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Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers Lose to New Orleans Pelicans in Turnover Fashion

The New Orleans Pelicans entered Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers with everything in front of them. The Pels are battling the Phoenix Suns for the coveted 6th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs to avoid the scary Play-In games. The Blazers on the other hand are making travel plans and preparing for exit interviews. Knowing both of these scenarios, it would seem the young Portland team would come out flat and ready to pack it in, but yet again the rookies and Deandre Ayton proved us wrong.

The Blazers played inspired basketball in the first half, specifically in the first quarter. Ayton connected on back-to-back-to-back-to-back (etc., etc.) jump shots from 15 feet out in order to keep the Blazers ahead. Scoot Henderson had the Midas touch in terms of assists. Everything he passed turned to points gold, especially when the ball went to Ayton.

The Pelicans struggled to apply their patented zone defense and the Blazers benefited. Portland’s reward was a 55-52 lead at halftime. Sadly, NBA games are required to have two halves, so the Blazers were forced to play another 24 minutes.

The second half did not go as well as the first. The Blazers started turning over the ball at a rapid rate. The passing lanes that were open in the first half were now very, very closed. The Pelicans zone defense came alive and buried the Blazers down the stretch. New Orleans would go on to win 110-100, handing Portland its 58th loss of the season. Silver lining, the betting line was set at 14.5 points, so at least the Blazers covered the spread.

If you missed the game, you can find an instant recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.

Roller Coaster Ride of Emotions

Growing up in the Portland area, I remember going to Oaks Park. As a kid, I remember it as a massive place, full of thrilling rides and one big roller coaster. As I got older, the roller coaster I thought was so big turned out to be pretty small, but it did have some good ups and downs.

The Scoot experience was in full swing Tuesday, and he took us on yet another roller coaster ride. In the first half, Scoot’s passing was exceptional. Hitting Ayton on lobs and passing guys open. The location of his passing was on full display at the 5:19 mark of the second quarter. Ayton had his man sealed in the paint and showed Scoot his left hand. Immediately Henderson threw the ball directly to that hand while Ayton was spinning to the rim, and Ayton converted the pass into an easy layup. Scoot would finish the game with a career-high 15 assists, with 10 of them coming in the first half.

But like every good roller coaster, what goes up, must come down. Scoot would also finish the game with 8 turnovers (to go along with 19 points on 7-18 shooting). Those same passes he threw in the first half were getting picked off or sailing into the Club Level Section of The Moda Center in the second half. The Pelicans’ zone defense adjusted to Henderson’s tendencies and feasted on those mistakes. The game would have been close down the stretch if the Blazers had just taken care of the ball, as Portland lost the turnover battle 22-9. Scoot will need to develop counters or at least simple fakes in order to keep the defense honest.

Scoot plays so fast at times that he forces action or misses reads. This is normal for a 19-year-old rookie, so let’s put the pitchforks down. But these plays have to be pointed out if the young point guard is going to improve heading into his first full offseason as an NBA player.

The Initial Read

Scoot wasn’t the only Trail Blazer Tuesday who performed well in the first half, then took a swan dive in the second half. Basically every player on the team except for Ayton struggled on the perimeter in the second half and mainly in the fourth quarter.

Portland was hitting the open man in the first half and making the extra pass, turning a good shot into a great shot. Kris Murray was knocking down threes and Dalano Banton was making it to the rim and even knocking down outside shots as well. But when the Pelicans made adjustments to the zone and over-played the passing lanes, the Blazers looked lost.

When good teams make the leap to becoming a great team, they develop counters to what defenses throw at them. It’s a game of chess, and unfortunately the Blazers have been playing checkers this season. As the Blazers get more time under their belt, they will develop these counter plays, and we will see an improvement down the stretch of games against good defenses.

Silent but Violent

I want to give some love to Justin Minaya. The Blazers Legend, shoutout to Hand Fruit Nation, played 22 solid minutes off the bench. Minaya only scored 3 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and dished out 2 assists. But it’s the way Minaya positions himself on offense and defense that stands out to me. He never looks rushed and can take on difficult assignments on defense.

With 37 seconds left in the third quarter, Minaya guarded Zion Williamson one-on-one and forced Zion into an offensive foul. Taking on that task isn’t easy against one of the unicorns of the NBA. Minaya finished with a plus-9 in the game, and even though that stat can be flawed, it does show he isn’t the weakest link when he’s on the court.

Please Carry Over

The Blazers will be bad again next season. There’s always a chance Portland makes an Oklahoma City Thunder-type leap, but most likely the Blazers will be carrying the Flagg in 2025.

Even though the season may not go the Blazers way, Ayton must continue this play for a full year. The former No. 1 overall pick has shown flashes of greatness. Post All-Star break, DA has been one of the best centers in the NBA. The length on defense and the ability to knock down the midrange jumper, combined with the athleticism make him a cornerstone to the Blazers moving forward.

There was even a mean streak with Ayton in the first quarter. At the 4:45 mark he connected on a hook shot, then gave an angry look toward his defender and referee. He wanted the foul call but showed the most emotion I have seen from him all year. DA finished the game with 30 points (on 15-22 shooting) and 13 rebounds. If the Blazers get a healthy DA in 2024-2025, tanking will be tough.

Up Next

Box Score

The Blazers play the Warriors in Portland on Thursday at 7 p.m. PDT in a game that should feature some important draft-pick implications.

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