The first team to advance in the NBA Playoffs is the New Orleans Pelicans, who completed a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Stand up if you saw the Pelicans upsetting the Blazers. Stay standing if you saw them doing it in a four-game sweep.
With their season on the line, the Blazers’ offense showed up. CJ McCollum 38 points on 22 shots. Al Farouq-Aminu dropped 27 and hit 5-of-11 3-pointers. Even Jusuf Nurkic finally made some shots. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard was less-than-great (19 points on 7-of-16 shooting) and, collectively, they were not match for the Pelicans’ star duo.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday combined for 88 points on 47 shots. Jrue Holiday was 6-of-8 for 14 points and a pair of assists in the crucial fourth quarter closing stretch, cementing his case as the breakout star of these playoffs. The Blazers are finished. The Pelicans are likely heading for a fascinating matchup with the Warriors in the second-round.
It’s going to be a long summer for Damian Lillard. The star point guard prepared for this season by meeting with Blazers’ ownership to discuss how they were set up to compete in the future. He carried his end of the bargain with one of the finest seasons of his career, leading the Blazers to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and homecourt advantage. And then, in the penultimate moment, he averaged 18.5 points per game, shooting 35.2 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3-pointers. Lillard was not the reason the Blazers lost the series — they can also thank Jusuf Nurkic, a complementary cast devoid of secondary playmakers and a host of other structural issues. But he’s probably the reason they were swept instead of losing in a closer contest. It’s not clear where the Blazers go from here, but Lillard and his team has six long months to plan think it over.
The Pelicans are for real. New Orleans is still going to be an underdog against the Warriors, assuming the Spurs don’t rip off four-straight wins. But they’re much more prepared to make it a competitive series than their sweep two seasons ago. Anthony Davis is blowing up at center, Nikola Mirotic is defending and stretching the floor, Rajon Rondo is once again Playoff Rondo and Jrue Holiday has been spectacular. A lot depends on the return of Stephen Curry but the Pelicans won’t make it easy for the Warriors.
It’s also going to be a long summer for the Pelicans. New Orleans will make the matchup with the Warriors interesting but they’re still probably not winning it all this season. DeMarcus Cousins’ free agency is looming but the entire trajectory of the franchise has changed in the past two months. A series win and the way they closed the regular season should give them enough juice to walk away from Cousins if they choose. He’s a unique talent but whether he raises their ceiling is open for debate and there are, potentially, some more interesting ways that cap space could be utilized. What’s next for New Orleans has become an infinitely more interesting question.