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Lillard likes matchup but respects Pelicans

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Portland's Damian Lillard says he likes the first-round matchup against the Pelicans, but in almost the same breath he lists the reasons why New Orleans is dangerous.

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After splitting their four regular-season meetings, the third-seeded Blazers and sixth-seeded Pelicans open the playoffs Saturday night at the Moda Center.

''They stole one from us here, and we felt like that was a game that we should have had. We had a bad third quarter,'' Lillard said. ''But they have Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Rondo, E'Twaun Moore, they've got a lot of guys that make them a dangerous team.''

The Blazers won the season's first meeting with New Orleans, 103-93, back in October. But two months later the Pelicans beat the Blazers 123-116 in Portland without Davis. DeMarcus Cousins had 38 points and New Orleans extended its lead to as many as 18 points in the third quarter.

The Pelicans lost Cousins for the season because of an Achilles injury in January, and many thought the team's playoff hopes were over. Instead, New Orleans rallied, going 21-13 the rest of the way and ending the season on a five-game winning streak.

''We were just starting to find our groove before he went out and when he got hurt it kind of pushed us back,'' Davis said. ''We were trying to figure out how we wanted to play, and then we figured it out and were able to push through it.''

Davis stepped up in Cousins' absence, averaging 30.4 points and 11.8 rebounds.

''When Cousins went down, everybody kind of wrote them off and they've done a great job of really competing since then,'' Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. ''Anthony Davis has been an outstanding player. It's been a tough matchup for us, games are close.''

Lillard, who goes into the game averaging 26.9 points, had 41 points in the final meeting of the season with the Pelicans, a 107-103 Blazers win in New Orleans.

''Dame had a hell of a game, but it's playoffs and you can put everything behind what happened before,'' Stotts said. ''The playoffs is a different animal.''

Other things to watch as the Blazers and Pelicans begin their playoff series:

GUESSING THE BEARD ISN'T COMING BACK: The Pelicans acquired Nikola Mirotic in a trade after Cousins went out. He initially joined the squad as a sixth man and was inconsistent. But late this season, he shaved his beard, joined the starting lineup and he's been thriving ever since, scoring no fewer than 21 points in a game during the Pelicans' season-ending five-game winning streak.

LUCKY THIRTEEN: The Blazers went on a 13-game winning streak, starting with a victory over Golden State just before the All-Star break that boosted their playoff position. And despite their late four-game losing streak, the Blazers still finished 49-33 and clinched the Northwest Division title. ''We would have liked to have a 50-win season but you can't complain about a division championship or 49 wins,'' Lillard said.

ROAD COURT ADVANTAGE: The Pelicans were just as good on the road (24-17) as they were at home (24-17). ''On the road we've been really, really good at just locking in and giving ourselves an opportunity to come up with wins ... That's what you have to do in order to be a playoff team,'' coach Alvin Gentry said.

HIGH MILEAGE: CJ McCollum topped the NBA for the most miles on the court this season with 218. It was the third straight season he's led the league in the stat. Jrue Holiday is No. 2 overall with 211.40 miles.

GOING FORWARD: Game 2 is set for Tuesday before swinging to New Orleans for games on Thursday and the following Saturday. The ''if necessary'' games go like this: Tuesday, April 24, in Portland; Thursday, April 26, in New Orleans; and Saturday, April 28, back in Portland.

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More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tags/NBAbasketball

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