• Almost any win earned without Damian Lillard is one of which the Portland Trail Blazers should be proud. Their 120-11 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Moda Center was additionally notable because C.J. McCollum rose to the occasion and picked up the slack of his resting backcourt star, finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists – his first career triple-double. But for a fan base clinging to some hope that the Blazers’ recent run of success could lead to more than another first-round playoff exit come April, Saturday night’s win still had to be somewhat disappointing.

    Defense, ironic considering the absence of an offensive maestro like Lillard, was Portland’s chief issue. The Hawks led 64-63 at halftime, courtesy of 53.3 percent shooting, 30 points in the paint, 15 assists, and only four turnovers. Trae Young, who scored 30 points on 15 shots and dished eight assists in arguably the finest performance of his young career, torched Seth Curry from the opening tip, and John Collins had 14 of his 21 total points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting before half. Lloyd Pierce’s team was doing whatever it wanted offensively, and the Blazers, almost to a man, looked helpless to stem the tide.

    Jake Layman was somewhat exposed defensively in this game, especially on the few occasions when Young put him in his crosshairs.

    To be fair, the Hawks’ five-out attack is threatening to all teams, but especially one with the defensive tendencies of Portland. Terry Stotts slotted Jusuf Nurkic on Collins and Al-Farouq Aminu on Dewayne Dedmon, toggling the froncourt matchups between positions, likely to best account for Dedmon’s mid-career evolution into a legitimate three-point shooter and keep Nurkic as close to the rim as often as possible. One problem: Collins, who’s generated some long-shot All-Star buzz despite not debuting this season until mid-November, is growing increasingly comfortable from beyond the arc, too.

    The Blazers could have mitigated the effects of Nurkic’s aversion to the perimeter by switching ball screens between Young and Dedmon, siccing Aminu on the rookie and leaving Seth Curry to deal with a lithe center who possesses little to no primary scoring ability. Portland would much rather Atlanta, thinking size mismatch, toss the ball into Dedmon on the block than let Young attack in pick-and-roll with a perfectly spaced floor. Stotts never went that route, instead opting for his normal, conservative pick-and-roll coverage no matter which players were involved in the action – until the second half that is.

    After watching Young and Jeremy Lin roast the Blazers before intermission – with herky-jerky finishes, floaters, pocket passes, kick-outs, dump-offs, alley-oops, and everything else in between – the Blazers finally adjusted, trapping Young when the turned the corner early in the third quarter. That gambit was effective enough to get the Hawks out of rhythm, and Pierce reacted by taking a more egalitarian approach to his team’s ball-handling responsibilities. Portland shortly later reverted back to its usual ball-screen defense, and Young reverted back to exploiting it again and again.

    The Hawks came within a point of the Blazers midway through the fourth quarter on this wide-open three by Vince Carter, celebrating his 42nd birthday.

    Unfortunately for Carter, his celebration doesn’t include a victory, and Stotts’ decision to switch one-through-four following a timeout taken in response to the possession above is the biggest reason why. Three triples from Seth Curry in Portland’s ensuing 13-0 run were certainly a driving factor, too, but Atlanta’s offensive futility loomed larger. The road team went scoreless for the next five minutes and six seconds of game time, flustered by the Blazers putting more length on Young and switching across four positions.

    Portland wasn’t disastrous defensively on the whole, despite some troubling individual efforts and puzzling strategic choices. The Hawks’ offensive rating was 107.8, right in line with the Utah Jazz’s 20th-ranked season-long mark, and it came on a night when Young ran his team like a superstar. Still, it was jarring to watch the Blazers get sliced and diced by an objectively subpar offense before Stotts finally made some adjustments in the third and fourth quarters. Both players and coaches need to be better going forward; this defensive effort wouldn’t be enough against most teams.

    Portland deserves credit for its play on the other side of the ball, though. McCollum needed 23 shots to get his 28 points, but aside from a few ugly hero-ball possessions, acquitted himself well while making a more concerted effort to find his teammates open looks. Curry, playing with a new sense of aggression, scored 22 points for the first time in nearly two years. Aminu and Moe Harkless took advantage of Atlanta sagging off them away from the ball, combining for 32 points and 14(!) made free throws. The Blazers shot 50 percent overall, went 11-of-30 from deep and 27-of-30 from the line, and racked up 26 assists against a defense that’s been steadily improving since the season began last fall.

    But all wins aren’t made equal in the NBA, and the Hawks exposed some personnel flaws plaguing Portland that additional time and experience playing together won’t fix, let alone any potential trade before the deadline. Lillard is this team’s engine. There are only a few players in the league more singular to their team’s success than he is the Blazers’. Portland should be happy, then, to get him some much-needed rest while also gaining more ground in the Western Conference standings. Any team-wide optimism other than that stemming from the Blazers’ win, though, needs to be put in check.

Fantasy News

  • Tyler Zeller
    C, Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have signed C Tyler Zeller to a training camp roster on Thursday.

    Zeller played all of six games last season with the Hawks and Grizzlies. Zeller will try to latch on as a third-string C for the Nuggets' deep frontcourt. Zeller is off the fantasy radar.

    Source: Chris Dempsey on Twitter

  • Luke Kennard
    SG, Detroit Pistons

    Coach Dwane Casey said that he is not sure if he will start Luke Kennard or have him run a lot of the second-team offense.

    In addition, Casey mentioned that Kennard dealt with some knee tendinitis earlier this summer. Kennard is likely competing with Bruce Brown Jr. for the starting two-guard spot. We'll see how the rotation starts to shape in the preseason, but both players will get minutes either way.

    Source: NBA

  • Blake Griffin
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Coach Dwane Casey revealed that although the team's training staff is easing him into things, Blake Griffin (knee) is back on the court and playing.

    Coach Casey added that the team expects Griffin to be at 100% with "no lingering effects." It looks like Griffin is progressing nicely in his return and should be all systems go for the start of the season. With Griffin's extensive injury history, the team may manage him more this year. Coming off a career year, he's expected to be an early middle-round selection.

    Source: NBA

  • Victor Oladipo
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Coach Nate McMillan said that Victor Oladipo (knee) probably wouldn't play on opening night.

    Videos have surfaced this summer of Oladipo doing on-court work, and by all accounts, he is progressing well. Coach McMillan said that Oladipo isn't playing live yet and it would seem he still has hurdles to climb. Even when Oladipo does return, he will likely be facing minute restrictions and frequent days off, at least initially. Jeremy Lamb figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Oladipo's absence.

    Source: NBA

  • Nikola Vucevic
    C, Orlando Magic

    In an interview Wednesday, Magic head coach Steve Clifford said he could see Nikola Vucevic improving across all areas of his game, and echoing his player's belief that he is in his prime.

    One of the areas Clifford thought Vucevic could improve upon was his 3-point shooting percentage, and also seemed to indicate that he could contonue to up his play on defense. He's unquestionably solidified himself as the anchor of this team, and the Magic as a whole are likely eyeing to improve upon their momentum as a rising young playoff team in an Eastern Conference that looks pretty weak after the top four to five teams. Expect Vucevic to produce safe second-round value this season.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Deandre Ayton
    C, Phoenix Suns

    Suns General Manager James Jones said in a recent interview that Deandre Ayton is capable of playing PF if needed.

    One could chalk this up to either Ayton continuing his development in becoming a more dynamic offensive player, or the Suns covering up for the lack of depth on their roster at PF. In reality it's likley a mix of both, and is a positive for Ayton's value heading into this season. If he does end up spending meaningful time at the four, it would not bode well for the value of Dario Saric, who is already barely going at the end of drafts in 9-cat leagues.

    Source: NBA.com

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    The Lakers have been granted a $1.75 million Disabled Player Exception for DeMarcus Cousins (torn left ACL).

    This now officially rules DeMarcus Cousins out for the season. The Lakers will now have the ability to go out and acquire a player that will in all likelihood occupy the end of their bench. Because they signed Dwight Howard, using this cap space on a center isn't necessarily as big a priority as it once was when Cousins initially went down.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Mohamed Bamba
    C, Orlando Magic

    Mo Bamba will enter training camp second on the depth chart behind Nikola Vučević.

    Head coach of the Magic, Steve Clifford, told a reporter that he plans on having Bamba as his primary backup center while Khem Birch will be third on the depth chart. The Magic also have Vučević, who was re-signed in the offseason to a four-year, $100M contract. As long as Bamba is backing up Vučević, his fantasy ceiling is capped outside of standard redraft leagues.

    Source: NBA

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Brett Dawson of The Athletic believes that Nerlens Noel could see a slight bump in minutes if the Thunder limit Steven Adams' usage.

    Noel is a great per-minute producer of steals and blocks but only appeared in 13.7 minutes per contest last season. Additional playing time would make him more useful in deeper leagues.

    Source: Brett Dawson of The Athletic

  • Joel Embiid
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    In a video, Joel Embiid announced that he lost about 25 pounds over the summer.

    Embiid is one of the best fantasy players around but has struggled at times with conditioning. The Sixers will gladly accept any improvements from last season's averages of 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds.

    Source: NBC Sports