• Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers’ SCORE win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at Moda Center…

    Portland, for the third straight game, enjoyed an incredibly balanced scoring effort en route to 56.6 percent shooting, 11-of-26 from beyond the arc, and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. Even more impressive? The Blazers doled out 28 assists compared to just seven turnovers, good for a four-to-one assist to turnover ratio, their best single-game mark of the season.

    C.J. McCollum led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-14 from the field. Damian Lillard had 16 points and 10 assists, and Jusuf Nurkic, fighting second-half foul trouble, scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in just 21 minutes of play. What really sets this performance apart for Portland, though, was the play of its bench, which extended the team’s narrow lead in the second quarter and ultimately blew the game open early in the fourth.

    Seth Curry, scoring from deep and at the rim with equal ease and flash, had 17 points on 11 shots. Zach Collins went for 16 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, even connecting on 2-of-3 three-point attempts. Meyers Leonard had eight points, and Nik Stauskas, getting rotation minutes for the first time in three games as a result of Moe Harkless’ absence, stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, three rebounds, and three assists.

    The only players who weren’t especially good offensively were Al-Farouq Aminu and Jake Layman. Good thing, too, as Portland needed all the offense it could get until late in the third quarter, when it was finally able to slow down Chicago’s offense for an extended period.

    The Blazers absolutely feasted in ball-screen and hand-off action Wednesday night, again and again exploiting the Bulls’ aggressive coverage by releasing the ball early and attacking on the roll. Lillard had six assists in the first quarter alone, three of which came courtesy of bounce passes to a diving Nurkic for layups as Chicago committed two to the ball.

    Nurkic hit an 18-footer in side pick-and-roll under the same circumstances, too. Collins, Leonard, and even Aminu were also beneficiaries of the Bulls’ slow-rotating help defense behind the point of attack, whether on rolls to the rim, pops to the arc, or “short rolls” – when the man setting the pick stops his dive early to provide an outlet for the trapped ball handler, working a 4-on-3 numbers game from there.

    The Bulls won’t ever be the defensive team Jim Boylen hopes they will be until they clean up their help rotations on the back line. This game serves as a forceful reminder, though, of just how dangerous Portland can be when the ball is moving quickly and its role players play with force, speed and decisiveness.

    Kris Dunn has excellent size, is an explosive athlete, and plays with a motor that can’t be coached. What’s kept the third-year floor general from establishing himself in the league up to this point, though, is his utter lack of a jumper – the type of weakness that prompts far more problems than missed shots alone.

    Case in point: Early in the first quarter, Lillard first went under a ball screen for Dunn set inside the arc, then again went under a re-screen set near the elbow, some 15 feet from the basket. Fortunately for the Blazers, they don’t have to contend with the rippling affects of a ball handler who warrants no respect as a perimeter shooter. Portland’s spacing problems are manifested away from the ball rather than on it, as Lillard, McCollum, Curry, and even Stauskas, when called upon to show off his floor game, are all dangerous off-dribble three-point shooters.

    Evan Turner isn’t, of course, which is why his impact as a primary creator stems from pushing in transition, post-ups, and finding shooters off screens rather than pick-and-roll action. Dunn, clearly, has the physical goods and dogged demeanor necessary to be a starter in this league. But he won’t ever reach that potential unless his jumper improves, forcing defenders to go over the top of picks – affording he and his teammates crucial extra room to operate – rather than ducking under them, daring him to shoot.

    Speaking of Dunn: Look what Lillard almost did, and even ended up doing, to him at the rim. Yeesh.

    The Blazers moved to 9-0 on the season when Curry scores at least nine points, a total he reached in the first half alone. There’s only so much value to be gleaned from such trends created by arbitrary statistical thresholds, but this specific tidbit speaks to how much more dangerous Portland is when Curry is in attack mode. At the beginning of this season, after a full year removed from the game while recovering from injury with the Dallas Mavericks, Curry barely flashed the floor game that made him one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in 2016-17, instead fading into the background as a spot-up shooter.

    He’s been in attack mode of late, though, leveraging his red-shot three-point shooting and the accompanying defensive pressure into dribble penetration that creates scoring opportunity for he and his teammates. On Wednesday, that approach mostly manifested itself in layups and floaters after deliberate jab steps and herky-jerky drives. Curry is good enough to be the Blazers’ most influential bench player any given night, and he’s begun playing like it on a consistent basis.

    Collins, who was fuming mad after fouling out in garbage time, by the way, was even better than his stellar numbers suggest, making plays on both ends whether he was involved in the primary action or otherwise. On one possession in the third quarter, he stymied Zach LaVine at the rim with perfectly-timed help and high arms, only to forcefully block his ensuing put-back attempt after staying on the floor for multiple pump fakes.

    Another defensive highlight for Collins came when he pressured Bobby Portis at the arc, as a result of the Chicago big man banging a pair of threes in the preceding moments, and immediately called for a switch with Turner on the dribble hand-off to account for Portis’ hot hand, culminating in a Bulls turnover. Later in the third, Collins grabbed offensive rebounds amid multiple defenders on successive possessions, leading to a put-back of his own and kickout three for Curry.

    He also found Leonard for an alley-oop from the wing on a broken play early in the fourth quarter, then further extended Portland’s lead by banging a three from the left wing – an especially encouraging play considering he’d misfired from beyond the arc on the Blazers’ previous trip. Portland is a much, much different team when Collins, either spelling Nurkic at center or playing power forward next to Leonard, supplements the little things he brings to the table on a nightly basis with notable box-score production. Here’s hoping this breakout performance prompts the type of offensive aggression necessary for him to achieve it more often.

Fantasy News

  • Darren Collison - G - Indiana Pacers

    Darren Collison dropped another productive performance on Sunday as the Pacers stung the Hornets 120-95, delivering 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting with three rebounds, nine dimes, three triples and two steals.

    Collison is heating up with three double-digit scoring outings in his last five games with averages of 6.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game over that span. He's got top-80 upside and is trending up. Tyreke Evans added 14 points (6-of-10 shooting), five assists and one triple in 15 minutes off the bench.

  • Victor Oladipo - G - Indiana Pacers

    Victor Oladipo led the Pacers to victory over the Hornets on Sunday, ending the week on a high note with 21 points (8-of-20 shooting), two rebounds, seven dimes, three steals and two 3-pointers.

    While he's not the same breakout star we fell in love with from 2017-18, Dipo has managed to slowly find an upward albeit bumpy path in the right direction after being lost with a slow start on the season. He's got the chops to blow up in the second half of the season, so he's still at a buy-low range right now, if you have faith in his game.

  • Myles Turner - F/C - Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner worked the glass for the Pacers on Sunday and pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds while chipping in 9 points (3-of-9 shooting), three triples, one assist and three blocks.

    Despite his low scoring output, this was still a solid performance coming from Turner thanks to those cash counters. The shoulder injury that he dealt with earlier this year looks to be in the rearview so feel free to deploy him with confidence moving forward. Domantas Sabonis took care of business on the offensive end with 16 points (6-of-13 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists and a steal in 23 minutes.

  • Kemba Walker - G - Charlotte Hornets

    Kemba Walker led the Hornets with a solid performance in Sunday's 95-120 blowout loss to the Pacers, delivering 23 points and a full stat line.

    Walker hit 8-of-18 shots from the field and 4-of-5 shots from the line, adding four rebounds, seven assists, three treys, a steal and one block to the box score on the night. He did a lot but clearly, by the result, he's not getting enough support. Nicolas Batum was not much help on offense with six points (1-of-4 shooting), seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. It looks like it's going to Kemba carrying the bulk of the scoring load on most nights as the Hornets struggle to hang on to that eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

  • Jeff Teague - G - Minnesota Timberwolves

    An ill Jeff Teague headed to the locker room in Sunday's game vs. the Suns.

    He was questionable coming into this contest and gave it a go but it appears that he's still under the weather possibly unable to continue. If he can't return expect to see Derrick Rose to soak up his minutes and possibly a bit of Jerryd Bayless.

    Source: John Meyer on Twitter

  • Jeremy Lamb - G - Charlotte Hornets

    Jeremy Lamb had a tough time on offense for the Hornets on Sunday, going 4-for-13 from the field to finish with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two triples and a block.

    While his scoring efficiency tonight left a lot to be desired, Lamb has earned enough of our trust equity to deserve a pass. He's someone who can fill up the box score and thanks to his locked-in role of being the Hornets second scoring option, Lamb has been able to deliver bankable mid-round value in 8/9-cat on the season.

  • Bismack Biyombo - C - Charlotte Hornets

    Bismack Biyombo logged 24 minutes for the Hornets on Sunday and served up a double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and one blocked shot.

    It was not an eye-catching line but the takeaway here is that it's something that's, at the very least, the kind of production worthy of a roster spot in 14-team leagues or deeper. Willy Hernangomez was but a shadow with six points and three rebounds to his name in 18 minutes of action.

  • Ricky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz

    Ricky Rubio (hamstring), who has missed the last six games, has been tagged as questionable for Monday's game vs. the Blazers.

    He was a full participant at practice, so we know that Rubio is definitely close to a return. Stay tuned for updates at shootaround because he could be upgraded to probable, depending on how he feels. Donovan Mitchell has been balling while Rubio has been out, so their shared-backcourt dynamic will be something to watch.

    Source: Utah Jazz on Twitter

  • Aaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic

    Aaron Gordon (lower back soreness) is questionable for Monday's game.

    Gordon was unable to play on Saturday because of his back pain, which he equated to a similar issue he dealt with in November that forced him to miss a game. Hopefully he'll be able to return relatively quickly this time as well. Jonathan Isaac moved down to power forward while Jonathon Simmons moved into the starting lineup on Saturday, and if Gordon sits that should be the same configuration we see this time around.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Joel Embiid - F/C - Philadelphia Sixers

    Joel Embiid (back tightness) is questionable on Monday against the Rockets.

    Embiid looked a little slow in the first half of Saturday's game, but turned things on in the second half. He's going to be on the injury report quite a bit going forward, so we'll just have to wait for more news to come out.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter