PORTLAND, Ore. — Until a team is facing elimination, no game, even in the playoffs, is a must-win game. But if the Trail Blazers have their sights set on the second round of the playoffs this season, they'd do well to avoid a loss Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
The history of teams coming back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games is not very encouraging. NBA teams have trailed 2-0 in a best-of-seven series 290 times and only 18 of those teams have gone on to win the series.
Game 2 of the Blazers-Pelicans series is Tuesday at the Moda Center at 7:30 p.m.
There is some good news. The Blazers are one of three teams to be featured on that list twice, joining the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers.
In 1977, the Blazers lost the first two games of the NBA Finals before rallying to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games for their first and only NBA championship.
In the first round of the 2016 playoffs, Portland beat the L.A. Clippers in six games after losing the first two. But that series win comes with some baggage because two of the Clippers stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were injured in Game 4 and didn't return.
If the Blazers lose Tuesday, all is not lost. But the odds would certainly be stacked against them.
Here's a look at some story lines to pay attention to before Game 2:
Lillard and McCollum shooting slump
In the last seven games of the season, Damian Lillard shot 42 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line. CJ McCollum was even worse, shooting 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line.
Lillard said he thought the two had snapped out of their slump in the last game of the regular season against the Utah Jazz, when the two combined to make 22 of 43 shots (51 percent). But in Game 1, Lillard and McCollum missed 28 of their 41 shots (32 percent).
“I figured [the Utah game] was the turning point for us, that we’d be able to start the playoffs on the right foot as far as our execution and making shots,” he said. “But we didn’t.”
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said he was happy with the shot selection even if the shots didn't go in.
“We got good looks,” he said. “Dame and CJ didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half. We scored a lot of points in the second half. … I don’t know if [the Pelicans defenders] necessarily disrupted Dame and CJ that much, because they obviously got their shots.”
Lillard said he’s confident going into Game 2.
“I feel confident,” Lillard said. “We didn’t play very well [in Game 1]. To be able to come back and lose that game by two points, especially with them playing as well as they did, we feel good about what we can do (Tuesday).”
Maurice Harkless upgraded to questionable
Help could be on the way soon for the Blazers. Injured small forward Maurice Harkless, who is recovering from left-knee surgery, was upgraded to questionable for Game 2 after a Monday workout.
Designating Harkless as questionable means he has a 50/50 chance of playing in Game 2. Stotts said Harkless will be evaluated again Tuesday morning.
“See how he feels tomorrow, [see if there is] any swelling,” Stotts said. “Nothing definite.”
If Harkless is 100 percent and ready to play, his return would be a big boost for the Blazers.
The Blazers’ starter at small forward before his injury, Harkless brings versatile defense and solid outside shooting. He shot a career-high 41.5 percent from the 3-point line this season.
Harkless was playing his best basketball of the season right before the injury, averaging 14.5 points while shooting 66 percent from the field and 62 percent from the 3-point line in the six games prior to getting hurt.
More aggression from Nurkic
Jusuf Nurkic had the first playoff double-double of his career with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. He also had two blocks. But he took only seven shots, and some of his teammates and coaches said they'd like to see a more aggressive Nurkic in Game 2.
Lillard explained that many times during Game 1, when Nurkic’s defender trapped Lillard, he would pass to Nurkic in the middle, giving the Blazers center the option to try and score at the rim or make the pass to the weak side if the defense collapsed.
Sometimes that pass is the right basketball play in the situation, Lillard said. But he said he thinks Nurkic passed up some opportunities to score.
“Once he looks at the film, he’ll see [he] probably could have had a few more opportunities doing that,” Lillard said. “I mentioned it to him, so I’m sure he’ll make that read a little better next game.”
Stotts said a point of emphasis in the team's pregame preparation was how Nurkic would read the pick and roll against the Pelicans defense.
“We had talked about how they collapsed and he was very aware of that,” he said. “He was trying to be unselfish a couple times when he probably could have finished at the basket.”
Stotts pointed out that even if Nurkic could have been more aggressive, he was pleased with his decision making because he didn’t make mistakes.
“I don’t think he made any bad decisions. He didn’t travel. He didn’t have any turnovers,” he said.
No playoff jitters for rookie
Rookie big man Zach Collins impressed in his first playoff game. He played 22 minutes, more than the 16 minutes per game he averaged during the regular season.
Collins had eight points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block and the Blazers outscored the Pelicans by five points when he was on the court.
“He did well,” Lillard said. “A lot of that is not gassing the playoffs up to be something other than a basketball game. … He went out there and he did well.”
Collins said he was a little nervous at the start of the game but warmed up quickly.
"I was pretty amped up ... but once I broke a sweat and got going up and down the court, I was fine," he said.
Collins was part of an effective bench unit for the Blazers in Game 1. Portland’s reserves outscored the Pelicans’ bench 27-15 and outrebounded their counterparts 18-7.
“I thought the minutes Ed [Davis] and Zach were in together were really productive,” Stotts said. “Zach was productive on the post. He’s always been a consistent defender. I put a lot of stock in how the team does when certain players are on the floor.”
The Blazers outscored the Pelicans by eight points while Collins and Davis were on the floor together in Game 1.
Defending Anthony Davis
Stotts praised Nurkic’s defense against Anthony Davis. He said Davis scored seven baskets against Nurkic, five of which were jump shots.
“I thought Nurk guarding Anthony Davis, he did a good job,” he said. “He kept him away from the basket. He can contest him a little bit better. But Anthony Davis is a great player. He is going to score.”
Davis had 35 points and 14 rebounds.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW who writes about the Blazers and other topics. You can reach him on Twitter at twitter.com/jaredcowley.
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