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Trail Blazers vs Pistons preview: Backcourt makes Portland go

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Stopping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is easier said than done.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

It took two overtimes the last time these two teams met, but Detroit left Portland with a 125-124 win. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit what would end up being the game-winning three in spectacular fashion:

KCP and a big shot late in a game, sounds familiar.

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Game Vitals

When: February 28th @ 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills; Auburn Hills, MI

Watch: Fox Sports Detroit

Analysis

No smoke and mirrors with Portland - their offense is centered around guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Trail Blazers love to put them in a pick and roll (hand off) in hopes of creating mismatches or catching slow footed bigs off-balance:

McCollum scored 35 in the earlier meeting, and while Lillard struggled (by Lillard standards) the P&R remained a constant:

Per Synergy, the Trailblazers’ ball handler’s score in the PNR is .927 PPP (points per possession), good for third in the league.

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Portland’s roster is a tad different than you might remember. February 13th saw then-Blazer big man Mason Plumlee traded to the Denver Nuggets in return for Jusuf Nurkic.

Plumlee is one of the better passing bigs in the league; if opponents blitzed the ball handler in a pick and roll, he could make them pay by finding the open man. While certainly skilled, Nurkic isn’t on the same playmaking level as Plumlee. History shows Nurkic would rather survey the floor to find the opening:

What does that mean? Why should you care?

If Portland uses Nurkic in the pick and roll as the screen setter, Detroit should do everything they can to get the ball out of Lillard or McCollum’s hands and make Nurkic catch the emergency outlet pass. If Andre Drummond (or Aron Baynes) aren’t aggressive defending the PNR, the Portland backcourt will pick Detroit apart. The Trail Blazers’ pick and roll efficiency falls off dramatically if the defense traps (.762 PPP) or makes the ball handler pass out (.882 PPP).

Make no mistake, Nurkic is a able distributor, but if the Pistons don’t make him prove it, they’re letting Portland off the hook (same goes for Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh).

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Projected Lineup

Portland

Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Noah Vonleh, Maurice Harkless

Detroit

Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Drummond, Jon Leuer, Marcus Morris

Prediction

Jackson’s Pistons’ history against Portland has been favorable but that doesn’t guarantee much these days.

Nurkic vs Drummond should be fun.

Pistons’ bench should out run whatever combination of bench Blazers Terry Stotts throws out there (Shabazz Napier became a prominent part of the Blazers bench after Evan Turner’s injury, which ... tells you a lot).

Laz is happy because Dame gets his but Detroit wins (Editor’s note: NBA-Jam-On-Fire Dame is the most fun player to watch in the league idc idc idc don’t @ me).

Trail Blazers 104, Pistons 110