Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts with teammates during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on March 03, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The last time the Portland Trail Blazers played in New Orleans, their 2017-18 season was coming to an end as the Pelicans completed a sweep of a first-round playoff series.
As those teams prepare to meet again Friday night in New Orleans, the Trail Blazers are steaming toward another playoff berth while the Pelicans are closing in on mathematical elimination from the postseason chase.
Portland has won seven of 10 games since the All-Star Break as it tries to earn home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs although the home-court edge didn't do the third-seeded Blazers much good against sixth-seeded New Orleans last season.
"I love where we are," Portland point guard Damian Lillard told OregonLive.com. "It feels like (we are) a complete team. It feels like our style of play is very sustainable for us. We can be successful like this. I like that about the way things are right now."
The Trail Blazers won both meetings with the Pelicans in Portland this season and the teams are preparing to have their only meeting in New Orleans. The Blazers can clinch a winning record and reach the .500 mark on the road by beating the short-handed Pelicans, who have dropped four straight games.
"I'm fine with where we are, but we have a lot of work to do," Portland coach Terry Stotts told OregonLive.com. "Look at the swings in the standings this past week. Every game has importance. I don't think we're ever going to have a chance to catch our breath, because it's so tight from three through eight in the West.
"There's not a team in the West you want to face. Three-through-eight is still up in the air, and one and two are pretty good. There's not anybody out there that you look forward to playing."
Portland began a three-game road trip with a 125-104 victory at the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
Shooting guard CJ McCollum missed his first seven shots of the game, then made eight straight during a 23-point fourth quarter.
"I don't ever get gun-shy," McCollum said after a 35-point performance. "I've missed a lot of shots in my career and percentage-wise you're going to miss more than you make, especially from three. You just have to stay confident, stay aggressive and know who you are. I'm very comfortable with who I am as a basketball player and a person, so I just go out there and try to be my best self."
McCollum scored 19 points during a five-minute stretch of the final quarter.
As for Lillard, he is three points away from passing second-place LaMarcus Aldridge (12,562) on the franchise's all-time list.
The Pelicans have a hot guard of their own in Elfrid Payton even though the team has lost its last four games. Payton has had a triple-double in each of the last two games, becoming the first New Orleans player to have back-to-back triple-doubles since Chris Paul in 2008.
Payton is in his first season with the Pelicans and has played in just 30 games because of multiple injuries.
"I definitely feel much healthier than I've been unfortunately throughout the season," Payton said. "(I'm) getting a head of steam. Just (need to) find a way to turn them into (wins)."
New Orleans will again be without injured starters Jrue Holiday (abdominal strain) and E'Twaun Moore (quad contusion). Both players are scheduled to be re-evaluated some time during the next week, but coach Alvin Gentry indicated that both players could be shut down for the rest of the season.
Holiday and Moore are two of the team's better outside shooters and without them, the Pelicans attempted a franchise-record 47 3-pointers but made just 10 in a 130-113 home loss against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
"We have to shoot the ball better," Gentry said. "We took 47 3s. We probably took 38 really good ones."
The Pelicans scored 41 points in the third quarter, but saw the Bucks extend their eight-point halftime lead by scoring 45 in the period.
"You score 41 in a quarter," Gentry said, "you think that you would be able to make up ground."
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