Lillard-Less Trail Blazers Reach Midpoint Of Trip After Loss In New Orleans

by Casey Holdahl
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Portland Trail Blazers added a 10-time All-Star to their team on Tuesday, though the addition wasn't enough to offset a four-time All-Star sitting out due to injury.

After sitting out for a full calendar year, 16-year veteran Carmelo Anthony made his debut with the Trail Blazers and started at forward in his return to the court. But with Damian Lillard sidelined with back spasms, the Pelicans were able to handle the Trail Blazers in the second half, givibng the road team a 115-104 loss in front of a crowd of 15,021 Tuesday night at Smoothie King Center.

The Trail Blazers are now 5-10 overall, 4-6 on the road and 1-2 three games into a six-game trip. Portland has lost eight of their last 10 games and currently sit in second-to-last place in the Western Conference standings after 15 games.

With Lillard sidelined, the Trail Blazers started sophomore Anfernee Simons along with CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Hassan Whiteside and Anthony, who joined the team in New Orleans Monday night before officially signing Tuesday morning. And in the first half, the Blazers were able to keep pace with a Pelicans team missing Lonzo Ball and Derrick Favors, taking a 54-53 lead into the halftime intermission.

“I thought (Anthony) looked good," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stott. "For having (only) a morning shootaround, I thought he was pretty good. I thought every shot he had, he was getting a good look at the basket."

But the fissures started to form midway through the third quarter. After a McCollum three tied the game at 64-64 at the 7:51 mark in the third, the Pelicans outscored the Blazers 24-15 to take an 88-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

"Defensively, a lot of breakdowns in transition," said McCollum of Portland's second-half struggles. "Sometimes we had give back but we didn't match up the way we were supposed to. So there was a lot of communication issues and then some times where guys were getting lost... Think we gave up 35 points in the third quarter and that was the difference."

The Pelicans pushed their lead to double-digits early in the fourth quarter, and from there, it never seemed as though the Blazers had the ability to mount a comeback of that size. Portland never got the game back down to single digits, and eventually went down by as many as 17 before limping to the finish.

"They outworked us, they outplayed us, they ran the court harder than we did, we didn't talk in transition," said Rodney Hood. "You don't want it to happen, but it happened, happened last night (versus Houston)... We've just got to get back on it. We've got a hell of a test for us coming in Milwaukee, so we're going to keep battling. Obviously we want to win but we've got to keep battling, getting better and I think the wins will come later."

The Blazers were led by McCollum, who went 9-of-22 from the field and 4-of-10 from three for 22 points to go with five assists, four rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes.

Nassir Little, who returned to the bench with Anthony getting the start, finished with the first double-double of his young career with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes.

Hassan Whiteside finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds and Skal Labissiere tallied 11 points off the bench.

Anthony, who made netted his first points in over a year and Portland's first points of the game on a three-pointer, finished with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting and four rebounds in 23 minutes.

"I just can say it felt great to be back into the flow of the game, be back on the court, be back to where I think I belong at, just being out there with the guys again," said Anthony. "I think more so of the routine, team bus, team lunch, being around the guys, locker room, just the routine that I’ve been used to for 17 years now, so getting back into that. But as far as the game goes, it felt good to be back out there."

Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans with 22 points and 10 assists. Brandon Ingram went 8-of-20 from the field for 21 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists. JJ Redick added 18 and Nicolo Melli came off the bench to contribute 14 points in 27 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers begin the Eastern Conference portion of a six-game trip with a contest versus the Bucks Thursday night in Milwaukee. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.

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