Sun, 29 Mar 2020

Healthy Pelicans set to face Lillard-less Blazers

Field Level Media
21 Feb 2020, 11:55 GMT+10

The New Orleans Pelicans figure to have their two young standouts on the floor Friday night, while Portland Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard will be in street clothes.

Rookie sensation Zion Williamson, All-Star Brandon Ingram and the rising Pelicans will look to complete a four-game sweepof the season series when the teams clash in Portland.

Lillard said Thursday that he will miss three to four games due to the groin injury he sustained on Feb. 12 in the Trail Blazers' final game prior to the All-Star break. The injury also forced him to miss last Sunday's All-Star Game.

Lillard hopes the recovery period will be short and said he has to remain patient.

"You can't say, 'All right, I'm going to play through it' because it can be bad," Lillard told reporters. "I've been doing all the training and rehab that I can possibly do, so I'm sore as hell.

"I have to take time off to let it heal completely. Once that happens, I will be back out there."

Portland (25-31) certainly will miss Lillard as it sits in ninth place in the Western Conference, on the outside of the playoff race.

New Orleans (23-32) also is on the outside in 11th place.

However, the Pelicans are charging with six wins in their past nine games and have a now-healthy Williamson ready to lead a strong push over the final third of the season. Williamson is averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds through his first 10 NBA games.

"I'm very hungry for it," Williamson told ESPN of making the postseason. "I want to be in the playoffs. That's the stage you dream about being on, and when you have a chance to be on it, you want to leave it all on the court."

Williamson, who missed the season's first three months after knee surgery, topped 30 points in each of the past two games.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft recorded 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 138-117 home romp over the Trail Blazers on Feb. 11. Two nights later, he poured in a season-best 32 points in a 123-118 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ingram appears ready for full action after missing three games with an ankle injury and being limited to nine minutes in the All-Star Game. He averages 24.9 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Ingram told reporters earlier this week that he expects "to be a full-go" against Portland. Like Williamson, he also is bullish on his team's stretch-run possibilities.

"I'm excited for it," Ingram said. "I think all our guys are healthy right now. We have a pretty good rhythm and pretty good group right now. I think it's going to be some fun basketball. I think while I was out the last three games, they found a rhythm pushing the break. On the defensive end, they've been really good. Hopefully, we can continue to find our identity."

Portland's identity is wrapped up in Lillard, who ranks fourth in the NBA with a 29.5 scoring average and also averages 7.9 assists (sixth in the league).

Lillard's play helped revive Portland as the club won seven of 10 games before losing back-to-back road games to the Pelicans and Grizzlies to end play before the break.

But Lillard professes there is still time for the Trail Blazers to make a strong push with 15 of their remaining 26 games being at home.

"It's a long way to go, we've got a lot of home games, we've got a lot of winnable games," Lillard said. "Just know that I'm not gonna go away. ... After this break is over, it's on."

--Field Level Media

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