• 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

  • Ben Simmons
    PG, Philadelphia Sixers

    Ben Simmons (back) will not play vs. the Hawks on Monday and will continue to undergo testing in Philadelphia.

    Simmons had an MRI on Saturday night and it seems as though things weren't as good as the 76ers would've hoped. Stay tuned for updates regarding the situation but Alex Burks, Furkan Korkmaz, Raul Neto and or course, Joel Embiid, have the most to gain from this.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Jaren Jackson Jr.
    PF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Jaren Jackson Jr. (sprained knee) will be re-evaluated in two weeks after getting injured in Friday's game.

    With JJJ gone, it's basically Brandon Clarke season and if he's somehow available in your league go get him now. On Wednesday Clarke came off of the bench and put up 28 points, six rebounds, two steals and a block on 12-of-14 shooting and there's much more of that on the way.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Dragan Bender
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Dragan Bender is available to make his Warriors debut on Sunday vs. the Pelicans.

    Bender officially signed with the Warriors and he's looking to suit up tonight against the Pelicans. He's still not worth owning anywhere and this whole Warriors team is a dumpster-fire this year.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter

  • Markelle Fultz
    PG, Orlando Magic

    Markelle Fultz (cramp in left calf) has been fully cleared for Monday's game vs. the Nets.

    Fultz dropped one of his best games of the season on the Nets back in early January when he had 25 points. He's been a top-110 guy over the past month and is well worth owning everywhere.

    Source: John Denton on Twitter

  • Elfrid Payton
    PG, New York Knicks

    Elfrid Payton (sore right ankle) is being listed as questionable vs. the Rockets on Monday.

    This ankle has been bothering him for the past couple of games and it caused him to completely miss Friday's matchup vs. the Pacers. Stay tuned for updates closer to tip-off.

    Source: NY Knicks PR on Twitter

  • Frank Ntilikina
    PG, New York Knicks

    Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) is being listed as questionable for Monday's game vs. the Rockets.

    Payton was dealing with a sore right ankle which caused him to miss practice on Saturday and now his groin is also bothering him. Stay tuned for updates closer to tip-off but if he does suit up he'll be worth playing seeing as he's been an upper mid-round guy as of late.

    Source: NY Knicks PR on Twitter

  • Mitchell Robinson
    C, New York Knicks

    Mitchell Robinson (sprained left ankle) is being considered probable coming into Monday's game vs. the Rockets.

    He didn't practice on Saturday so it's good to see that he's made enough progress to play just two days later. Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis will take the biggest dip in minutes with Robinson returning.

    Source: NY Knicks PR on Twitter

  • Ben Simmons
    PG, Philadelphia Sixers

    Ben Simmons is scheduled for an MRI on his back after leaving Saturday's game.

    Simmons lasted just five minutes in Saturday's game after missing Thursday's contest, and was reportedly emotional after leaving the X-ray room in Milwaukee. The Sixers have some level of concern over this problem, but fantasy GMs will just have to sit tight and hope for the best. Alec Burks, Furkan Korkmaz and Raul Neto are the most likely beneficiaries if Simmons has to miss time but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

    Source: ESPN

  • Robin Lopez
    C, Milwaukee Bucks

    Robin Lopez made a splash off the bench for the Bucks on Saturday, chipping in 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including two 3s, plus one assist and one block.

    Lopez has not made any significant impact in fantasy prior to this solid outing, so he can be left on the worse for now.

  • Eric Bledsoe
    PG, Milwaukee Bucks

    Eric Bledsoe had a productive outing in Saturday’s win over the Sixers with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, adding eight assists, two treys and four rebounds.

    Bledsoe has been looking good as of late, having stabilized with reliable value. The Bucks are in cruise control right now and Bledsoe owners can confidently keep him slotted into their active lineups in all formats.