January 5, 2019, 1:43 am
Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers 111-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Moda Center on Friday night…
- In some respects, this was an encouraging performance for the Blazers. They withstood 37 points, eight rebounds, five three-pointers, and 12 free throws from Paul George in addition to 31 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists from Russell Westbrook to have a chance to win at the end. That’s despite neither Damian Lillard (23 points, eight assists, 7-of-19 FGs, 1-of-8 3PTs) nor C.J. McCollum (10 points, 4-of-15 FGs) playing anywhere near their best games, too, and Jusuf Nurkic scoring just six of his 22 points after halftime. Portland, finally, received multiple performances of note from its supporting cast, beginning with Al-Farouq Aminu, who scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while shooting 2-of-5 from three. Moe Harkless made several splash plays defensively, Jake Layman filled it up in a surprise appearance for limited minutes, and both Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard generally acquitted themselves well against a physical, explosive frontcourt. In the end, though, the Blazers’ stars just didn’t give their team enough, not with George and Westbrook bringing their ‘A’ games and the Thunder – sporting the league’s top-ranked defense – entering lockdown mode after halftime, when Portland shot 33.3 percent overall and connected on just three of its 15 tries from long range. What a fantastic win for Oklahoma City, which came into Friday’s game having lost six straight against the Blazers, and eight straight at Moda Center. No more.
- This game took its biggest turn in the final moments of the third quarter. After George gave the Thunder their first and second leads of the night with a pair of triples less than a minute apart from one another, one of Billy Donovan’s many hyper-athletic role players made sure his team would enter the final stanza on top. Nerlens Noel, having just checked in for Steven Adams, ripped Lillard’s dribble on consecutive trips with less than a minute remaining, turning Oklahoma City’s two-point lead into a six-point advantage by the time the buzzer sounded courtesy of a runout dunk from Westbrook and clear-path foul on Meyers Leonard. The Blazers didn’t come within a single possession of the Thunder again until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, when time ultimately ran out on their comeback bid after game-tying looks from Lillard and McCollum both missed. Noel didn’t win this game for the Thunder, obviously, but made the successive defensive plays that ensured its momentum would be with the road team when it mattered most. He came up big both earlier and later, too, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocks on perfect 4-of-4 shooting, frustrating Portland on both ends each time he took the floor.
- The battle between Nurkic and Steven Adams, highly-anticipated by NBA nerds, seemed like it was over almost before it started. The Blazers’ behemoth continued his strong play of late in the first half, dominating offensively to the tune of 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, while Adams’ most noteworthy contribution came in his team getting lit up on the scoreboard. For a time, Lillard and Nurkic were getting whatever they wanted in ball-screen action, taking full advantage of Adams sliding out an extra step toward the arc as help rotations behind the play were a beat late. But it was Oklahoma City’s foreign-born giant that got the last laugh. With Portland down 10 points just under the four-minute mark, Adams got his team two extra shot attempts via hard-fought offensive rebounds, tussling with multiple defenders in the paint. Though the Thunder ultimately weren’t able to capitalize, wasting the additional chances on missed jumpers, the sequence took nearly a full minute off the game clock – one the Blazers otherwise would have been in position to use for another shot at pulling off the comeback. Adams’ numbers, six points, 12 rebounds (five offensive), and three assists, don’t jump off the page, but he was absolutely integral to Oklahoma City turning it around defensively after intermission, and made a few crucial plays late to keep Portland at bay.
- Harkless had his hands full with George, who further fortified his burgeoning MVP case with yet another awesome two-way performance. There’s just nothing the defense could have done on many of his scores; George, without a doubt, is playing the best basketball of his career right now. But that’s not to say Harkless didn’t have his moments, too, the kind that remind of the athletic dynamism he brings to the table when fully healthy. He had three blocks in this game, two on George and one on Westbrook, all of which were of the highlight variety. Most impressive were his mano-a-mano smother of Westbrook in transition during the third quarter and rear-view snatch of George’s jumper in the fourth, a play coaches all over the league should show perimeter defenders to teach textbook pick-and-roll defense. Harkless still didn’t do enough offensively, going just 2-of-9 and hitting one of his two tries from deep, but this was a game Portland sorely needed an additional dose of athletic oomph, and he was able to provide it. When these teams meet again, his impact will loom just as large to the game’s final outcome.
- Layman (11 points, 5-of-7 FGs, 1-of-2 3PTs in 12 minutes) had a golden opportunity to establish himself as a lasting part of Terry Stotts’ rotation while moonlighting as a starter earlier this season as Moe Harkless recovered from offseason knee surgery, but for the most part failed to take advantage. The cause of his demotion to 11th man wasn’t related to anything Layman was doing, either. Instead, it’s what he wasn’t doing, shooting, that made him lose his grasp on the first meaningful NBA role of his career. Summoned for duty with the second unit on Friday night at the expense of Nik Stauskas, who shot 24.3 percent from three in December, Layman immediately made sure his latest chance at regular playing time would be different than the others. He scored on each of Portland’s first three possessions in the second quarter, splashing a pair of mid-rangers with no hesitation and finishing a lob from Evan Turner in transition. Minutes later, Layman came off a screen from Meyers Leonard near center, caught, turned his feet, and let fly despite a defender within view. Splash. He made a similarly quick decision early in the fourth quarter, curling around a screen from Zach Collins in the corner before catching, taking one, dribble and finishing with a two-handed dunk. Layman, obviously, won’t have his jump shot locked in on a nightly basis like he did against the Thunder. But shooting at all has been half the battle for him this season, and it was extremely encouraging to watch him come out with a renewed sense of aggression in a game he knew he’d be a factor. If Layman plays well enough to supplant Stauskas for good, his presence in the rotation could loom large in terms of lineup flexibility – not just for bench units, but situational ones, too.
September 15, 2019, 2:49 pmJared TerrellPG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Jared Terrell has signed a contract with Israel's Hapoel Eilat.
Terrell appeared in 14 games with the Wolves last season. Perhaps he'll surface on the mid-season market when his Israeli season ends.
Source: Dane Moore on Twitter
September 15, 2019, 2:45 pmJ.J. BareaPG, Dallas Mavericks
J.J. Barea (torn right Achilles) has been fully cleared for the start of training camp.
Barea has also been participating in 5-on-5 work. He'll be in the mix for reserve PG minutes, though he'll be competing with Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson for primary backup work behind Delon Wright.
Source: Brad Townsend on Twitter
September 15, 2019, 2:40 pmJustise WinslowSF, Miami Heat
Justise Winslow said that his plan is to play point guard this season.
Winslow had a nice run as Miami's PG last season when Goran Dragic was out after bouncing around between positions for a few years. The Heat have already declared Dragic their starter, however, which means that Winslow might have to accept coming off the bench if he wants the bulk of his minutes to come as a point guard. When asked about that possibility, Winslow said, "It's just about winning, really. So that's how I approach it." While playing point guard would likely help Winslow's fantasy value, the decreased playing time would probably cancel that out.
Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter
September 15, 2019, 2:37 pmAron BaynesC, Phoenix Suns
Aron Baynes suffered a groin strain while playing for Australia at the World Cup.
It's assumed that Baynes suffered the injury in Sunday's game, as he hadn't been hampered at all before then. It's tough timing with camp opening in two weeks but there won't be many minutes available to Baynes as Deandre Ayton's backup this year, so the fantasy impact is minimal. We'll update you when a timeline gets released.
Source: Brian Windhorst on Twitter
September 15, 2019, 10:09 amMarc GasolC, Toronto Raptors
Marc Gasol did a little bit of everything in Spain's 95-75 win over Argentina in the FIBA World Cup Final, putting up 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks in 25 minutes.
Gasol caps off what is the most successful year of his career, helping Spain win the World Cup almost three months from the day of winning his first NBA championship. While an impressive career accomplishment, it also gives him more mileage than any NBA player over that same three month span, a fact worth considering when thinking about his outlook for this upcoming season. At 34 years old and with two other bigs that he has to compete with for playing time in Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, the best of Gasol's fantasy days are likely behind him. He can still be a productive player, but he makes more sense towards the end drafts rather than in the middle of them.
September 15, 2019, 10:00 amRicky RubioPG, Phoenix Suns
Ricky Rubio capped off an impressive tournament run with a gold medal for Spain and tournament MVP honors, culminating in a 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists performance in a win over Argentina.
Rubio was dominant all tournament long serving as Spain's number one option on offense as well as being the main playmaker as well. Though he will likely be a bit gassed heading into training camp in a few weeks, one should view his performance this summer as a net positive. Keep him on your radar towards the ends of drafts.
September 15, 2019, 9:16 amJoe InglesSF, Utah Jazz
Joe Ingles was effective in Team Australia's loss against France, putting up 17 points (7-of-11 from the floor), five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in 34 minutes.
Ingles was an all-around statistical force throughout the tournament, and was the focal point of Australia's surprising 4th place finish. He is begging everyone to not overlook him in fantasy drafts this season as he continues to be taken near or outside of the top-100. His stat-set will make him a player worth owning even without a starting role for the Jazz.
September 15, 2019, 9:07 amRudy GobertC, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was very quiet in France's 67-59 win over Australia totaling just two points, four rebounds, three turnovers and four personal fouls in just over 19 minutes of action.
Gobert's production in FIBA faded after his commanding performance against Team USA, but thanks in part to the depth France rolled out, he didn't need to be dominant for them to secure their bronze medal. Evan Fournier led the way for France in this one, scoring 16 points while chipping in two 3-pointers and five rebounds.
September 14, 2019, 7:27 pmGiannis AntetokounmpoPF, Milwaukee Bucks
In a recent fan question session Bucks' GM Jon Horst hinted towards signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a supermax extension when eligible.
Horst mentioned that he cannot technically discuss an extension until he is eligible, but said Antetokounmpo will be a Buck for a long time. The Greek Freak will be eligible next summer and is all but sure to get a supermax extension.
Source: Fox Sports Wisconsin on Twitter
September 14, 2019, 2:53 pmTacko FallC, Boston Celtics
Tacko Fall (mild knee sprain) is expected to miss one week after a collision in workouts.
With training camp two weeks away, Fall should be ready to roll by then. He is currently on an Exhibit 10 contract, battling for the final roster spot with Javonte Green (partially guaranteed) and Kaiser Gates (Exhibit 10). Fall is an intriguing talent at 7'7" but is not expected to be fantasy relevant in his first season even if he does make the team with the Celtics already carrying four center eligible players on guaranteed contracts.
Source: Jared Weiss on Twitter