postgame: Blazers 100, Pelicans 94 (4/6/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

Pelicans guard Brian Roberts looks for operating room against Trail Blazers defender Damian Lillard

PORTLAND – In order to post a road upset and play the role of Western Conference spoiler Sunday, the New Orleans Pelicans needed to play above-average basketball for 48 minutes. They only did so for 24.

After racing to a first-half lead at Moda Center, a sputtering offense severely damaged the Pelicans’ chances of knocking off the Trail Blazers, a very good home team. Trailing 55-48 at intermission, Portland outscored New Orleans 52-39 in the second half.

Of pressing concern afterward was the status of Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis, who gamely tried to play through back spasms during his team's entire three-game road trip. Davis pushed through to log 34 minutes in Sunday’s defeat, but he again appeared to be wincing at times. In the final minute, Pelicans Coach Monty Williams noticed Davis struggling and went to replace him with Greg Stiemsma, but when Stiemsma reached the scorer’s table, Davis waved off the substitution, signaling that he was OK.

Williams, who said Davis will get extensive treatment for the back injury over the next few days, alluded to the idea of possibly resting the 21-year-old. New Orleans (32-45) has just five games remaining. The regular season ends April 16 vs. Houston.

“He’s sore,” Williams said. “I tried to sub him out of the game because he’s looking like that and as soon as I go to sub him he’s like, ‘I’m good Coach, I’m good.’ He was just trying to do everything he can to help his team. That’s why we love him. He doesn’t want to let anybody down, but if he doesn’t start to look better in the next couple of days, we have to make a decision going forward. We’ll go home and get him a lot of treatment and see where we are.”

Asked specifically about the notion of potentially having to sit out upcoming games, Davis said, “I know they have the best interests for me (in mind). Of course, I want to play and be on the floor with the guys. So I just have to see how it is day to day. It’s a back spasm, so it’s tough to play through that, but I try to grind it out with these guys. As a leader of the team, I want to be on the floor and try to win every game, no matter if we’re going to the playoffs or not. I want to make sure that we compete and I feel like I need to be on the floor. So that’s what I’m trying to do, help the team win.”

After a dominant March stretch in which Davis was putting up other-worldly statistics on a regular basis, his numbers have come down as he's attempted to fight through his back spasms. On Sunday, Davis finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four blocks, while often being matched up against fellow West All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 18 rebounds).

"He's working hard,” said Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow, who again led New Orleans in scoring, this time with 17 points. “We definitely see him out there grinding. He has so much heart. He’s out there putting it all out on the line just like everybody else, but he's going to continue to work hard and we’ll continue to pray for him and his back.”

A come-from-behind win clinched a coveted trip to the upcoming playoffs for Portland (50-28), for the first time since 2011. The Trail Blazers were outplayed in the first half, but gained the momentum in the third quarter, holding a 29-14 edge on the Pelicans that gave the hosts a 77-69 lead. Portland went up by as many as 12 points, but New Orleans chipped away and eventually pulled to within one possession at 97-94 when Morrow drained a long two-pointer at 0:35. As has been his custom, however, Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard delivered another huge basket against the Pelicans, scoring on a driving layup for a 99-94 margin with 22 ticks left. New Orleans misfired on three consecutive shots on its next possession, leading to Lillard sinking a free throw at :02.9 to account for the final score.

New Orleans committed only 10 turnovers Sunday, but seven of them were costly second-half miscues that often generated easy looks for Portland.

“We had really poor defensive execution and our offense kind of led to that,” Williams said of the second-half reversal of fortunes. “We took some really tough shots and turned the ball over a number of times trying to dribble into traffic and let them get into transition, which is what they do really well. They capitalized on our mistakes, but we did not play well after having a seven-point lead at the half. We came out in the third quarter and didn't have our best stuff.”