• 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

  • Kyrie Irving
    PG, Brooklyn Nets

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kyrie Irving (right shoulder) could conceivably join his Nets' teammates in Orlando when they return to play later this summer, albeit as an inactive player.

    There was really never much of a possibility that Irving would return to action in 2019-20 unless the season got pushed back severely. After the arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in late February, the Nets tentatively said they expected to have him back in time for preseason workouts in the fall (which will now likely take place in November or later). That still seems like the likely scenario, even given the long pause the league was forced to undergo. Caris LeVert had shown flashes of brilliance again this season after he returned from injury, so he and Spencer Dinwiddie will evidently be shouldering the ball-handling duties when the Nets take the floor in Orlando.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowksi on Twitter

  • Kevin Durant
    SF, Brooklyn Nets

    Kevin Durant (right Achilles) confirmed on Friday that he will not take the court for the Nets when they return to play in Orlando in late July and early August when they close out the 2019-20 season.

    Given the extended pause to the current season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there were many who believed the Nets could plausibly try to bring back both Durant and Kyrie Irving from their respective injuries in order to make a push for a championship later this summer. Evidently, Durant will remain out of the equation for the Nets as they look to close out the season on a high note. "My season is over," Durant said. The Nets currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and will have to maintain that position in order to avoid the planned play-in bracket to decide the eighth seed after the initial eight final "regular season" games. Durant has never seemed likely to play, even with the pandemic disrupting the season, and it seems as though he won't be playing for the Nets in Orlando. Much crazier things have happened, though.

    Source: The Undefeated

  • Kelly Oubre Jr.
    SF, Phoenix Suns

    Kelly Oubre Jr. (torn right meniscus) will be able to take the floor for the Suns when the NBA returns to play in Orlando on July 31, the team's owner Robert Sarver said on Friday.

    This is phenomenal news for the Suns, as Oubre had really been having a breakout season for the Suns (18.7 PTS, 6.4 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.7 BLK and 1.9 threes per game in 34.5 minutes) prior to going down with a torn meniscus in late February. He was originally expected to miss the rest of the 2019-20 season, but due to the pandemic he has recovered and will evidently be fully functional for a team that currently sits in 13th place in the Western Conference. They will have quite the uphill battle to force their way into the playoff field in August, as there will only be eight regular season games played before the playoffs are set.

    Source: Arizona Sports

  • Jonathan Isaac
    PF, Orlando Magic

    The President of Basketball Operations for the Magic, Jeff Weltman, said Friday that the team does not expect Jonathan Isaac (left knee) to return when league play resumes, but that they will also be letting his rehab program dictate his timetable.

    Isaac has been sidelined since the beginning of January after a serious injury to his left knee.
    He was scheduled to be re-evaluated in 8-10 weeks but the impact of the coronavirus has muddled things up with many players, Isaac included. The Magic don't want to risk Isaac's immediate future, as he is under contract for one more season and is eligible for a qualifying offer prior to the 2021-22 season. With the Magic sitting in eighth place in the East and looking a (potential) fight for the right to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs as the eighth seed in August, the Magic brass may opt to keep Isaac out until the beginning of next season. That seems likely, at least.

    Source: 96.9 The Game on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Marc Stein is reporting that the NBPA has agreed to continue negotiations with the league for a 22-team restart to the season.

    Stein also noted that not everything is settled at this point, and more items need to be agreed upon before the NBPA is ready to sign and proceed forward with the resumption of games. It sounds like we're still on a path to an agreement, but the NBPA still has a few points to clarify before it is all said and done. Stay tuned.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Shams Charania is reporting that the NBPA informed players that they will be tested on a nightly basis for COVID-19 and a positive test will result in quarantine for a minimum of seven days.

    The resumption of play will also include 2-3 preseason games and a bubble of 1600 total people. Players will not have tracking devices on them but they are expected to stay in the bubble for the entire period. Everything is gradually coming together and the schedule for the return to play is becoming more and more clear for all parties.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    According to head coach Mike Malone, Nikola Jokic has been staying in great shape during the lockout.

    Jokic has never been known for staying in shape, especially during the offseason, and it will be a legitimate surprise if he returns lighter than he was at the stoppage in play. He started the year on the slower side and was clearly looking behind out of the gate, but he was back to his usual first-round value by the time games came to a stop. He should be ready for action when the lockout comes to an end. His teammate Jamal Murray is claiming that Jokic now has a "little four pack".

    Source: The Athletic

  • Dejounte Murray
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    The Spurs were dealing with injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl and Lonnie Walker IV before the season was halted, but all four are expected to be "good to go" when the NBA resumes action.

    Poeltl (MCL sprain) was dealing with the most significant injury of the bunch, and if he's ready then everyone else will be as well. Aldridge was day-to-day with a shoulder strain, while Murray and his strained calf were the biggest headache for fantasy GMs before the season stopped. Initially given no timetable for return, he's ready to go and will split the PG work with Derrick White as the Spurs try to extend their playoff streak.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Darius Bazley
    PF, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Darius Bazley has recovered from a right knee bone bruise that he suffered in February.

    We're going to say that he's healthy after he was spotted playing pickup games this past week. Bazley was set to be re-evaluated 4-6 weeks after sustaining the injury and is good to go. He's not a lock to receive minutes in the postseason but more depth options never hurt anybody.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Andre Roberson
    SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Andre Roberson (left knee) may be able to play in the NBA's eight-game regular season, per The Athletic's Erik Horne.

    Roberson has been out since January of 2018 thanks to a ruptured patellar tendon and some subsequent setbacks, but he said back in April that he's past the rehab stage of his recovery. It would be tough to envision the Thunder granting Roberson a big role considering the severity of his injury and the length of his layoff, but there's a chance that the defensive stopper can make some impact for the team down the stretch. Either way, it will be great to see him back on the floor again.

    Source: The Athletic