• 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

  • Elfrid Payton - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    Elfrid Payton (bruised right wrist) is questionable for Tuesday's game vs. the Hawks.

    Payton is a top-65 guy over the past two weeks and is basically good for assists and steals every now and then. This wrist injury has come out of nowhere and hopefully it's not too serious. Stay tuned for updates regarding his status for Tuesday's game.

    Source: Will Guillory on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (back) is considered to be probable on Tuesday vs. the Hawks.

    Davis is basically on a 21-minute restriction and yet he's still a top-20 player over the past month. Feel free to lock him into your lineups as he should be able to keep it up this game.

    Source: Will Guillory on Twitter

  • Justise Winslow - F - Miami Heat

    Justise Winslow (bruised right thigh) is questionable on Tuesday vs. the Magic.

    Winslow didn't practice on Monday and he is also dealing with an illness so it's going to be tough for him to play in Tuesday's game. He's missed his last five games and if he makes it a sixth then Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. should have the most to gain.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Joakim Noah - C - Memphis Grizzlies

    Joakim Noah (right knee soreness) is doubtful for Monday's game and was unable to participate in morning shootaround.

    Noah left Saturday's game early with the injury after sitting out on Friday. He's been surprisingly effective this season but with concerns about his status, and likely at least one game on the sidelines this week, he makes for a weak fantasy play outside of very deep formats.

    Source: David Cobb on Twitter

  • Rodney McGruder - G/F - Miami Heat

    Rodney McGruder (left knee soreness) did not practice on Monday.

    McGruder has missed the last four games and odds are it'll extend to at least five. His absence doesn't change anything in fantasy leagues.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Justise Winslow - F - Miami Heat

    Justise Winslow (bruised right thigh) missed practice on Monday because of a case of food poisoning.

    Winslow did work out on Sunday to test his thigh, which is the more pressing issue for fantasy owners. It's going to be tough to plug Winslow into lineups this week since we still don't know a target date for his return, and he'll likely have to shake off some rust after missing the last five games. Goran Dragic will get extra run in the meantime while Derrick Jones Jr. is a stream for threes and blocks as the fill-in starter.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • James Ennis III - F - Philadelphia Sixers

    James Ennis (quad) has been ruled out on Monday vs. the Magic.

    Ennis is the 245th-ranked player over the past two weeks and with Jimmy Butler back he shouldn't be owned in leagues. He's still playing 18.6 minutes per game but the production just won't be there.

    Source: NBA Injury Report

  • Luka Doncic - G/F - Dallas Mavericks

    Luka Doncic (knee) is being listed as questionable on Tuesday vs. the Kings.

    Doncic has been bad in 9-cat leagues over his past six games as he's the 288th-ranked player in that time. His percentages are really pulling him down but he should fix that in due time. The Mavs will be careful with him going forward and they've only got nine games left so he might not play in every single one.

    Source: NBA Injury Report

  • Josh Jackson - F - Phoenix Suns

    Josh Jackson (right ankle sprain) has been ruled out of Monday's game vs. the Jazz.

    Jackson hasn't been worth owning for months now as he's outside of the top-250. With him missing this game, Mikal Bridges, Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels should all get some extra time. If you're looking for someone to add out of those guys, Bridges is the one.

    Source: Gerald Bourguet on Twitter

  • Kris Dunn - G - Chicago Bulls

    Kris Dunn (sore back) is doubtful for Tuesday's matchup vs. the Raptors.

    Dunn has been better as of late, coming in as a top-80 player over the past week with averages of 14.7 points and 7.0 assists on 38.1 percent shooting in 29.3 minutes. It looks like he'll be missing this game and if that's the case then Shaq Harrison has the most to gain from it.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter