Apr 19, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic (3) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) during the second quarter in game three of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at the Smoothie King Ce

USA Today Sports

Pelicans try for sweep against Blazers – 5 things to watch

Seth Dunlap
April 20, 2018 - 9:41 pm

It was just a week ago when the New Orleans Pelicans were about to tip off their first playoff series in three years against the Blazers.  The excitement level was high around New Orleans, but expectations around the country were tepid. 

It’s been much publicized recently that all 22 “experts” for ESPN had the Blazers winning this series.  Vegas agreed, putting the Pelicans at nearly 2-1 consensus underdogs.

Three games and one week later and the script has been flipped.

The Pelicans are on the brink of a four game sweep.   Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, and Rajon “Playoff” Rondo have dominated headlines.   There are actually people talking about (gasp!) the unheralded work of Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps.

That’s one heck of a week for this franchise.

Now, they have a chance to complete their work against the Blazers today at 4:00 p.m. in the Smoothie King Center.   Here are five things to keep your eye on in this game.


1.  Can Nikola Mirotic continue to be a force on both sides of the court?

We all know that Threekola could explode offensively on any given night.  However it’s Mirotic’s defense that is catching people’s eye in this series.   He has helped negate what many people thought would be a decided Blazers’ advantage on the interior.   We knew the kind of defense Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday would bring, but Mirotic has been a revelation.   He’s been an asset, not a liability, on that side of the ball in this series.  Really, he’s been that for the Pelicans for a few weeks now.   Oh, and he’s been a beast on the boards, averaging 9.0 per game in the series.   There have been so many stars in this series for the Pels, but when Mirotic plays this well it becomes almost unfair for Portland.


2.  Who is this series’ MVP?

The race for most valuable player in this series is on.  Holiday would have my vote now, even after a more pedestrian Game 3, at least offensively, from him.   Rondo has been next level, just a few rebounds shy of averaging a triple double in this series.   Davis is, well, Anthony Davis – perhaps the best player in the league right now and a freakishly tough matchup for any team.  Mirotic threw himself into the conversation with an absurd Game 3.   We can watch Game 4, through the comfortable lens of a 3-0 Pelicans lead, as a possible deciding night for series MVP.


3.  Will Alvin Gentry continue to trust Ian Clark with big minutes?

One of the surprises in this series has been Gentry’s usage of the Pelicans bench.   Nobody thought that they would be one of the deeper teams in the playoffs, but that bench has been even shorter than expected.   The one exception is Ian Clark, who has seen his usage go up from 19 minutes per game in the regular season to 23 minutes in this series.   The production Clark is providing in those minutes is, however, up for debate.  He hasn’t been a liability, but it’s tough to see him as an asset.  I’ll have a hard time forgetting the terrible back-to-back iso possessions for Clark in Game 1.  Those were ugly, and Clark looked completely over his head.   Yet he has played some very valuable minutes in relief of Rondo and Holiday throughout this series, and it is really fair to expect Clark to be anything but the near-forgotten role player he is?   Oh, and does Gentry really have a better guard option off the bench than Clark?  No, he doesn’t.   We’re going to be stuck watching Clark get extended minutes against the Lillards, McCollums, and pretty soon the Currys and Thompsons of the NBA world.  It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s the hand Gentry and this team has been dealt.


4.  Can the Pelicans stay healthy?

This series is all but over.  No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.  Plus -- just eyeball test here – the Pelicans have completely overwhelmed the Blazers in every facet of the game in this series, except maybe rebounding where the Blazers have pounded the offensive boards on occasion.   It’s critical for the Pelicans to stay completely healthy heading into their next playoff series, almost certainly against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.  If New Orleans has any shot at what would be one of the biggest playoff upsets in NBA history, they’ll need all hands aboard to do it.


5.  Cajun Cannon dance cam!

If you’re at the Smoothie King center, keep an eye on the video board.  Bobby Hebert dominated the Dance Cam in Game 3, and he’s expected to bust a few new moves on Saturday.  Get those cell phones out!

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