• Damian Lillard weaved his way through a sea of blue jerseys, finding just enough daylight to get off a one-legged floater before the Orlando Magic converged on him yet again. Short. Rather than mope about a questionable no-call with his team staving off a late-game comeback, though, the Portland Trail Blazers superstar sprinted up the floor in hopes of stymying a numbers game from behind. Just as Evan Fournier passed to the wing for a would-be wide-open triple, Lillard closed the gap, easily picking off the pass and giving him a chance to redeem himself on the other end. Buckets.

    Behind 41 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, a franchise-record 10 threes, and some typical crunch-time heroics from Lillard, the Blazers held on to beat the persistent Magic 115-112. Orlando led 63-55 at intermission, carving up Portland in the half court to create good looks from three and at the rim. But Terry Stotts’ team regrouped defensively in the second half, helped along by the Magic regressing to the mean from deep and some terrible late-game execution as Portland failed to put them away by missing eight of its final 10 attempts from the free throw line.

    Even Lillard wasn’t immune to those struggles at the charity stripe, spitting four freebies as Orlando was forced to play the foul game with under a minute remaining. It was the only noticeable blemish in an otherwise brilliant offensive performance, one the Blazers sorely needed to end a three-game losing streak with everyone else but Nik Stauskas laboring. Stauskas’ second-quarter explosion, during which he hit four of his five triples, seemed like it might end up being the highlight of a night Portland would soon rather forget. Lillard had other plans. He drained seven threes in the third quarter alone, outscoring the Magic 23-21 all by himself and pushing the Blazers to an 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter – and they needed every bit of it.

    A win is a win, and Orlando is one of the most improved teams in basketball this season under Steve Clifford, but Stotts won’t be too pleased after watching his team nearly relinquish a double-digit fourth-quarter lead at home. Portland was picked apart on defense early, and consistently failed to produce efficient offense down the stretch as the Magic slowly chipped away at an advantage that it was easy to assume insurmountable. When Lillard and C.J. McCollum don’t have it going or are being marginalized by extra defensive attention, the Blazers still must find a way to score. They didn’t on Wednesday, absent Stauskas’ second-quarter splurge, but it didn’t end up mattering.

    “It should have been a 10-point win with free throws, but that’s…s*** happens,” Stotts said after the game.

    This is a historic win for Portland. Lillard set multiple personal and franchise records, and Stotts earned his 400th win as an NBA coach. After the travails of a six-game road trip and ensuing loss at home to the Los Angeles Clippers, that should be enough for the Blazers. Every victory is crucial in a Western Conference marked by an incredible 14 of 15 teams fighting for a playoff spot.

    But remember when Portland was all alone at the top of the conference, less than two weeks ago? Everyone rational knew that standing would be fleeting. Still, such a short time later, it’s hard not to be frustrated by the Blazers, with an epic game from Lillard, barely squeaking by a team that may not make the playoffs in the East.

    NOTES

    • The Magic aren’t a great three-point shooting team, but most all NBA players can make triples when left something close to wide open. That’s what transpired in the first half, as the Blazers’ over-aggressive help defense from the weak side led to three after three without a defender in sight. Indeed, there’s real value in defenders taking an extra step or two away from players without reliable shooting range  in hopes of mucking up the primary action. But Orlando seemed prepared for Portland’s defensive approach, rarely wasting dribbles and holding the ball, instead consistently pinging the ball all over the floor to find the open man. Jonathan Isaac, Jonathon Simmons, Mo Bamba, Jerian Grant, and Jarell Martin won’t combine for seven threes every night. But there’s a thin line between goading a marginal shooter into taking jumpers and outright over-helping, and the Blazers toed it too often on Wednesday.

     

    • Players like Vucevic pose an existential threat to all opposing defenses, but especially one like the Blazers’. Portland’s ultra-conservative ball-screen coverage calls for big men staying within 15 feet of the rim as guards fight over the top of the pick, hoping to goad ball handlers into pull-up two-pointers as they’re accosted with rear-view contests. The most efficient antidote to that strategy is a screen-setter who can pop to the arc and drain catch-and-shoot jumpers, and Nikola Vucevic, who scored a team-high 20 points, fits that bill to a tee. His first triple, for instance, came as Lillard and Nurkic executed an “ice,” forcing the ball to the sideline and away from the pick, leaving the screener wide open from beyond the three-point line. Vucevic is an effective roller, too, with a keen sense of timing and angles to go along with his broad shoulders, nimble footwork, and guard-like touch. Nurkic will always be overmatched when confronted with a player possessing those traits, which is why Stotts perhaps should have tried going with Zach Collins at center, hoping his quickness could mitigate the sweeping advantages presented by Vucevic. Maybe next time.

     

    • Stauskas is playing the best basketball of his career right now, and three-point shooting is hardly the only reason why. He was a major factor making plays with the ball in his hands for the second straight game, attacking close-outs with equal parts speed and control to draw help defenders and find his teammates for layups and open jump shots. He finished with only two assists, but that total doesn’t come close to indicating Stauskas’ quality as a playmaker against Orlando. If he keeps this up, it will be very hard for Stotts to not make him a permanent, meaningful part of the rotation.

     

    • Isaac, starting in place of Aaron Gordon, out with a minor back injury, finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and two assists on 5-of-9 overall and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He was excellent defensively, using his length and quickness to both challenge shots at the rim and wreak subtle havoc as a help defender digging down from the weak side. If Isaac develops into a reliable three-point shooter, he’s already good enough defensively to emerge as a quality starter. Should he consistently flash the floor game he did against the Blazers, though? The Magic, finally, could have the star they’ve long lacked since trading Dwight Howard. Isaac has a long ways to go to get there, but this was another very encouraging performance for the sophomore forward.

Fantasy News

  • Andrew Wiggins
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Andrew Wiggins (illness) is being listed as questionable for Wednesday's game against the Jazz.

    Wiggins joins Josh Okogie (questionable) and Jake Layman (doubtful) on the injury report in what could be a depleted wing rotation for the Wolves. In the event that all three can't go, Jarrett Culver would see as much time as he can handle.

    Source: Wolves PR on Twitter

  • Shabazz Napier
    PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Shabazz Napier (right hamstring strain) is doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Jazz.

    Napier will miss his ninth consecutive contest on Wednesday. He can be dropped while his injury situation remains murky.

    Source: Wolves PR on Twitter

  • Jake Layman
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Jake Layman (left foot soreness) is being listed as doubtful for Wednesday's matchup with the Jazz.

    There is buzz that Layman's injury is to his toe and that it is not expected to be a long term injury. Nevertheless, he is looking iffy at best for Wednesday. Jarrett Culver may be a busy man if Josh Okogie (questionable) and Andrew Wiggins (questionable) also can't go.

    Source: Wolves PR on Twitter

  • Josh Okogie
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Josh Okogie (left knee soreness) is questionable to face the Jazz on Wednesday.

    With Okogie and Andrew Wiggins (illness) questionable, and Jake Layman (foot) doubtful, Jarrett Culver may be thrust into extended minutes. This is a situation to monitor.

    Source: Wolves PR on Twitter

  • Luke Kornet
    PF-C, Chicago Bulls

    Luke Kornet (nose) is being listed as out ahead of Wednesday's game against the Pistons.

    Daniel Gafford will continue to see extra minutes in Kornet's absence and made the most of on Monday by scoring 21 points in 20 minutes. Kornet can be left on the waiver wire.

    Source: NBA Injury Report

  • Jahlil Okafor
    C, New Orleans Pelicans

    Jahlil Okafor (lower left back spasms) is being listed as out for Tuesday's game against the Blazers.

    It will once again be Jaxson Hayes and Nicolo Melli getting all the run that they can handle in a depleted frontcourt. Hayes is coming off a 10 point, 10 rebound and three block performance and is a cheap DFS target on Tuesday's small slate. With Derrick Favors health an uncertainty Hayes also makes for a target in season long leagues.

    Source: Andrew Lopez on Twitter

  • Lonzo Ball
    PG, New Orleans Pelicans

    Lonzo Ball (right adductor strain) is being listed as out for Tuesday's matchup with the Blazers.

    Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been red-hot the last two games and stands to benefit, along with a returning Frank Jackson.

    Source: Andrew Lopez on Twitter

  • Frank Jackson
    PG, New Orleans Pelicans

    Frank Jackson (left neck contusion) is being listed as available to play against the blazers on Tuesday.

    Jackson should get a nice chunk of time with so many injuries in the Pelicans back court rotation. He is a punt option in DFS.

    Source: Daniel Sallerson on Twitter

  • Brandon Ingram
    SF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Alving Gentry said that Brandon Ingram (right knee soreness) is expected to return for Tuesday's game against the Blazers.

    The return of Ingram may push Kenrich Williams back to a reserve role, though he should still see a hefty dose of minutes either way. Ingram was putting up top-25 value in 9/8 cat leagues before going down and has a nice matchup against a debuting Carmelo Anthony tonight. Feel free to get him back in your lineups.

    Source: Daniel Sallerson on Twitter

  • Otto Porter Jr.
    SF, Chicago Bulls

    Otto Porter (left foot sprain) is out for Wednesday's matchup with the Pistons.

    Porter is expected to miss a few weeks at the minimum, in what has been a disappointing season thus far. Chandler Hutchison has absorbed the majority of Porter's minutes while also closing out fourth quarters. He is a name to monitor in deeper leagues.

    Source: NBA Injury Report