where you're watching and you can't blame that on youth. That's basketball," coach Monty Williams said. "To give up some of the buckets we gave up down the stretch was tough because coming off a back-to-back and playing against a team like that, you were feeling like we had a chance to win the game.

"You look at some of your mistakes and it just sticks with you for a while."

The Pelicans have averaged 106.7 points in winning three straight at home, and held the Blazers to 79.5 points per game while taking both meetings in New Orleans last season.

LaMarcus Aldridge totaled just 22 points on 8 of 25 shooting and nine rebounds in those losses while Anthony Davis totaled 39 points and 21 boards.