The Portland Trail Blazers had just come off a physically and emotionally taxing triple-overtime victory at defending NBA champion San Antonio on Friday night.
The New Orleans Pelicans were coming off a big win at the Houston Rockets on Thursday night — and a day’s rest.
But it clearly was a new day — one filled with holiday cheer for the Blazers, a team hoping to advance up the Western Conference ladder. Portland jumped on the Pelicans from the start and maintained the intensity in a 114-88 beatdown Saturday night in the Smoothie King Center.
Surprisingly, it was the Pelicans (13-13) who lacked intensity.
“It’s one of those nights, but it’s also tough to swallow based on how we played (Thursday) against a really good team on the road,” coach Monty Williams said. “To play like this at home, you want to chalk it up as one of those games, but I think it’s some more there. We just didn’t have the level of intensity to start the game. We missed so many shots in the lane, and I think that hurt us.”
New Orleans shot just 35.3 percent, including just 19-of-50 in the paint, and star forward Anthony Davis was held to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. Guard Tyreke Evans, who had averaged 28.0 points on 53.1 percent shooting in his previous three games, was clearly slowed by his right knee bone bruise and finished with six points, as did point guard Jrue Holiday.
Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said his team didn’t do anything differently defensively. The Blazers (22-6) also shot 53.3 percent.
“I think guys were locked in,” said Aldridge, who had a game-high 27 points. “We didn’t look for the excuse of playing a back-to-back. Everybody came ready to go, and once you find that rhythm on the offensive end and defensive end, it gets easy. We were just trying to be active and limit their drives to the rim.”
Reserve guard Austin Rivers was the Pelicans’ leading scorer with 21 points. Sixth man Ryan Anderson had 16.
The loss, after New Orleans had won three of its previous four, came with the Pelicans set to visit title contender Oklahoma City on Sunday. The Thunder was a game behind the Pelicans for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot when Saturday’s games began.
“We just have to move on to the next game,” Davis said, “and hopefully we can get one at OKC.”
Portland began the game by riding Aldridge. Then backup point guard Steve Blake entered and opened things up with his drives, and the Blazers beat the Pelicans’ perimeter rotation and made 3-pointers.
That led to crisp ball movement, and the result was a 62-44 halftime lead against a bewildered Pelicans team that always seemed a step behind on defense and never got into rhythm offensively. New Orleans shot just 37.2 percent (16-of-43) in the first half and turned the ball over nine times, leading to 17 Blazers points.
Portland shot 55.3 percent (26-of-47), assisting on 14 of the baskets. The Blazers made 5 of 11 3-point tries.
Davis spent much of the half under duress, guarded by physical 6-foot-11 power forward Joel Freeland. Freeland played Davis closely, forcing him to drive, then was able to defend with his footwork and bother him with his length.
Davis scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting in the half and didn’t take a shot in the second quarter.
“I tried to play aggressive and tried to bump him when I could,” Freeland said. “Obviously it got me in foul trouble. I just tried to take him out of his rhythm.”
During Portland’s first-half onslaught, point guard Damian Lillard, who had a career-high 43 points Friday, scored just six points. But he started the third quarter with a 3-pointer from the corner, pushing the lead to 21. He hit one at the 7:52 mark that made it 75-49 and another one at 5:50 that gave Portland an 80-51 bulge.
Portland took its largest lead of the game — 94-60 — with 36.5 seconds left in the third.
“I think that was an impressive back-to-back with the win last night with how we won in triple overtime,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “And then to come out with the injury and focus we had tonight, that was very impressive.”
Note: The Pelicans recalled guard Russ Smith from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the Developmental League. Smith played 14 minutes, 38 seconds for the Pelicans on Saturday and had five points on 2-of-7 shooting. In six games over two stints with the Mad Ants, Smith averaged 16.5 points, 6.2 assists and 1.8 steals.