The Birds Of Prey In The Western Conference Playoffs

Since January 1st of 2018, through the end of the 2017-2018 NBA regular season, the Portland Trailblazers lost exactly three games at home.

 But in a three-day span, between April 14th and April 17th, the Trailblazers have already lost two home games, at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. So now, this Portland squad, which was one of the two hottest teams in the NBA over the second half of the regular season, suddenly finds themselves in an 0-2 hole in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, having decisively blown their home court advantage in the series.

Many observers around the league believed the Portland-New Orleans matchup might’ve been one of the most intriguing series in the opening round, but few would have believed that the underdog Pelicans would have taken such a decisive lead, in such emphatic fashion.

In a series that featured two bona fide candidates for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award (guard Damian Lillard of the Trailblazers and forward Anthony Davis of the Pelicans), one has clearly shined brighter than the other; it shouldn’t be any surprise that said player’s team is the one that’s up 2-0 in this series. Davis continues to be the destructive force we saw in the regular season, shooting almost 54% from the field (while averaging 22 shots per game), scoring 28.5 points per game and pulling down 13.5 rebounds per game as well. When Portland came out with the mindset of trying to slow down Davis in Game #2 of the series, he still finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

But to attribute all the success to Davis would be shortsighted. Davis merely headlines this New Orleans team comprised of crafty veterans, and underrated shooters.

The performance put in by veteran guard Jrue Holliday shouldn't be understated. Always designated as the team's primary ballhandler, Holliday transitioned to become more of a perimeter threat, charged with taking three-point shots (he's averaged five three-point attempts per game) and being a defensive bulldog on the other end of the floor. Holliday's one-on-one defense of Lillard has held the scoring dynamo to under 20 points in each of the first two games, and he blocked Portland's last-second layup attempt at the end of Game #1, to seal the win.

Meanwhile, wily veteran Rajon Rondo has assumed the role of the team’s primary point guard, forming a terrifying rapport with Davis. Few people realize that, over the last two postseasons, Rondo is now 4-0; he won his first two playoff games last year with Chicago before being lost for the remainder of the series due to an injury, and he’s helped the Pelicans jump out to a 2-0 lead as well. Remember: when Rondo is locked in, he is one of the NBA’s true “cerebral assassins” at the point guard position.

How New Orleans performs in Game 3, in front of a raucous home crowd eager to welcome this team home, but against a Portland team that will be playing with its proverbial back against the wall, will speak volumes of just how far this team can go in the playoffs.

But for the moment, Portland – and the rest of the Western Conference – now realizes just how scary this New Orleans team has become.