• Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 129-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Moda Center on Sunday night…

    • This one was over before halftime, and C.J. McCollum was the biggest reason why. The Blazers star guard freed himself from the shackles of season-long shooting woes to score 35 points on 13-of-18 from the field. He also shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and made all five of his free-throw attempts. If this game was competitive going into the fourth quarter, all indications were that McCollum would have continued pouring it on, perhaps netting the second 50-point game of his career. As is, most of his damage was done in the game’s first 24 minutes, when he scored 26 points courtesy of a dizzying array off-dribble jumpers and herky-jerky drives to the paint. McCollum, as Portland fans know all too well, hasn’t been himself in 2018-19, and his team won’t get where it needs to go to avoid major roster changes unless he plays like the efficient bucket-getter he is. Might this game be a sign of things to come for the season’s remainder? At the very least, it will serve as a confidence boost McCollum can recall when circumstances deem doing so necessary. He hasn’t played with this much confidence in weeks. Here’s hoping his shot continues to fall.

    • Nearly as impactful as McCollum’s breakout game was the absence of Joel Embiid. The Sixers rested their superstar big man to allow him extra recovery time from a sore left knee. Obviously, it’s incumbent on Philadelphia to monitor the health of Embiid with something close to extreme caution. That he played in 35 of the his team’s 36 games of this season, only sitting out to rest, makes it easy to forget that there was once a legitimate question of whether he’d ever be able to suit up in the NBA at all. It makes sense that the Sixers would struggle sans Embiid; he has a darkhorse case for MVP despite going cold from beyond the arc, sporting a +13.3 net rating, best on the team by a mile. Still, it was jarring to watch Portland blow the doors off Philadelphia with players the caliber of Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler on the floor. The latter missed his first seven shots, failing to score until late in the second quarter. It’s defensively, though, where the Sixers probably missed Embiid most. On multiple occasions, Jusuf Nurkic, who was strong on both ends for the third consecutive game with 14 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, simply used his laughably superior size and length to score over the top of overmatched defenders. Evan Turner was a force on the block, too, easily exploiting mismatches of his own without having to worry about one of the league’s premier rim-protectors affecting his shot. Embiid is Philadelphia’s best player, and it’s probably not particularly close anymore. But this team, obviously, is still far better without him than how it played against the Blazers on Sunday night.

     

    • Zach Collins‘ numbers weren’t all that impressive, especially considering he didn’t sit for the entirety of the fourth quarter along with his fellow rotation players, instead racking up extended garbage minutes alongside Portland’s seldom-used young players. Regardless, he gave multiple glimpses of the feel and nuanced skill level that portend good things for the future irrespective of whether he ultimately reaches his ceiling. Collins found Turner, checked by the six-foot T.J. McConnell after switches, in the post for layups on three different occasions early. The first assist came from the wing, with the ball perfectly placed in Turner’s extended left hand as he fended off McConnell with his right, leading him directly to the basket. The second was even more impressive, as Collins caught on the left block, faced up, and tossed a soft lob over the top of McConnell to Turner right in front of the rim. The plays looked routine, and for the most part they were, but there are only so many bigs in the league capable of easily taking advantage of a mismatch down low with such deft entry passing. Collins might not ever develop into the all-court impact player Portland thinks he has a chance to be, but for reasons like this one and many others, he’ll always have a place in good team’s rotation.

    • Just like they did against Draymond Green, the Blazers began the game by giving Amir Johnson, Embiid’s replacement, a country mile of space when he caught the ball on the perimeter. The veteran responded on Philadelphia’s first possession by facing the basket, looking for cutters, waiting another beat, then draining a 20-footer. Moments later, he further weaponized Portland’s sagging defense to his team’s benefit by initiating quick dribble hand-offs, a staple of Brett Brown’s offense, with J.J. Redick, who swished a deep two and wing triple completely unencumbered by the defense. Clearly, this gambit didn’t come back to bite the Blazers in a big way on Sunday, and wasn’t overly costly in either of prior two games versus the Golden State Warriors. There are rippling benefits to leaving a non-shooter alone on the perimeter, with the player in question’s man playing center field close to the rim, putting out fires all over the court. But the more defenses employ that strategy, the more offenses will be ready to counter it with hand-offs and other actions that mitigate its effects. Keep an eye on this, both offensively and defensively for Portland, as the season continues – especially in the playoffs, when every player’s greatest weakness is preyed upon by the opposition.

     

    • Some notable non-McCollum numbers from a game with one of the most lopsided final scores the Blazers will be a part of all season: Portland shot 59.0 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from deep, both season-highs. Even more impressive? The Blazers made a staggering 60.7 percent of their two-point attempts, and out-rebounded the Sixers 59-36 – a discrepancy better explained by one team’s ridiculously-hot shooting and the other connecting on just 35.4 percent of its field goal attempts than anything else. Not a single player for Portland notched more than McCollum’s 28 minutes. Seth Curry, getting early run due to McCollum picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, was a game-high plus-33. Maybe most eye-popping, though, is that Portland managed this offensive onslaught despite committing 21 turnovers, tying a season-high, including eight in the first quarter alone. Just imagine the numbers that might have been put up if Terry Stotts’ team wasn’t so sloppy with the ball.

     

    • Moe Harkless sat out of Sunday’s game to rest his surgically-repaired left knee. Though he’s apparently sore, the team stressed that there’s been no setback in his ongoing recovery from going under the knife. Good thing, too, because the energy and athleticism Harkless, ostensibly approaching pain-free status, has provided over the past two weeks has been a major boon for the Blazers.

Fantasy News

  • Hasheem Thabeet - C - Oklahoma City Thunder

    Hasheem Thabeet worked out for the Rockets, Raptors and Pistons while the teams were in Charlotte for All-Star weekend.

    Thabeet was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Grizzlies and was quickly one of the biggest busts in NBA history. He was the highest overall pick to be sent to the then D-League until Anthony Bennett secured the top spot. Thabeet is somehow still only 31 years old, and 7'2" centers can certainly provide value in today's NBA, but it's unlikely Thabeet finds his way back into the league. He's currently playing in the Japanese B-League.

    Source: Keith Pompey on Twitter

  • Dirk Nowitzki - F - Dallas Mavericks

    Dirk Nowitzki said he has not made any final decision on if this is his last season.

    "I haven't said this will be it," Nowitzki said, "I'm going to wait and see the last couple of weeks, how my body feels and if I continue to see improvement and I'm still having fun, we'll see." While Dirk has been treating this season as a retirement tour, there's still a chance we see him playing next season.

    Source: Brad Townsend on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (left shoulder contusion) said he is unsure if he will play in the All-Star game on Sunday.

    Davis said the plan is to play, but we will have to wait and see if he's feeling okay. He's certainly not worried about saving himself for the second-half of the season.

    Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter

  • Kyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving (right knee strain) says he is healthy and plans to play in Sunday's All-Star game.

    Irving missed the Celtics' last two games but fantasy owners shouldn't expect him to miss any more with the current injury. Terry Rozier was a hot pickup when Irving initially went down but now goes back to being a handcuff. Irving has put up top-10 per-game value this year with no holes in his fantasy game but he has already missed 11 games. He has missed at least 10 games in seven of his eight NBA seasons so this is something fantasy owners should already be used to.

    Source: Gary Washburn on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis said that the Celtics are on his list of preferred destinations.

    Moreover, Davis added "they were never not on my list," though he also confirmed that the initial reports of his list including the Knicks, Lakers, Clippers and Bucks were true. Initially it had been said that the Celtics are not a preferred landing spot, and Davis' dad would rather his son play elsewhere. It sounds like everything is on the table now that his push to end up on the Lakers has failed, as Davis also said "all 29 teams" (sorry New Orleans) are on his list. Get ready for more updates on AD's thoughts as the season rolls on.

    Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have agreed to extensions with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and GM Arturas Karnisovas.

    The Nuggets haven't reached the playoffs in the last five seasons but will surely end that streak this year. Their abundance of talent and depth currently has them in second place in the Western Conference although Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas have all been injured for much of the season. Their draft choices and player development over the years has been a big catalyst for this as one could look at Nikola Jokic and the breakout seasons of Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, all of them having been with Denver since their first day in the NBA.

    Source: Denver Post

  • Ben Simmons - G/F - Philadelphia Sixers

    Ben Simmons paced Team World in Friday's loss to Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge with 28 points on 14-of-17 shooting, five rebounds, six assists and three steals.

    Everyone knew that defense would not be one of the highlights of this game, but his .823 shooting from the field was just crazy good. He did miss his only shot from the line which was in a way, Simmons' artistic signature on his line for the night. Bulls' Fantastic Finn Lauri Markkanen chimed in with 21 points (9-of-17 shooting), six rebounds, two dimes and three triples.

  • Kyle Kuzma - F - Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma led Team USA to a 161-144 victory over Team World in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday with 35 points on 15-of-27 shooting and was named the game's MVP.

    Kuzma added six rebounds, two assists, three triples and a block to the box score in what was a for-fun yet still competitive game that ended Team USA's two-year drought. Special mentions go out to Jayson Tatum, who chipped in 30 points (12-of-24 shooting), nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and six 3-pointers, as well as rookie Trae Young who double-doubled with 25 points (six 3s), seven rebounds, 10 dimes and a block.

  • Rodions Kurucs - F - Brooklyn Nets

    After missing the Nets' last game with a left elbow strain, Rodions Kurucs took to the court in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and posted 10 points (4-of-9 shooting), four boards, five dimes and two triples in 16 minutes for Team World.

    It's a once in a lifetime experience and it was good to see Kurucs healthy enough to make an appearance. He's been a low-end asset in fantasy thanks to his lack of consistent production but is one to watch especially if you're in deep keeper or dynasty leagues as he's shown some flashes of upside when he's had the chance to shine.

  • Kyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving (right knee strain) is "very, very close" to a return and the Celtics would not be opposed to him playing in Sunday's All-Star game.

    Irving made the trip to Charlotte with his personal trainer a the team's physical therapist. Although he's missed the last two games, the Celtics wouldn't mind him participating in Sunday's game and Danny Ainge things that an exhibition contest might actually function as a good workout. Brad Stevens speculated that Irving would've been able to play on Friday or Saturday had the Celtics had a regular game, so it sounds like he won't miss much more time.

    Source: Boston Herald