April 2, 2018, 3:07 pm
If continuity breeds success in the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers becoming the third Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth shouldn’t be at all surprising. Terry Stotts welcomed back this season every rotation player from last year’s 41-41 outfit, a relatively disappointing team that failed to build on a standout 2015-16 campaign but nevertheless overcame injury to claw its way into the postseason. A four-game sweep in the first round hand at hand of the eventual champions hardly suggested the upward mobility that’s taken place a season later. What would have, at least if anyone knew it was coming, is Portland’s ability to stay mostly healthy throughout 2017-18.
Losing Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis simultaneously won’t doom the Blazers. That franchise record 13-game winning streak basically ensured they would emerge from the West’s upper-middle class muck to make the playoffs, and their wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers in the week immediately following it strengthened their grip on home-court advantage in the first round. Maintaining the three seed, which Portland currently owns by three games in the loss column with five left to play, isn’t even important, Terry Stotts said on Rip City Radio Monday morning. The Blazers just want to host a series at Moda Center, which they will be assured of doing if the Thunder and Utah Jazz, currently in fifth and sixth place, each lose one of their remaining regular season games while Portland manages a single victory of its own.
But the continuity this team has enjoyed all year long has suddenly abandoned it less than two weeks from the postseason. The respective impacts of Harkless and Davis can’t be duplicated by their replacements, either. Evan Turner isn’t close to as comfortable playing without the ball as Harkless is, and Pat Connaughton‘s only would-be trump card, long-range shooting, has been missing in action for weeks. Zach Collins is certainly ready for more minutes, but not at center, and not if he’s expected to dominate the offensive glass and bang with opposing bigs the way Davis does. Meyers Leonard, who played well in an extended role on Sunday night, doesn’t have a game that lends itself to nightly consistency, and Stotts rarely allows himself to count on seldom-used rookies like Caleb Swanigan – especially with playoff implications at stake.
Davis insists he’ll be back before the regular season is finished on April 11; he’s targeting potentially crucial dates with the Spurs and Denver Nuggets, fighting for their lives, later in the next week. It’s not like the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets, the Blazers’ next two opponents, warrant a two-way influence like that of Davis to be defeated anyway. Portland should be just fine up front until he returns, assuming he’s ready for the first round.
It’s Harkless’ injury that’s more concerning. Since taking advantage of a minor injury to Turner in early February and regaining his rightful role as a starter, the 25 year old has played perhaps the best basketball of his career, averaging 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds,1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and .7 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from beyond the arc. That latter number isn’t sustainable, and recalls the scrutiny of a small sample size with respect to games played (17) and attempts (2.8 per game).
But even when Harkless’ shot isn’t falling, he offers Portland two-way dynamism his teammates are simply ill-equipped to match. He’s quicker and longer than Turner, making him a more viable defender of multiple positions, and gets more deflections than every player on the roster but Shabazz Napier and Al-Farouq Aminu. Harkless is the Blazers’ best cutter, by far, and has grown increasingly comfortable of late making quick decisions with the ball in his hands as the defense scrambles. He’s a worthwhile post-up option when the threat of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum prompt the opposition switch, not to mention Portland’s most threatening runner in transition.
It was no accident that the Blazers found their stride when Harkless finally did the same. If not for Turner’s much-improved play of late, his ongoing absence from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee – which will extend through at least the regular season finale, and perhaps some or all of the first round – would have cast a major pall over Portland’s final few games with the playoffs looming. As is, the Blazers still sometimes miss the kinetic energy Harkless’ combination of length, athleticism and motor inherently provides.
“When he’s doing the things he’s doing,’ Lillard told The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman late last month, “it makes us a completely different team.”
That’s hard to believe given Harkless’ unspectacular per-game numbers and Portland’s frequent reliance on Lillard to bail it out when the going gets tough. It seems remiss to suggest a team that’s dead last in assist rate and averages more seconds per touch than any other in basketball could sorely miss a low-usage, inconsistent shooter on the wing and an interior garbage man who’s already played for four different franchises over seven seasons of service.
But the Blazers’ midseason turnaround was about more than Lillard’s ascent up the individual hierarchy and their ability to play with consistency on both sides of the ball. Portland has evolved into a true team, one with a whole greater than the sum of its parts, a metamorphosis that would not have taken place without the steady contributions of Harkless and Davis. Luckily, the Blazers won’t be without them for long, and are well-positioned in the standings to absorb the negative effects of their absence without losing home-court advantage.
The margins matter to an even greater extent this time of year, though; it’s hardly optimal that Portland will enter the playoffs at less than full-strength. Only time will tell whether or not that will ultimately make a difference.
May 20, 2019, 9:02 pmJordan Bell - F - Golden State Warriors
Jordan Bell will start at center in Monday's Game 4 for the Warriors.
Bell has played between 11 and 15 minutes in the three conference finals games, and he's unlikely to play too much more than that tonight. Look for Kevon Looney to continue to get more minutes than Bell tonight.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 8:46 pmAlfonzo McKinnie - F - Golden State Warriors
Alfonzo McKinnie will start for Andre Iguodala in Monday's Game 4 vs. the Blazers.
McKinnie grabbed nine boards in 21 minutes in Game 3 and has gone 1-for-1 on threes for three straight games. Steve Kerr mentioned earlier that Jonas Jerebko would also get more minutes with Iguodala out.
Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 7:49 pmAndre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala (left leg) will not play in Monday's Game 4 against the Blazers.
The Warriors will look to close out the series in Portland without Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins. The Finals doesn't start for ten more days, so Iggy should be able to get healthy by then.
Source: Kurt Helin on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 6:02 pmD.J. Wilson - F - Milwaukee Bucks
D.J. Wilson (left ankle soreness) is questionable for Game 4 against the Raptors on Tuesday.
If Wilson is able to return, he won't be more than bench depth.
Source: NBA Injury Report
May 20, 2019, 5:58 pmDwight Powell - F/C - Dallas Mavericks
According to Chris Haynes, Dwight Powell will turn down his $10.2 million player option and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
At just 27 years old, Powell is likely looking to get a longer deal with more guaranteed money. However, there are a litany of fours and fives that could be on the market this summer, making this an interesting decision for Powell. With Kristaps Porzingis returning from injury, Powell may seek more minutes elsewhere. A return to Dallas is still certainly in the cards for him.
Source: Chris Haynes on Yahoo! Sports
May 20, 2019, 3:59 pmOG Anunoby - F - Toronto Raptors
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) and Patrick McCaw (personal) remain out for Game 4 against the Bucks.
Anunoby started doing light work about a week ago and could be close to a return for Game 5 or if the series goes any further. It is unclear why McCaw has missed time, but we wish him the best. He isn't in line for rotation minutes in this series anyways, especially with how well Norman Powell is playing.
Source: Ryan Wolstat on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 3:52 pmAndre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala (left calf tightness) is listed as questionable for Game 4 on Monday.
Iggy left in the first quarter of Game 3 before returning. He only logged 18 minutes overall in the game. If he can't go, Shaun Livingston and Jordan Bell would take up the bulk of his minutes, while Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie could see a few extra as well.
Source: NBA Injury Report
May 20, 2019, 3:46 pmMalcolm Brogdon - G - Milwaukee Bucks
Mike Budenholzer is inclined to stick with the current starting lineup for Game 4.
Bud mentioned he likes Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill off the bench, and he has every reason to do so. Even if there were going to be lineup changes, we wouldn't hear about it until right before tip-off, but don't expect any.
Source: Matt Velazquez on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 11:26 amJames Ennis III - F - Philadelphia Sixers
James Ennis III has declined his $1.8 million player option and is set to be an unrestricted free agent.
Ennis played a crucial role for the Sixers down the stretch and will likely look to secure a multi-year deal after showing his worth.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 20, 2019, 9:59 amTim Connelly - Team - Denver Nuggets
Tim Connelly will remain with the Nuggets as their President of Basketball Operations.
The Wizards were trying to pry Connelly away from the Nuggets after meeting on Friday, but it seems that Connelly likes where he is and wants no part of a decimated Wizards' team.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter