Pelicans Trail Blazers Basketball

New Orleans Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo, front left, drives against Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Portland, Ore. 

Randy L. Rasmussen

Make it three straight for Playoff Rondo.

Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo has now won three straight playoff games, all on the road against higher seeded teams.

Last season he helped the No. 8-seeded Chicago Bulls win two road games against top seed Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

On Saturday night, he controlled the tempo and had 17 assists to help lead the Pelicans to a 97-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the series.

It was the sixth time the veteran point guard has had at least 17 assists in a game.

"Assists happen when guys make shots," Rondo said. "I give my teammates credit for making shots. Coach lets me run the show a little bit, and I try to stay on the same page with him. We have a lot of communication in the fourth quarter as far as what he wants to run, and we got the job done together."

In his last three playoffs games, including the two he played last season before a broken thumb ended his season, Rondo has averaged 9.6 points, 12.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.0 turnovers in 35.3 minutes.

"If you're going to have him on your team, you have to believe in him enough to know that he's going to put guys in the right situation,"  coach Alvin Gentry said. "Sometimes when you're out on the floor you have a better feel than the coach. My philosophy is if I call a play and he already has a play called, his play will always supersede mine." 

It isn't just what Rondo does on the court though. It's also what he does from the bench.

"He has a different mindset," Anthony Davis said. "He was up all night watching film and even when (Portland) was calling plays out he was telling us what it was even before they even got a chance to run it. He gets guys involved, makes sure we are huddling at the free throws and making sure we know what we are doing after timeouts. He's just in a different mode."

Kicks for Instant Grits

Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford is in talks for a deal with Big Baller Brand shoes, according to a report by Yahoo.

Crawford was unavailable to the media after Sunday's practice.

Big Baller Brand was started by LaVar Ball, the father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and his brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo who are playing professionally overseas.

Crawford has worn the shoes during the season since re-signing with the Pelicans in early April.

Rare road win

The Pelicans are playing in their eighth playoff series since the franchise came to New Orleans in 2002.

Saturday's win was the fourth time New Orleans won the series opener and just the second time the team won a series opener on the road.

The only other time the Pelicans or Hornets won a series- opening game on the road was in 2011 when they beat the Lakers. The Lakers went on to win the series in six games.

Harkless progressing

Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless is making ‘positive’ steps toward returning from knee surgery, said coach Terry Stotts.

Harkless underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 28 to remove a loose body in his left knee. He has been going through on-court rehabilitation over the past week and while his status for Game 2 is undetermined, he is inching closer to a return, possibly when the series shifts to New Orleans for Games 3 and 4.

“I think when the surgery was done they said three weeks was a hopeful time. So as you can see he’s working,” Stotts said, motioning toward Harkless who was going through an on-court workout with the Blazers health and performance coach. “He’s progressing well.”

After regaining his role as a permanent starter in early February, Harkless averaged 9.4 points and shot 46.8 percent from 3-point range in 17 games before undergoing surgery.

Mike Richman contributed to this report

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.