Damian Lillard: Blazers must match Pelicans' aggressiveness, physicality

NEW ORLEANS -- Damian Lillard says the key for the Portland Trail Blazers, if they are to dig out of a 3-0, first-round hole against the Pelicans, will be to match New Orleans' aggressiveness and physicality -- even if it means foul trouble or some possible "altercations."

Lillard, speaking before practice Friday, said the Blazers haven't done enough to stem the tide of confidence the Pelicans have fed into, which was more than evident in Thursday night's 119-102 rout at the Smoothie King Center.

"They were up into us a lot, a lot more aggressive than we were. And we didn't dish it back out," Lillard said. "I think in the playoffs and in a situation like this, when a team is coming for you like that, you've gotta maybe go out of your way to do it back -- even if that means some foul trouble or some altercations happen out there or whatever.

"When a team comes for you the way they did in that last game, maybe we need to just make it a point of emphasis to go back at 'em."

Lillard said a defensive coverage plan that is different "than I've seen at any other point in my career" has also been the source of frustration.

"Two and three layers of defense," explained Lillard, who said the Pelicans are keeping a big defender on him after screens instead of falling off of him -- which is forcing him to either give up the ball or take tough shots.

Lillard is averaging just 18.3 points per game, down from his regular-season average of 26.9 points.

Lillard said he didn't notice the way Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday pointed toward fallen Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic on Thursday night after Anthony Davis dunked on Nurkic.

"I didn't see it. But, I mean, when things are going well for you, you do stuff like that," Lillard said. "That's, I guess, something you do when you're just feeling really confident, you're feeling yourself a little bit. It's not like we've done anything about it."

Lillard quickly added, however, "But as much as they've played well and we haven't, three games to zero, that doesn't mean that it's over with. That don't mean that we walk around here defeated. We just gotta get one. The series can change after one game, especially going back home."

Lillard has struggled to get going throughout this series with 15 turnovers over the past two games and a 32.7 percent shooting percentage. But the All-Star guard was quick to emphasize that his confidence remains unshaken.

"My confidence, that's something that's never been affected since I've been in the league," Lillard said. "I might get a little irritated and a little frustrated, but taking my confidence away -- that's gonna be much harder than what they've done."

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry hasn't lost faith in Lillard's ability either.

"I've seen him completely take over games, and I know what kind of competitor he is," Gentry said. "... In the back of his mind, he's going, 'I'm going at 'em.' So we have to understand that, and I think our guys do understand that.

"I mean, we still have appropriate fear. And I think you have to in these situations. We still have another game to win."

Gentry also praised Pelicans assistant coach Darren Erman for being the brains behind New Orleans' stifling defensive plan. (Holiday has been awesome against both of the Blazers' star guards, Lillard and CJ McCollum, in this series -- but he's not alone).

Davis raved Thursday night about the way the entire team has picked up its defense and stuck with it during the Pelicans' current eight-game win streak.

"First of all, I don't think Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves," Gentry said. "He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, 'This is what I want to do against them.' He said, 'I've studied every game that they've played this year almost and seen what's been effective and hasn't been effective, and these are the things I want to do.'

"So Erm gets a lot of the credit for what we're doing against those guys right now."

Nurkic, by the way, said he didn't notice Holiday's pointing gesture on Thursday -- though he agreed that the Blazers need to get more physical.

Portland coach Terry Stotts did not speak to the media on Friday, which local media suggested might be a first all season.