• Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 111-101 win over the New York Knicks on Monday night at Moda Center…

    • Six players scored in double-figures for the Blazers, and every player who was healthy enough to finish the game managed at least seven points. Indeed, this was one of Portland’s most balanced offensive efforts of the season, as the home team shot 47.1 percent overall, connected on 11-of-31 from beyond the arc, and doled out 25 assists, good for an offensive rating of 114.0 – better than the Golden State Warriors’ league-leading number. Jusuf Nurkic reached 20 points for the sixth time in seven games; Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum scored 17 points apiece despite off shooting nights; and the bench combined for a whopping 49 points on 56.3 percent from the field. The Blazers will always be at their best when Lillard and McCollum have it going, but Monday’s victory was a nice reminder that this team has enough quality NBA talent across its roster to casually beat a young, losing team at home when neither of their stars has it going and Nurkic isn’t dominating in the paint. This was a professional victory, exactly the kind Portland needs to continue keeping pace in the Western Conference playoff race with confidence.

     

    • Lillard didn’t have his best night. In fact, there was one ugly two-way sequence in the first half that made it seem as if the Blazers’ captain was simply going through the motions, confident his team could show up and beat an objectively inferior foe absent consistent energy and engagement. He picked it up after halftime, of course, scoring 11 of his 17 total points in the third quarter, which Portland won 32-23 after taking just a one-point lead into halftime. One potential reason for Lillard’s early listlessness? New York blitzed him in pick-and-roll action from the opening tip, bringing bigs high up the floor to force the ball from his hands. Lillard was undaunted, though, creating a pair of layups for Nurkic in the early going first by hitting Al-Farouq Aminu on a “short roll” at the moment the double-team committed, and on the next possession finding Nurkic with a quick bounce pass almost immediately after taking a dribble hand-off. Later, in the third quarter, he strung out the double-team by taking two extra dribbles down the sideline before slipping a behind-the-back bounce pass, with his left hand, to Meyers Leonard for a wide-open three on the wing. Those release valves, like “shorting” ball-screen action by bringing up another outlet from the weak side and working the two-man game from there, certainly aren’t groundbreaking. But that Lillard has grown so comfortable taking advantage of the extra defensive pressure afforded him by easily utilizing those various counters and more is a harbinger of good things to come under the microscope of the playoffs. Teams can try and take Lillard away, but through ongoing development as a passer, he’s ensured his overall impact won’t be muted by that strategy.

     

    • Moe Harkless returned against the Knicks after missing Saturday’s win over James Harden and the Houston Rockets with left knee soreness, the same malady that’s plagued him dating back to last spring. After starting and playing nine non-notable minutes in the first half, though, the Blazers announced he would sit out the game’s remainder, opening the door for Jake Layman to begin the second half alongside the starters. Assuming Harkless’ exclusion after intermission was a precautionary measure, it could prove beneficial for Portland in the long run if Layman continues playing with the pace and aggression he’s shown since being recently re-inserted into the rotation. He had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists on 3-of-5 shooting in 22 extremely encouraging minutes on Monday, using his speed and vertical explosion to find seams to the rim via cuts, get out in transition, and attack the offensive glass. Perhaps most encouraging was the nascent court sense he exhibited on several possessions, sacrificing a “good” look of his own for a “great” one for one of his teammates courtesy of the extra pass. Layman’s lack of any off-dribble verve whatsoever is still problematic, but definitely to a lesser extent when he’s hunting open jumpers, cutting hard to the basket, and helping the Blazers’ oft-stagnant offense keep the ball moving. He’s here to stay in the rotation, and Portland is much better off for it.

     

    • Stotts toggled the matchups up front on defense to account for the individual strengths and weaknesses of both his players and the Knicks’. Nurkic spent the majority of his time on the floor guarding Noah Vonleh, who’s finally found an NBA home in New York as frontcourt playmaker, while Al-Farouq Aminu was matched up with Luke Kornet, a 7-foot-2 center who’s jacking over nine triples per-36 minutes of play. Portland stuck with that alignment when Zach Collins gave Nurkic a breather, too. This is hardly the first time we’ve seen Stotts slot Aminu onto bigger players who pose an imminent threat from beyond the arc, and it will hardly be the last. Nurkic is ill-equipped to close out on shooters, and provides his best defensive value when stationed near the rim anyway. Limiting his responsibilities on the perimeter by putting Aminu on the superior shooter of the opposition’s starting bigs not only plays to individual strengths of both players, but also allows the Blazers to stay as scheme consistent as possible, continuity that the team hopes results in its whole on defense being bigger than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, not all modern-day frontcourts are as underwhelming as New York’s. A tough litmus test in that regard for Nurkic, Aminu, and company awaits when Portland visits the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

     

    • Aminu needed 12 shot attempts to score just eight points, and hit only one of his four tries from deep. Still, this was a game that made abundantly clear just how important he can be to the Blazers even when his jumper isn’t falling and he’s having trouble finishing. He was a menace defensively, capably guarding everyone from Kornet to Emmanuel Mudiay en route to two steals and one block. He also grabbed nine rebounds, always fighting hard on the glass against one of the league’s better offensive rebounding outfits. Aminu also pushed the pace in transition, on multiple occasions beginning the break himself whether or not he was ultimately the one to finish it. Of course, that aspect of Aminu’s game still needs refinement, as does his penetrating ability in the halfcourt, but he still showed improved control and patience when putting the ball on the deck against New York, continuing the obvious strides he’s made this season. There aren’t many role players in the league who impact the game like Aminu can when they’re struggling to score, a reality that can sometimes go more easily overlooked than it did against the Knicks.

Fantasy News

  • Ricky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz

    Ricky Rubio (hamstring), who has missed the last six games, has been tagged as questionable for Monday's game vs. the Blazers.

    He was a full participant at practice, so we know that Rubio is definitely close to a return. Stay tuned for updates at shootaround because he could be upgraded to probable, depending on how he feels. Donovan Mitchell has been balling while Rubio has been out, so their shared-backcourt dynamic will be something to watch.

    Source: Utah Jazz on Twitter

  • Aaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic

    Aaron Gordon (lower back soreness) is questionable for Monday's game.

    Gordon was unable to play on Saturday because of his back pain, which he equated to a similar issue he dealt with in November that forced him to miss a game. Hopefully he'll be able to return relatively quickly this time as well. Jonathan Isaac moved down to power forward while Jonathon Simmons moved into the starting lineup on Saturday, and if Gordon sits that should be the same configuration we see this time around.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Joel Embiid - F/C - Philadelphia Sixers

    Joel Embiid (back tightness) is questionable on Monday against the Rockets.

    Embiid looked a little slow in the first half of Saturday's game, but turned things on in the second half. He's going to be on the injury report quite a bit going forward, so we'll just have to wait for more news to come out.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Jimmy Butler - G/F - Philadelphia Sixers

    Jimmy Butler (sore right wrist) is questionable for Monday's game against the Rockets.

    Butler had a rough shooting game on Saturday, so he could have been playing on a bad foot in that game. The Sixers play late on Monday, but if you have to set a weekly lineup, or your lineup locks at the start of the first game, you'll have to get up early and may be forced into a tough decision.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Lonzo Ball - G - Los Angeles Lakers

    Lonzo Ball will miss three-to-four weeks with a Grade 3 left ankle sprain.

    This is quite unfortunate for Ball owners, but was somewhat expected. Rajon Rondo (finger) is worth an add if you can hold him until he comes back. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma should see a big uptick in usage and time with the ball, but it could get ugly for the Lakers. Josh Hart is worth an add with the added touches he will see.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Jeff Teague - G - Minnesota Timberwolves

    Jeff Teague (illness) is active against the Suns on Sunday.

    We got a quick scare with the questionable tag just an hour-and-a-half before tip-off, but Teague should be just fine. Make sure he's in your lineups.

    Source: Timberwolves PR on Twitter

  • Danilo Gallinari - F - Los Angeles Clippers

    Danilo Gallinari (back spasms) did not travel with the team and coach Doc Rivers said there is a solid chance he misses all four games of the upcoming road trip.

    Gallo left after only eight minutes on Friday, and seems to be in for a lengthy absence – as he does. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played 42 minutes on Friday and the Clippers will likely go with a lot of small ball lineups without Gallo. Tyrone Wallace logged 18 minutes on Friday and should see an increased workload without Gallo.

    Source: Jovan Buha on Twitter

  • Tristan Thompson - F/C - Cleveland Cavaliers

    Tristan Thompson (left foot soreness) has been ruled out for Monday's game.

    Thompson will now miss his third straight game with his foot soreness. He's also been ruled out a day in advance, which is never a good sign. It looks like Ante Zizic will be in for another high minute game, while Channing Frye should chip in a few minutes off the bench.

    Source: NBA Injury Report

  • Dennis Smith Jr. - G - Dallas Mavericks

    Dennis Smith Jr. will return to the team for Tuesday's game against the Clippers, according to coach Rick Carlisle.

    This means that Smith is out for Monday's game, but it's good to see Smith and the Mavs are on better terms. With constant trade rumors swirling, it now appears DSJ will remain a Maverick. Even when healthy, he wasn't a great fantasy option in standard leagues.

    Source: Tim MacMahon on Twitter

  • DeMar DeRozan - G - San Antonio Spurs

    DeMar DeRozan (left ankle soreness) is available for Sunday's game.

    This is no surprise as DeRozan was fully expected to play in this game. Make sure he's in your lineups.

    Source: NBA Injury Report