NBA Playoffs: New Orleans will be tough in potential second round series with Golden State

Photo credit: @NBAonSP

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

The Spurs shouldn’t be returning to Oakland for a Game 5 on Tuesday.

Golden State, leading 3-0 in their first-round series against San Antonio and looking unbeatable in the first three games, now has to play one more game after dropping Game 4 with a 103-90 rout Sunday afternoon in the Alamo City.

The Warriors now lead the best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series, 3-1.

Instead of sweeping the seventh-seeded Spurs, who are dealing with a myriad of issues from the recent death of Erin Popovich, the late wife of San Antonio’s head coach Gregg Popovich, to the ongoing Kawhi Leonard saga, Golden State allowed itself to cut 48 hours off its schedule to prepare for a New Orleans Pelicans team that will give the Warriors all it can handle in the second round.

The sixth-seeded Pelicans showed no remorse against the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in their first-round series. Many prognosticators, including myself, thought this could be a series that would go six or seven games with the Trail Blazers likely prevailing.

And why would you not pick Portland over New Orleans?

The Trail Blazers arguably have one of the NBA’s best backcourt duos in point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard CJ McCollum to carry them over unheralded combination of  point guard Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday.

Oh yeah, and the Pelicans were without center Demarcus Cousins, who tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the season on Jan. 26. Before the injury, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game and along with power forward Anthony Davis (28 ppg and 11 rpg during the regular season), were on pace to become the first set of teammates in NBA history to average at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Boy were we wrong.

Now, The Pelicans have all of their detractors eating crow with a side of “we told you so.” Portland (49-33) did finished the regular season with one more win than New Orleans (48-34), but it were the Trail Blazers that were over-matched.

New Orleans capped off the franchise’s first sweep of an NBA playoff series with 131-123 victory in Game 4 over Portland on Saturday night in front a rabid and sold out home crowd at the Smoothie King Center. The 131 points scored by New Orleans are a franchise record for a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In the clinching game, it was the combination Davis and shooting guard Jrue Holiday that punched the Pelicans’ ticket into the second-round for the first time since 2008 with Davis pouring in 47 points with 11 rebounds. Holiday finished with 41 points and eight assists against the Trail Blazers who had no answer for either guy in this series.

Both Davis and Holiday surpassed current Warriors’ power forward David West’s franchise record 38 points (also occurring in 2008 according to Elias Sports Bureau) with their scoring barrage.

The 6-foot-10, 253-pound Davis imposed his will against Portland bigs, most notably against center Jusuf Nurkic, averaging 33 points and 12 rebounds in four games against the Trail Blazers this postseason. There’s no doubt that Davis will be a force against Golden State’s stable of bigs, centers Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney.

Throw in the aforementioned Rondo, a 11-year, defensive, pass-first veteran with a championship ring from 2007 as the starting point guard for the Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett Boston Celtics, the Pelicans have some pieces in place to make the inevitable second-round matchup with Golden State interesting.

Rondo, or #PlayoffRondo, is the unquestioned floor general for the Pelicans. In the four games against the Trail Blazers, Rondo recorded 17, 9, 11 and 16 assists respectively. For the series, Rondo averaged 11.2 points and 13.2 assists per game and was glued at Lillard’s hip the entire time, helping New Orleans limit Lillard to 35.2 percent shooting in the series.

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who also has a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Warriors in 2015 before leaving for New Orleans, knows some of the offensive and defensive tendencies of shooting guard Klay Thompson and power forward Draymond Green.

Even with two-time MVP Stephan Curry still not ready to play in the playoffs for the Warriors, Golden State is still the better team than the Pelicans by far and can win the series without him since the Warriors still have another former MVP in Kevin Durant.

In the four regular season matchups between New Orleans and Golden State, the Warriors won the first three matchups: 128-120 on Oct. 20 at New Orleans, 110-95 on Nov. 25 in Oakland and 125-115 on Dec. 4, while the Pelicans got the best of the Warriors 126-120 on Apr. 7 in Oakland.

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