New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers NBA Pick (February 21, 2020)

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Pelicans vs Trailblazers

The unofficial second half of the 2019-20 NBA season tipped off on Thursday night with 6 games, and we’ll have 18 more teams in action tonight. One of the most important games on the schedule will take place in the Pacific Northwest, as the New Orleans Pelicans will meet the Trail Blazers in Portland.

Both teams are in hot pursuit of one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots. BetOnline still has both teams with plus-money odds of actually sneaking into the top-8 by season’s end, but time will tell. Entering Friday’s game, the 25-31 Trail Blazers hold a 1.5-game lead over the 23-32 Pelicans for ninth place. Portland is 3.5 games adrift of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies, who lost in Sacramento last night.

Both Portland and New Orleans have been in good form in recent weeks, but the Blazers are set to embark on a period of time without Damian Lillard, who hurt his groin in the team’s final game before the All-Star break. Lillard’s absence means more playmaking duties for CJ McCollum, and more offensive responsibility for the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons.

Without Lillard, the Blazers are listed as 4.5-point underdogs at home on Friday night, per the odds listed at BetOnline. The game has a sizable 238 over/under, as well.

Game Notes

  • Brandon Ingram will return for Pelicans after missing time with ankle sprain
  • Damian Lillard sidelined for Blazers with groin injury
  • Blazers lead Pelicans by 1.5 games in Western Conference playoff picture

Zion is Here

The recent uptick in play for the Pelicans coincides with Zion Williamson’s return from the knee injury that cost him nearly 40 games to start the campaign. The former No. 1 overall pick was on a minutes limit immediately after returning, but he has since been fully unleashed by Alvin Gentry. The results have been better than the Pels could have possibly hoped for.

Williamson has looked right at home at basketball’s highest level. The ex-Duke Blue Devil is averaging better than 22 points along with 7.5 rebounds while averaging just over 27 minutes per game thus far.

Perhaps most impressively, Williamson has shot better than 57 percent from the field, and he has scored at least 20 points in 8 of his 10 games as a professional.

New Orleans has also won 5 of the 10 games he’s played. While a .500 record isn’t amazing, it’s still an improvement over the way the Pelicans were playing before he arrived. With the way Brandon Ingram has played like an All-Star all year long, the Pelicans suddenly look like a team with one of the brightest futures in the entire NBA. That’s without even mentioning key contributors like Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes.

The Pelicans have run at the league’s second-fastest pace in the month since Zion’s return, and they also have the seventh-best net rating in that span. New Orleans is scoring nearly 115 points per 100 possessions in the games Zion has played, which is the seventh-best mark in the NBA.

Where Do the Blazers Go?

Damian Lillard Question Mark
Lillard got himself into the MVP conversation over the last month when he caught fire. In the month of January, Dame averaged better than 34 points per game while shooting an absurd 45.1 percent from 3-point range. So far in February, he’s at just over 30 points per game, and his play has helped the Blazers creep their way into the playoff picture.

So, his injury could prove to be devastating for the team’s chances of qualifying for the postseason. Portland is 0-2 so far this season in games Lillard has missed due to injury, which obviously isn’t a great sign moving forward. As mentioned, the team is going to have to lean on CJ McCollum to do plenty of the heavy-lifting offensively. In those 2 games without Dame on the year, McCollum is averaging north of 29 points per game, which is an improvement on his season-long average of 21.3.

Lillard recently said he expects to miss between 3 and 4 games with the injury, but we’ll see. Groin injuries have a way of lingering, and they’re also a high risk of re-aggravation. Lillard surely feels the pressure to return as quickly as possible in order to help lift his team into the playoffs, but doing so too early could wind up causing him to miss even more time down the stretch of the season.

The Pick

This will be the second meeting of the season between the Blazers and Pelicans, and the second meeting in the span of a week-and-a-half. The Blazers went into the Big Easy and got gobsmacked 138-117 by the resurgent Pelicans back on February 11. New Orleans bottled up Lillard in that one, limiting him to “just” 20 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field.

With Lillard gone, it’s tough to imagine the Blazers having enough firepower to keep up. The return of Ingram, who missed last week’s game in New Orleans, obviously only makes the Pelicans even more formidable tonight.

New Orleans opened as a 3-point favorite here, but the betting public has pushed the line to Pelicans -4.5 as of this writing. A whopping 92 percent of public bets have come in on the Pelicans to cover, as well.

In this case, I think 92 percent of the betting public is on the right track. I like the Pels to keep up their winning ways in this one with the Trail Blazers down their best player. Bet on Zion and the Pelicans to cover the 4.5-point spread in Portland tonight.

Pick: Pelicans -4.5
Odds: -110
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Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...

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