The Pelican Blog

New Orleans' Alexis Ajinca protects the ball against the defense of Portland's Robin Lopez postgame: Blazers 110, Pelicans 107

By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer

PORTLAND – The NBA standings will indicate no difference between the loss the New Orleans Pelicans sustained Saturday night in Oregon and their previous three defeats on a current Western Conference road trip. Yet the Pelicans’ collective mood was markedly better in comparison to earlier in the week, after losses to Denver, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers.

New Orleans (11-14) nearly pulled off something only two Moda Center visitors have accomplished against Portland (23-5) this season, but the Trail Blazers held on to improve their home record to 11-2. The Pelicans fought tooth and nail against one of the Western Conference’s premier clubs, in a game that was a toss-up until the final minute. New Orleans had two chances to force overtime as the final seconds ticked down, but a stepback three-pointer by Ryan Anderson and a wing trey attempt by Tyreke Evans bounced off the rim, sealing the Portland win.

After losing by increasing margins of nine, 11 and 13 to the Nuggets, Warriors and Clippers, respectively, the Pelicans gave the Trail Blazers all they could handle, building a 13-point lead and trailing by a point entering the fourth quarter. Portland ultimately made a few more big plays in crunch time, however, highlighted by back-breaking shots from point guard Damian Lillard. The second-year point guard also sank a game-deciding basket vs. New Orleans early in his Rookie of the Year season.

“I do feel like we fought hard enough to win,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “I thought our guys battled and some things didn’t go our way. Like I told them, I have nothing bad to say about that game because of the way we competed.”

“This is one of the best teams in the NBA,” Ryan Anderson said of Portland. “We want to come out and compete this hard every night, regardless of who we’re playing. So if we can play this hard against other teams, it’s going to (help). Obviously, we need to play even harder than this, and tighten up some things, but when we play hard like that, we can beat a lot of teams.”

The Pelicans had one of their most impressive starts to a game of 2013-14 bu jumping on the Trail Blazers quickly, taking a 16-7 edge on 7-for-9 shooting. Befitting of a team that has vied for the best record in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, Portland answered, pulling within 53-52 by halftime. Portland continued its excellent play in the third quarter, going up by as many as 10 points and threatening to extinguish New Orleans’ chances of posting what would’ve been hands-down its finest road win this season.

During a back-and-forth final three minutes, the Pelicans twice took the lead on Anthony Davis points. He canned two free throws to put New Orleans in front 103-101 with 2:59 left, then threw down a putback dunk 40 seconds later to make it 105-103. Portland scored the next five crucial points, giving it a three-point edge in the final minute.

In just their second games back from injury, Davis and Evans again spearheaded the Pelicans, this time leading the visitors with 21 points apiece. Another bright spot was backup center Alexis Ajinca, who grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds in his Pelicans debut. The 7-foot-2 French pivotman pulled down five offensive boards, sparking a 48-45 rebounding edge for New Orleans.

The Pelicans will wrap up their season-long, five-game Western road trip on Monday, in Anderson’s hometown of Sacramento. Monday also marks the return of Evans to California’s capital city, where he played his first four NBA seasons.

“I’m proud of the effort we gave,” said Anderson, who netted 18 points, including four three-pointers, and eight rebounds. “It shows how good we can be when we’re focused in. We just want to get focused on the next game and win the next game.”