The Portland Trail Blazers and the New Orleans Pelicans will enter the All-Star Break later this week outside of the eight playoff spots in the Western Conference.
But one of them will be able to strengthen their position when they meet Tuesday night in New Orleans.
The Blazers (25-29) entered Monday in ninth-place, 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis. The Pelicans entered the day in 11th place, 2 1/2 games behind the Blazers, a half-game behind San Antonio and a half-game ahead of Phoenix.
“We’re trying to make sure that we finish on a high note,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said after practice Monday, “and then when we come back we try to pick it up again.”
New Orleans (22-31) is coming off a short road trip during which the Pelicans defeated Chicago and Indiana, topping the Pacers 124-117 despite playing without All-Star forward Brandon Ingram and No. 1 overall draft choice Zion Williamson on Saturday night.
“It was a really good win, much-needed win,” said guard Jrue Holiday, who scored 14 of his game-high 31 points during the final 2:26. “Even though we know the break is coming up, we don’t want to give up any games. We want to come out every game and give it our all and get these next two as well.”
The Pelicans host Oklahoma City on Thursday in their final game before the break. Ingram and Williamson both sustained sprained ankles in the win at Chicago last Thursday.
Williamson returned to practice on Monday. He told reporters afterward that he will be back in the lineup.
He said he sat out against the Pacers after the team suggested it.
“They just told me longevity, the bigger picture, more long-term,” Williamson said. “They’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m just learning. I’m just following their guidance.”
The situation involving Ingram isn’t so clear-cut. He sat out Monday’s practice and there hasn’t yet been a decision regarding if he can play against Portland.
“I’m just taking it day by day and doing whatever I can on the basketball floor and off the basketball floor for the healing process,” Ingram told reporters.
Meanwhile, Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard has scored 40 or more points in six of the last 10 games. He fell short of that marker but still had 33 points and eight assists in a 115-109 home victory against Miami on Sunday. Gary Trent Jr. added 22 points off the bench, his fourth consecutive game with double-figure points.
“You just love to see it,” Lillard said of Trent’s contributions. “I told him the other day, I don’t know if I’ve been more proud or happier for another player or a younger player since I’ve been in the league. A second-round pick, McDonald’s All-American and went to Duke, but doesn’t get an opportunity right away. He had a lot to learn and he did it.”
Lillard has scored 30 or more points in 25 games this season, but he had one of his worst shooting games the last time Portland faced New Orleans. He shot just 6 of 21 from the field and missed all 10 of his 3-pointers while scoring just 18 points in the visiting Pelicans’ 102-94 win Dec. 23.
But Portland, which lost in an earlier visit to New Orleans, 115-104 on Nov. 19, has won six of its last eight games.
“We feel like a winning team, regardless of what our record is, and we’re playing like a winning team,” Lillard said. “Obviously, we wish that we weren’t in the position that we’re in, but thankful that we’ve got a lot of games left. The way we’re playing, it’s looking like we’re going to give ourselves a great shot at being in the playoffs.”
The Blazers and Pelicans meet for the final time in their first game after the All-Star Break — Feb. 21 in Portland.
–Field Level Media