• After being swept out of the playoffs last spring by a decided first-round underdog, the Portland Trail Blazers directed criticism inward. Rather than point fingers at one another for that depressing four-game loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, though, the Blazers confronted individual blame, accepted it, and made efforts to overcome it before the waves of such a dispiriting outcome crested to overcome them. Just a few months later, Portland stands alone at the top of the West following a blowout victory over a talented team that, again and again, allows festering chemistry and cultural issues infect their play on the floor.

    The Blazers beat the woebegone Washington Wizards 119-109 on Sunday in the nation’s capital, breaking a two-game losing streak to take some positive momentum on the remaining half of their second longest road trip of the season. Damian Lillard, ever in control offensively, scored a game-high 40 points, reaching that threshold for the third time this season. The red-hot shooting that marked his previous high-water scoring outputs was absent on Sunday, though, as he connected on just 3-of-10 from beyond the arc and 13-of-29 from the field overall. Undeterred by ongoing labors with his jumper, Lillard attacked the rim relentlessly, taking a whopping 15 shots in the basket area and connecting on 13-of-15 at the free throw line. The reigning All-NBA First Team honoree never let up, either, scoring 18 of his points in the third quarter despite Portland taking a 21-point lead into halftime.

    In a true testament to their all-around excellence, the Blazers as a whole were just as impressive as their best player at Capitol One Arena. C.J. McCollum had 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Jusuf Nurkic barely missed a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and a game-high +27 plus-minus. Portland was hardly ablaze from three, going 11-of-30, but still managed 26 assists, over five more than its season-long average. Following Lillard’s lead, the Blazers combined for 36 shots from the restricted area and 35 free-throw attempts, both season-highs.

    Despite Lillard’s brilliance and McCollum’s productivity, Portland still managed to play at level greater than the sum of its parts. A team long maligned for its lack of ball movement pinged passes all over the floor, confusing the listless Wizards defensively and creating open driving and passing lanes of which every player wearing black, red and white took full advantage. Terry Stotts’ team entered Sunday’s action as the sixth-most efficient offensive outfit in basketball, evidence of tweaks to the system and roster that over a month into the season have this group playing better than even the most partisan fans anticipated. Even so, “beautiful game” possessions like the one below have been few and far between for the Blazers this season.

    “When you give up a good shot for great shot it’s always good,” Nurkic said after the game. Most exciting among such passes? Nurkic’s pinpoint bounce pass to a back-cutting McCollum, between the legs of an unsuspecting Ian Mahinmi. It was that type of game, and it’s been that type of season, for both of these teams so far.

    It wasn’t long ago the Wizards were considered legitimate contenders in the East. It was even shorter ago, just during the preseason, that John Wall, Bradley Beal, the unabashedly proud Markieff Morris and company were publicly discussing their side-by-side standing among consensus conference powers like the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. A few weeks later, the wheels have come off in Washington more quickly than even Dwight Howard‘s most vociferous detractors thought possible. There’s enough blame for everyone to shoulder in the Wizards locker room. After the game, though, Wall saved his most direct criticism for the one aspect of basketball of which no player or coach has control: the officiating.

    “I’m always positive,” he told Candace Buckner of his mindset in the midst of a 5-11 season, “it’s just a lot of bull**** that – come on, man. These guys getting all the calls and these guys are jump-shooters. You got a guy that shot 12-for-29 and then shot 15 free throws.”

    Portland isn’t the best team in the Western Conference. Not even close. The only reason the Blazers sit mere percentage points ahead of the Golden State Warriors for first place is due to an injury to Steph Curry, a two-time MVP playing at perhaps the peak of his powers before being sidelined, and the type of locker-room melodrama that makes the Wizards’ seem tame. It was barely more than 48 hours ago that Portland was run off the floor by the rebuilt Minnesota Timberwolves, who on Sunday were put in their place by the Memphis Grizzlies, left for dead before the season yet somehow sporting a 10-5 record.

    The West may not be better than its ever been, like many thought it would in 2018-19, but is still rife with quality teams nonetheless. Only the lowly Phoenix Suns can be earmarked for the lottery come next summer; each of the conference’s other 14 teams are currently thinking playoffs, and have already shown the ability to back up those hopes with high-quality play. Nothing is guaranteed, as the Blazers learned the hard way in April.

    Well, except for the fact that Portland, if it fails to crack the West’s top eight by season’s end, won’t be doomed by interpersonal turmoil, a fact easily taken for granted by years of stoic leadership from Stotts and Lillard – exactly what Washington, and many other teams across the league, are so sorely lacking.

Fantasy News

  • De'Aaron Fox
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Sam Amick is reporting that the Kings have shut down their practice facility after a member of the team's traveling party tested positive for COVID-19.

    The Kings are set to depart for Orlando on Wednesday and the facility will be shut until after they leave town. Buddy Hield and Alex Len have already tested positive for COVID-19, though the report doesn't specify if it's another member of the roster to come down with the virus. Sacramento joins the Nuggets, Nets, Bucks, Heat and Clippers as teams who have had to close their practice facilities in this phase of reopening. The NBA is set to send 22 of its teams to Florida in the coming weeks.

    Source: Sam Amick on Twitter

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    The Bucks have shut down their practice facility after receiving results from the latest round of COVID-19 tests, per Adrian Wojnarowski.

    That batch of tests was conducted on Friday. Woj adds that the facility will likely be shut through Thursday, when the team's traveling party is supposed to head to Orlando. No word on who or how many of the team's staff tested positive, but as always, the pandemic is in charge of the NBA's attempted restart, no matter how much effort the league puts into its plans.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Mike Conley
    PG, Utah Jazz

    Mike Conley, like several others, is expected to leave the NBA's Orlando bubble when his wife gives birth to a child.

    Conley's third child is due in late August, so any departure will likely affect the Jazz's playoff roster to some extent. Utah will already be missing Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist surgery), though they still figure to be one of the best teams in the West's second tier of contenders. It was a frustrating first season with the Jazz for Conley and fantasy GMs, but he can flip the narrative with a strong postseason.

    Source: Salt Lake Tribune

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Shams Charania, the NBA has informed players that they will not be able to travel with their respective teams to Orlando, should they fail to be tested on one of two days before the scheduled travel date.

    The report also says that if the player does indeed miss the said window to be tested, he will need to register three consecutive tests before traveling. This is a strict protocol, but one the league needs to enforce in order to ensure the safety of all of the players and staff who will be entering the "bubble" in Walt Disney World in preparation for the resumption of the 2019-20 season. There has been a lot of concern, especially with the growing number of cases being recorded in Florida.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Jimmy Butler
    SG, Miami Heat

    Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald is reporting that a third Heat player has tested positive for COVID-19.

    Derrick Jones Jr. is the only known player, though Jackson adds that the two latest cases are both rotation players. Florida is in terrible shape at the moment and the Heat may need to enter the bubble without three of their rotation options — those players may still join the team later but will miss out on valuable practice time. The NBA is going full steam ahead on their restart plans but the virus is going to determine whether or not things actually unfold according to plan.

    Source: Barry Jackson on Twitter

  • Landry Shamet
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Shams Charania reports that Landry Shamet has tested positive for COVID-19 and is unlikely to join the Clippers for their trip to Orlando this week.

    That leaves the door open for Shamet to rejoin the team closer to the season's restart, assuming he is feeling okay. Just yesterday it was announced that the Clippers closed their facilities after a positive test, so it appears Shamet's case was the culprit. The sharpshooter is averaging 27.5 minutes per game this season so if he's forced to sit out the Orlando restart it could have big ramifications on LA's backcourt rotation.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    The NBA has released its schedule of scrimmages for the Orlando restart, with games beginning on July 22.

    The league has tried to match up teams that are unlikely opponents for these scrimmages so nobody gets a really good look at what a potential playoff matchup might want to run. For example, the first day of scrimmages will see the Nuggets face the Wizards, the Nets take on the Pelicans, the Clippers against the Magic and the Kings vs. the Heat. Scrimmages will run through July 28.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Caris LeVert
    PG-SG, Brooklyn Nets

    Caris LeVert embraces challenge of being a leader.

    LeVert has been an active participant in the racial inequality protests and admitted that basketball is very minor right now compared to everything else going on in the world but is ready for the NBA restart saying, "For me, it’s just taking on that challenge of being a leader, being the leader of that group, going down there with some of the most experience on the team, playoff experience." In the 16 games since rejoining the starting lineup, LeVert has put up All-Star numbers with 24.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists, while shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range and leading the Nets to a 9-7 record over that span. The upward trajectory continues for the Nets' 20th overall pick in the 2016 draft.

    Source: Newsday

  • Jordan Crawford
    SG, Free Agent

    Jordan Crawford has agreed to a deal with Russia's Lokomotiv Kuban.

    Crawford last played in the NBA for the Pelicans in 2018 with career averages of 12.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 24.4 minutes. The career journeyman has played for five NBA teams since 2010 with a few stints with China in between. Since the beginning of 2019, he has played in Israel, China, Germany and now we can add Russia to that list.

    Source: Sportando

  • Lance Stephenson
    SG, Free Agent

    Lance Stephenson is ineligible to sign with the Pacers according to Scott Agness.

    Stephenson to the Pacers was being discussed in early March and made sense now with Victor Oladipo choosing to sit out the remainder of the season but this move apparently will not happen. The 29-year old Stephenson spent this past season in China where he averaged 26.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the CBA's Flying Leopards.

    Source: Scott Agness on Twitter