• 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

  • Rob Pelinka - Team - Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Lakers are aggressively pursuing the purchase of second-round picks in Thursday’s draft.

    In addition to trying to unload additional bench players, the Lakers would like to acquire a few second-round picks to round out their roster with minimum salary players. If the Lakers can get any late picks, it will give the team even more breathing room in free agency. The Lakers’ master plan after signing LeBron James last offseason is starting to shift into high gear.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Lakers are trying to expand the Anthony Davis trade to open up a max salary slot on July 6, by offering up Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga to additional teams.

    The Lakers got their guy in AD, but they also want more wiggle room for another max guy and role players to fill out their roster. It seems that the team will do whatever it takes to get that third max player spot, aside from moving Kyle Kuzma. It seems very likely that another team will join in on the deal.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Kyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics

    According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, since the season ended, Kyrie Irving has been communicating forthrightly with Celtics' officials both privately and publicly signaling that he will leave the team in free agency.

    It has been widely expected that Irving would leave the Celtics for a bit now, with the Nets being the team most analysts are pegging Irving end up with. With the news that Al Horford is going elsewhere, there is little reason to believe that Irving would stick around. We should have an official update on Irving's intentions soon enough.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Al Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics

    Sources close to Al Horford have told Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald that his camp is no longer discussing a new contract with the Celtics and he is expected to sign a 4-year deal elsewhere.

    A few short months ago the Celtics were pegged as the favorites to land Anthony Davis, and forming a new big three of there own. Flash forward to now, and Davis is on the Lakers, and it looks like both Horford and Kyrie Irving are set to leave. The Celtics couldn't have foreseen a worse start to the offseason.

    Source: Steve Bulpett on Twitter

  • James Jones - Team - Phoenix Suns

    First-year GM James Jones said that there are more than six good players in the draft and that the Suns are comfortable staying put at number six.

    Jones has a point, and if the team believes that they don’t need to move up to get the difference-maker that they’re targeting then staying put is the logical choice. If the Suns stand pat, they’ll be looking at drafting one of Darius Garland, Coby White, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Jarrett Culver. Garland or White would fill the most glaring team need at PG if they’re still available.

    Source: AZ Central

  • David Griffin - Team - New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans are considering trading the 4th overall selection to acquire more picks.

    One team that comes directly to mind is the Hawks, who have been rumored to be offering a trade package including the 8th and 10th selections to move up in the draft. The Hawks also have the 17th pick in the draft. Another team with multiple first rounders is the Celtics, who hold the 14th, 20th and 22nd picks. The Pelicans have also been rumored to be trying to move up to the 2nd pick in the Draft. We'll have to wait and see if there is any fire to all of this smoke.

    Source: Yahoo! Sports

  • Ted Leonsis - Team - Washington Wizards

    Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied the team's reported interest in Raptors GM Masai Ujiri saying, "Any reports that we have interest in Masai Ujiri as a candidate are simply not true, and we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process.”

    Ujiri is a former Executive of the year, and his Raptors just won the NBA Championship thanks in large part to the bold moves he executed in the past year. It is hard to believe that a team like the Wizards wouldn't want to make a pitch to the man who is at or near the top of his profession, but that is silly season for you. As for Ujiri, he'll have no shortage of pursuers should the Raptors grant teams permission to speak to him.

    Source: Washington Post

  • Chris Paul - G - Houston Rockets

    Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey denied that Chris Paul’s camp asked for a trade, while also saying that James Harden and Chris Paul do not have issues with one another.

    Morey also said that Paul will remain on the Rockets next season and that he has spoken to both often this offseason about free agency evaluations and plans. If there is any tension, it is unlikely that Morey would acknowledge that publicly, as it would essentially cripple the team’s already slim chances of moving Paul’s contract. Paul is 34 and making $124 million combined over the next three seasons.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Dwight Powell - F/C - Dallas Mavericks

    Dwight Powell officially opted into the final year of his contract with the Mavs for $10.2 million, with both sides hoping to agree to an extension in July.

    Powell took offense to an earlier report from Yahoo! Sports that stated he would be turning down his player option, and now we have official word on why he was so upset. Powell's role next season is less certain with Kristaps Porzingis' imminent return and the Mavs having a ton of cap room available. Though, if the extension talks are accurate, we'd have to assume that Powell remains an important piece of the Mavs puzzle moving forward.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Hassan Whiteside - C - Miami Heat

    According to Tim Reynolds of the AP, there is a growing sense that Hassan Whiteside will ask for a trade from the Heat when he is officially allowed to opt in to his player option for next season.

    A Whiteside trade has been the speculation of many Heat fans and pundits for a while now, as the big man has been upset about his role on the team. Now that Whiteside will be an expensive expiring contract next season, it'll be a lot easier for the Heat to find a trade partner willing to take a flier on him. With Whiteside's value dropping and the Heat having a cemented seat inside the luxury tax, it may not take much more than cap relief to get him.

    Source: Tim Reynolds on Twitter