• Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 115-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on Monday night…

    Believe it or not, it will be tough for the Blazers, on the second leg of a road back-to-back or not, to win going forward when C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic combine for just 12 points on 21 shot attempts. The former, frustrated from the opening tip by the Kings’ length and activity, went just 2-of-14 from the field, missing several makable shots along the way, including a dead layup in the second quarter. Nurkic, meanwhile, never found a groove after Sacramento, forcing three turnovers on pocket passes in the first quarter alone, shut down his ball-screen dance with Damian Lillard. He didn’t get his first touch on the block until late in the first half, either, when Terry Stotts seemed to remember Nurkic has been the linchpin of his team’s recent success.

    Both McCollum and, to a lesser extent, Nurkic were net negatives against the Kings. Lillard had five turnovers in the first quarter. Portland shot 40.2 percent from the field and 10-of-31 from beyond the arc. If not for a second-half explosion from Lillard, who scored a game-high 35 points on 11-of-27 shooting and committed just one more turnover after the game’s first 12 minutes, and some solid play from Jake Layman, Evan Turner, and Meyers Leonard, this one would have been a laugher. As is, Portland should feel lucky it had a long-shot’s chance to win this game late in the fourth quarter.

    According to Blazers beat writer Casey Holdahl, Stotts began making his way to the locker room before the first half was finished. What probably sparked his disgust was Al-Farouq Aminu, who caught a bounce pass in traffic from Nurkic, wasting an opportunity to get the last shot of the half by throwing up an awkward, flailing floater over Willie Cauley-Stein. Buddy Hield, on the other hand, played the clock to perfection, draining a pull-up 20-footer over the outstretched arms of McCollum and Nurkic just prior to the buzzer sounding.

    Aminu, to be fair, doesn’t deserve all the blame for that gaffe, and neither does Nurkic. Lillard owns some of it, too, for his confounding decision to pitch the ball ahead to a posting-up Nurkic with 20 seconds on the game clock. It’s incumbent on all players to always maintain full awareness time and score, of course, but Portland’s floor general is tasked with managing that aspect of the game first and foremost. It was an odd end to a similarly odd first half on offense from both Lillard and his teammates.

    Speaking of Stotts, his angst nearly boiled over early in the third quarter, when the notoriously mild-mannered coach was assessed a technical foul for arguing a non-call on a drive by McCollum. Moments later, Kings wing Iman Shumpert exchanged heated words with Stotts, furthering bad blood between he and the Blazers that first dripped early, when he took exception to a screen from Nurkic. Shumpert got into it with Lillard later in the third quarter, and was reportedly waiting for Nurkic outside Portland’s locker room following this discussion with Lillard and Turner on-court after the game.

    Cooler heads prevailed, thankfully, but these antics are an escalation of tension stemming from Portland’s dramatic come-from-behind win in Sacramento earlier this month. Just imagine how intense it will be when these teams at Moda Center for the regular season finale, perhaps with major playoff implications on the line. Mark your calendar for April 10th.

    Layman, more than any Blazer other than Lillard, deserves mention for his performance. Starting again for Moe Harkless, still battling left knee soreness, Layman scored 13 points for the second consecutive game, going 6-of-9 from the field to do it. The biggest difference between he and Harkless is supposed to be consistent three-point shooting, but Layman has yet to show off that side of his game since being re-inserted into the rotation and playing the best basketball of his career.

    He did all of his damage at the rim on Monday instead, feasting on back cuts and designed sets for an array of highlight-reel finishes. While the majority of Layman’s buckets came without a dribble, his most impressive one showed just how dynamic he can be with the ball in his hands when making quick decisions despite that utter lack of functional handle. Other than Lillard and sometimes Nurkic, the Blazers don’t have a player who consistently puts pressure on the rim, either by finishing or creating the defensive vacuum effect that leads to scoring opportunities elsewhere. Will Layman always be able to find so much success as a cutter? No, but the mere threat of his speed and explosion in the halfcourt adds a dimension to Portland’s offense that even Harkless can’t match.

    Breaking news: De’Aaron Fox is an absolute jet. He might be the fastest player in the league end to end, and the Kings’ renaissance this season is a direct result of Dave Joerger embracing his young point guard’s natural gifts, overhauling his offensive philosophy to push the pace first and foremost. The Blazers know that, of course, but were still unable to contain Sacramento’s transition attack after made baskets. Fox created efficient offense for his team on five or six occasions in the first half courtesy of those straight-line sprints alone, often taking advantage of an unbalanced following attacks to the rim by Lillard.

    Fox is one of the most explosive athletes in basketball; his tools will always be his greatest asset. But it’s his increased understanding of the mental side of the game – along with rapid skill progression – that’s made him an All-Star candidate at 21 years old, and has the Kings thinking they finally found their new franchise player. It’s truly frightening not only how good he is already, but how much he’s improved from year one to year two. Fox will be a thorn in Portland’s side for years to come.

    Marvin Bagley III will be, too. The rookie missed the last meeting between these two teams, but made up for it in a big way on Monday, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds off the bench. Frontcourt mate Harry Giles III was just as if not more impressive, making six of his seven shot attempts en route to 12 points and four rebounds in just 19 minutes of play. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, getting wherever he wanted with the dribble and taking advantage when Portland dared defend him with a guard.

    Those guys combined for 43 of Sacramento’s whopping 58 bench points, thoroughly out-shining their teammates in the starting lineup. Bogdanovic is getting closer and closer to a known commodity at this point – a big, playmaking guard with the chops to make tough shots from all over the floor and the confidence to take the last one with the game on the line. Bagley and Giles are comparative unknowns, which says more about their youth and potential than any damning long-term shortcoming that will keep them from becoming impact players. Both were fantastic against the Blazers, exhibiting the speed, quick-twitch leaping ability, and ball skills – often simultaneously, a good sign for a tandem that came into Monday’s action sporting a -17.7 net rating – that once made each of them presumptive number one overall draft picks.

    One more Portland note: Stotts, with his team down seven and the fourth-quarter clock reading 1:14, brought in Layman for Aminu, creating a closing five of Lillard, McCollum, Turner, Layman, and Nurkic. It was a smart move. Portland needed points in a hurry, and getting them in a timely manner would have been made extra difficult by playing two non-shooters and a streaky one next to Lillard and McCollum. Keep an eye on this as the season progresses, assuming Layman continues playing well. Lillard’s frequent late-game heroics could come even more often if he’s afforded the presence of another shooter defenses must respect late in games.

Fantasy News

  • John Collins
    PF, Atlanta Hawks

    John Collins was dominant in Saturday's 111-107 win over the Hawks, putting up 35 points, 17 rebounds, a steal, two blocks and three 3-pointers while shooting 13-of-18 from the field.

    Collins has been cooking at a first-round level in the last two weeks, and is a few spots below that on the full season, and there's really nothing outside of health that can slow him down — not even Clint Capela. He made quick work of a smaller Mavs team tonight and kept Atlanta around until Trae Young popped in 13 of his 25 points in the final frame. Keep the young Hawks locked and loaded down the stretch.

  • Dewayne Dedmon
    C, Atlanta Hawks

    Dewayne Dedmon managed eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes on Saturday night.

    Dedmon's got a little extra leash with news that Clint Capela will be out for multiple weeks. He's been a middle-round option in the last two weeks and there's no reason to think that won't continue for as long as Capela is out.

  • Cam Reddish
    G-F, Atlanta Hawks

    Cam Reddish notched 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals on Saturday night.

    Reddish played 39 minutes and shot 6-for-16 with no threes to dampen spirits a bit, but he's been a surprising top-75 value in the last two weeks. He's outside the top-200 on the full season but has been a top-100 type over the last month, so it's time to start considering Reddish as a viable option in standard leagues. Don't expect the world but there's no harm in striking while the iron is hot.

  • Kevin Huerter
    SG, Atlanta Hawks

    Kevin Huerter gave fantasy GMs a lot to ponder on Saturday night, going 1-for-11 from the field for three points while adding three rebounds, six assists, four steals and a 3-pointer.

    Huerter is definitely trending downward and is getting squeezed by Atlanta's other young wings, but he's still a top-120 player on the season despite just top-150 output in the last couple of weeks. He's probably one of the last guys on your roster and could be cut for a can't-miss free agent, but it's hard to argue with the overall package. His .419 FG% stings and there are nights where he completely disappears, but in the end the value is what the value is. Huerter's starting to get a Danny Green vibe about him, which means he'll frustrate night-to-night if you can't wait for the big picture.

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.
    SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Tim Hardaway Jr. poured in 33 points on Saturday night, going 11-of-22 from the field with four rebounds, five assists and six 3-pointers.

    Dallas was without Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis tonight so the scoring had to come from somewhere, and THJ was happy to deliver against his old team. He's a low-end play in standard leagues but gets a small bump if you're hunting scoring and threes. Tonight was definitely a perfect set of circumstances for him so don't expect this kind of output regularly, but there's a chance that Hardaway could be kicking off one of his hot streaks.

  • Maxi Kleber
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    Maxi Kleber drew a start on Saturday night and delivered nine points, eight rebounds, a 3-pointer and five blocks before fouling out against the Hawks.

    Kleber had run of the roost with Kristaps Porzingis dealing with load management and Willie Cauley-Stein away for personal reasons. He hasn't taken off like we hoped after Dwight Powell went down for the year, but Kleber is a top-155/120 (8/9-cat) guy and holds low-end appeal because of his blocks, rebounds and occasional threes, with a lean towards 9-cat formats.

  • Delon Wright
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Delon Wright was able to deliver 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 30 minutes of action on Saturday.

    Wright got extra work with Jalen Brunson leaving the game after just one minute. He's been a big disappointment this season, going from potential breakout starter to his current standing outside the top-150. The stat set means he might still be worth rostering in specific 12-team lineups, but unfortunately Wright has been just a deep-league guy in general.

  • Seth Curry
    SG, Dallas Mavericks

    Seth Curry played through right knee soreness on Saturday night and finished with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and four 3-pointers against the Hawks.

    Curry logged 38 minutes and started, so that should assuage concerns about his injury. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis aren't expected to miss more time so Curry should go back to the bench for Dallas' next game, but anyone who rolled with him tonight came away happy.

  • Malik Monk
    SG, Charlotte Hornets

    Malik Monk hit 5-of-15 shots from the field en route to his 15 points off the bench on Saturday, adding three triples, four rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.

    Monk's poor shooting tonight aside, he did manage to crack the double-digit scoring mark again while also making a significant contribution in the 3s made category. He should be worth an end-of-bench slot in standard leagues moving forward.

  • Devonte' Graham
    PG, Charlotte Hornets

    Devonte' Graham's shooting slump continued to haunt him on Saturday as he went 1-for-10 from the field to finish the game with six points, one rebound, two assists, two steals and one block.

    Graham appears to be in a funk. The defensive stats tonight don't even begin to cover his shooting inefficiency and his lack of significant dimes. Owners will just have to ride out the storm and hope he comes out the other end in time.