• Luka Doncic, just 19 years old and less than two months into his NBA career, already possesses a sense of pace and timing with the ball in his hands normally reserved for veterans. That’s no surprise. As the Portland Trail Blazers found out the hard way Tuesday night, though, the rookie also boasts a star’s sense of the moment when his team needs him most. Behind a filthy step-back three from Doncic that thwarted any remaining realistic hopes of a late-game comeback, the Dallas Mavericks beat the downtrodden Blazers 111-102, winning their eighth consecutive game at American Airlines Center.

    Doncic, to be clear, wasn’t quite so dominant as the adoring crowd’s roars suggested. He was mostly quiet in the first half, content to defer to teammates, but hardly due to any personal struggles – or, worse for the Blazers, stifling defense. Portland allowed 60 points in a depressingly familiar first half, offering only fleeting resistance to a Mavericks team that came out hungry for its ninth win in 11 games. Terry Stotts’ team was lackadaisical by contrast, consistently falling behind the point of attack defensively, leading to help rotation after help rotation that Dallas, pinging the ball all over the floor, exploited again and again.

    The Mavericks weren’t as sharp overall after halftime, but not nearly dull enough to relinquish a 15-point halftime lead. Portland amped up the intensity on both ends following intermission, especially late in the fourth quarter, quickly pulling within two possessions of a seemingly insurmountable lead before Doncic played hero. Damian Lillard, of course, fought to the final whistle to bring his team back, scoring 25 of his game-high 33 points in the second half by relentlessly attacking the rim and getting easy points at the free-throw line. He was just 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, though, suffering the same long-range labors that plagued his teammates en route to the Blazers’ 7-of-24 three-point shooting.

    If there’s a silver lining for Portland, it’s that the team didn’t quit despite multiple opportunities to do so throughout the course of the second half. The most obvious one came early in the fourth quarter, as the Blazers’ bench unit, thoroughly outplayed on Tuesday night like it’s been on so many occasions of late, fell victim to a 6-0 run that forced a timeout by Stotts barely a minute into the final stanza with is team suddenly trailing 92-73.

    But Lillard refused to go away quietly, slowly chipping away at Dallas’ lead as the fourth-quarter clock wound down. He scored 10 points in the last eight minutes of this game, bringing the Blazers to within six points by tipping in his own miss with just over a minute left to play. The stage was set for Doncic, unfortunately, and the rookie delivered the way he did the entire second half. He finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, and three assists on 6-of-14 shooting, putting a cherry on top of another impressive performance – and more importantly, another Mavericks win – with this pinpoint 70-foot throw to Dennis Smith for a soaring dunk.

    Dallas is legitimately good. Rick Carlisle‘s team, if healthy, will be in the cutthroat Western Conference playoff race all season long, which begs a question for Portland that’s as vexing as it is frustrating: Why did the Blazers, against a quality foe on the road, come out with less energy and engagement than their opponent yet again?

    This team isn’t talented enough to count on an induced sense of urgency to pull out wins after halftime. Portland knows it, too. Once the Blazers start playing that way, an optimists would say, will be a better indication of where they stand in a loaded Western Conference than Tuesday’s loss. Either way, though, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the real answer is unlikely to be a positive one.

Fantasy News

  • Kevin Durant - F - Golden State Warriors

    Kevin Durant scored 30 points on 13-of-22 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists and five turnovers in the Warriors' 113-93 loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

    The offense tilted toward Durant's isolation game and the team played less defense than it should have, two issues that are tough to correlate but not surprising when it happens. Steph Curry hit just 3-of-12 shots for 10 points and a lower-end line, and Klay Thompson missed all five of his 3-pointers and finished with 14 points in the blowout loss.

  • Draymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors

    Draymond Green hit just 1-of-5 shots for two points but was otherwise solid with five rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks over 25 minutes in Wednesday's home loss to the Raptors.

    Green is right on track for preseason expectations the rest of the way as far as we're concerned, so there might be a little room to buy low before that's readily apparent.

  • Kyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors

    Kyle Lowry scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, 12 assists and three steals in Wednesday's blowout win over the Warriors.

    That's two in a row for Lowry and with Kawhi Leonard (hip) out he has been forced to hit the gas pedal, though that shouldn't be construed to suggest he can't be productive with Leonard on the floor. Serge Ibaka added 20 & 12 with a steal and two blocks, and Pascal Siakam added 13 points with three rebounds, three assists, one trey, two steals and one block in the win. Jonas Valanciunas' (thumb) potential absence will feed them even more minutes and touches.

  • Fred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors

    Fred VanVleet started for injured Kawhi Leonard (hip) and scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with two threes, three boards, two assists and three steals over 28 minutes in Wednesday's win over the Warriors.

    VanVleet is worth owning while Leonard is out and it won't hurt that Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) could miss some time and ease the frontcourt portion of the logjam.

  • Nemanja Bjelica - F - Sacramento Kings

    Nemanja Bjelica scored 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting (including four threes) with five rebounds, three assists and two blocks over 29 minutes in the Kings' 141-130 win over the Wolves on Wednesday.

    The score pumped up the entire box score but Bjelica is still sitting on top 75-100 value (9/8 cat) on the season and that's a guy that probably shouldn't have been dropped in too many leagues. He was, though, so hopefully you got in on the post-hype production.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein - C - Sacramento Kings

    Willie Cauley-Stein scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting (4-of-9 FTs) with eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks in Wednesday's win over the Wolves.

    Cauley-Stein was intentionally fouled late in the fourth quarter after airballing a free throw and this isn't just a one-game thing. He has hit just 47.8 percent from the line this season and it's keeping him stuck in the late rounds for fantasy value. This probably gets on scouting reports and he'll have to prove he can make it or he's going to get an even bigger weight on his value, as well as less minutes.

  • Marvin Bagley III - F - Sacramento Kings

    Marvin Bagley scored 17 points on 4-of-5 shooting (9-of-10 FTs) with 10 rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes off the bench on Wednesday against the Wolves.

    Bagley did not have a steal or block and he's not likely to hit that well from the free throw line. He struggled on defense, as well, but he's going to be getting anywhere from 22-30 mpg on most nights. He's well outside the top-150 in 24 mpg so far this season.

  • Yogi Ferrell - G - Sacramento Kings

    Yogi Ferrell scored 17 points off the bench in Wednesday's win over the Wolves, hitting 5-of-6 shots (including four threes) with two rebounds, six assists and one steal in 16 minutes.

    Ferrell looked great in this one and he adds a component to the fast break that the Kings really do need. He's not in the clear when it comes to Frank Mason, even if Dave Joerger said after the game that Ferrell is going to get a 10-game stretch in this role. If you're in a deep league where 14-18 mpg with the right guy can play, give him a look for the aforementioned stretch.

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic - G - Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 20 points off the bench in Wednesday's win over the Wolves, hitting 9-of-15 shots (including two threes) with five rebounds and six assists in 31 minutes.

    Bogdanovic is bringing late-mid round value back when on the floor this season and he can climb up and over the top-75 hump with just a few more upticks. Aside from some lower-grade injury risk, he's going to be as consistent as it gets.

  • Robert Covington - F - Minnesota Timberwolves

    Robert Covington (knee) scored 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting (1-of-2 3PTs, 4-of-5 FTs) with six rebounds and no steals or blocks in Wednesday's loss to the Kings.

    Covington's goose eggs on defense in a game with no defense being played stood out and he didn't look like he was at full strength. One has to hope that these aren't Thibs minutes and it'll be something we all monitor going forward.