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  • NEW ORLEANS — Before the 2017-18 regular season began http://www.raidersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-brandon-parker-jersey , any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

    That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

    But now, the broom means something very different.

    Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

    With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

    “Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

    In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb Captain Munnerlyn Jersey , and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

    Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

    “They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays Derrick Henry Jersey Big , 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

    The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

    “I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) 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.'”

    “You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

    Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

    Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

    “Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well Adidas Corey Crawford Jersey ,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”

    Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira is skeptical about the league’s new rule against lowering the helmet to initiate contact.

    Pereira said this morning on PFT Live that although NFL Network canceled his appearance this week, he visited the league office and spoke with the current head of officiating, Al Riveron, and told Riveron that the officials are given an impossible task if they’re supposed to determine which of two linemen who collide head-first at the line of scrimmage initiated the contact.

    “Even though the NFL Network didn’t let me come on their show, I did visit their office and get the chance to speak with Al Riveron,” Pereira said. “I talked about how I felt it was going to be tough to officiate consistently. . . . Especially because they are pretty adamant that the rule is going to pertain to and be officiated in the tackle box, which I think is almost impossible.”

    Pereira said he wishes the NFL would focus on hits using the helmet involving ball carriers, tacklers, quarterbacks and receivers Tashaun Gipson Jersey , rather than down linemen.

    “In open space is where the rule needed to be officiated. Not in the tackle box,” Pereira said.

    However, there’s a silver lining to what Pereira is saying: He thinks calling the penalty is going to be so difficult that officials simply aren’t going to flag it very often, and instead the new rule will be enforced by fines from the league office, rather than penalties on the field.

    “I still get a sense that we’re overhyping this change. We’re just not going to see the number of penalties that people are talking about,” Pereira said. “I think you’re going to see more fines than flags.”

    Pereira believes the officials will call the new penalty a lot in the preseason, but that once the games count for real, they’ll leave their flags in their pockets except on the most flagrant of hits. Which means this rule change might not be quite as big a deal as people think it is.

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