January 22, 2019, 11:15 pm
We’ve heard it time and time again, dating back years: The Blazers won’t go anywhere meaningful with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading the way. While that longstanding assumption by team skeptics has grown increasingly popular this season, the merits of another likelihood seem worth exploring after Portland’s hard-fought 123-114 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Can the Blazers really win a championship if Lillard is their best player?
That’s no slight to Lillard, who’s enjoying arguably the finest season of his career and was stellar against the Thunder, finishing with 34 points, five rebounds, eight assists, and five steals on 12-of-24 shooting. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, too, helping Portland come within a possession of Oklahoma City on multiple occasions, only for the home team to extend its lead immediately thereafter courtesy of swarming defense and star-level offense.
Paul George, unfortunately for the Blazers, provided plenty of both for the Thunder from the opening tip in yet another performance that strengthens his burgeoning MVP case. George scored 36 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished four assists, and swiped five steals on Tuesday, getting whatever he wanted on one end and consistently disrupting Portland’s flow on the other. He had a pair of pick-sixes in the fourth quarter alone, when he made all six of his 15 total free-throw attempts to keep the Blazers at bay. George went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, too, and split time guarding Lillard and C.J. McCollum while also mucking up the action as a help defender.
It was an utterly dominant individual showing, one that forcefully conveyed the impact of a superstar being able to affect the game on both ends of the floor – and served as a reminder of Lillard’s inherent limits. To be clear, Lillard has made subtle strides on defense in recent years, to the point that he’s certainly no longer the sieve he was early in his career. Lillard is smart, has quick hands, and for the most part plays with the engagement and intensity necessary to help his team contain opposing point guards. But compared to George? Lillard, even playing at his defensive peak, will never be able to replicate the influence of a defender capable of not just checking four positions, but wreaking tangible havoc in the process.
The lack of a two-way superstar is one most teams face, obviously, and probably not the issue that’s most pressing to the Blazers. Present and long-term improvement all across the roster takes precedence over anything else right now, and their supporting cast didn’t show much of any on the second leg of a tough road back-to-back.
McCollum exploded in the third quarter, scoring 21 points and netting five three-pointers. He finished the game 31 points and a career-high tying seven triples. Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 15 rebounds, seven of which came via his teammates’ misses – and accounted for over a third of Portland’s season-best 20 offensive rebounds, the biggest reason the road team was able to stay close throughout.
Otherwise, there wasn’t a standout individual for the Blazers. Al-Farouq Aminu had 13 rebounds and four assists, but went just 1-of-7 from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts. Moe Harkless went scoreless in 18 minutes. Jake Layman‘s cutting ability was neutralized by Oklahoma City, and he was 0-of-4 from three. Seth Curry was out-classed athletically on both sides of the ball. Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner played with their typical brands of physicality, but didn’t do enough to keep Portland’s bench afloat.
The Blazers didn’t have much business winning this game. They shot 10-of-36 from beyond the arc and committed 19 turnovers, which led to 29 Thunder points. Absent a strong performance from the bench, Portland will always struggle to beat a quality foe on the road when shooting that poorly from deep and coughing up the ball at such a debilitating frequency. George and Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, combined for 65 points, 18 rebounds, and 18 assists, and four other Oklahoma City players reached double-figures.
Both teams needed this game. They entered Tuesday’s action in lock step in the Western Conference standings, with mere percentage points separating them between third and fourth place. The Thunder lead the Blazers 2-0 in the season series now, with two games left to play, meaning Terry Stotts’ team must beat Billy Donovan‘s both times and substantially improve its record in the northwest division for Portland to win a theoretical tie-breaker over Oklahoma City. Clearly, there’s a lot of work left to be done for the Blazers.
Unfortunately, though, no matter how Portland fares over the season’s last three months, it won’t have a player who can dominate a basketball game in all facets the way George did on Tuesday.
September 19, 2019, 3:22 pmTyler ZellerC, Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have signed C Tyler Zeller to a training camp roster on Thursday.
Zeller played all of six games last season with the Hawks and Grizzlies. Zeller will try to latch on as a third-string C for the Nuggets' deep frontcourt. Zeller is off the fantasy radar.
Source: Chris Dempsey on Twitter
September 19, 2019, 3:03 pmLuke KennardSG, Detroit Pistons
Coach Dwane Casey said that he is not sure if he will start Luke Kennard or have him run a lot of the second-team offense.
In addition, Casey mentioned that Kennard dealt with some knee tendinitis earlier this summer. Kennard is likely competing with Bruce Brown Jr. for the starting two-guard spot. We'll see how the rotation starts to shape in the preseason, but both players will get minutes either way.
September 19, 2019, 2:53 pmBlake GriffinPF, Detroit Pistons
Coach Dwane Casey revealed that although the team's training staff is easing him into things, Blake Griffin (knee) is back on the court and playing.
Coach Casey added that the team expects Griffin to be at 100% with "no lingering effects." It looks like Griffin is progressing nicely in his return and should be all systems go for the start of the season. With Griffin's extensive injury history, the team may manage him more this year. Coming off a career year, he's expected to be an early middle-round selection.
September 19, 2019, 2:44 pmVictor OladipoSG, Indiana Pacers
Coach Nate McMillan said that Victor Oladipo (knee) probably wouldn't play on opening night.
Videos have surfaced this summer of Oladipo doing on-court work, and by all accounts, he is progressing well. Coach McMillan said that Oladipo isn't playing live yet and it would seem he still has hurdles to climb. Even when Oladipo does return, he will likely be facing minute restrictions and frequent days off, at least initially. Jeremy Lamb figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Oladipo's absence.
September 18, 2019, 10:18 pmNikola VucevicC, Orlando Magic
In an interview Wednesday, Magic head coach Steve Clifford said he could see Nikola Vucevic improving across all areas of his game, and echoing his player's belief that he is in his prime.
One of the areas Clifford thought Vucevic could improve upon was his 3-point shooting percentage, and also seemed to indicate that he could contonue to up his play on defense. He's unquestionably solidified himself as the anchor of this team, and the Magic as a whole are likely eyeing to improve upon their momentum as a rising young playoff team in an Eastern Conference that looks pretty weak after the top four to five teams. Expect Vucevic to produce safe second-round value this season.
September 18, 2019, 9:18 pmDeandre AytonC, Phoenix Suns
Suns General Manager James Jones said in a recent interview that Deandre Ayton is capable of playing PF if needed.
One could chalk this up to either Ayton continuing his development in becoming a more dynamic offensive player, or the Suns covering up for the lack of depth on their roster at PF. In reality it's likley a mix of both, and is a positive for Ayton's value heading into this season. If he does end up spending meaningful time at the four, it would not bode well for the value of Dario Saric, who is already barely going at the end of drafts in 9-cat leagues.
September 18, 2019, 8:15 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been granted a $1.75 million Disabled Player Exception for DeMarcus Cousins (torn left ACL).
This now officially rules DeMarcus Cousins out for the season. The Lakers will now have the ability to go out and acquire a player that will in all likelihood occupy the end of their bench. Because they signed Dwight Howard, using this cap space on a center isn't necessarily as big a priority as it once was when Cousins initially went down.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
September 18, 2019, 6:28 pmMohamed BambaC, Orlando Magic
Mo Bamba will enter training camp second on the depth chart behind Nikola Vučević.
Head coach of the Magic, Steve Clifford, told a reporter that he plans on having Bamba as his primary backup center while Khem Birch will be third on the depth chart. The Magic also have Vučević, who was re-signed in the offseason to a four-year, $100M contract. As long as Bamba is backing up Vučević, his fantasy ceiling is capped outside of standard redraft leagues.
September 18, 2019, 3:16 pmNerlens NoelC, Oklahoma City Thunder
Brett Dawson of The Athletic believes that Nerlens Noel could see a slight bump in minutes if the Thunder limit Steven Adams' usage.
Noel is a great per-minute producer of steals and blocks but only appeared in 13.7 minutes per contest last season. Additional playing time would make him more useful in deeper leagues.
Source: Brett Dawson of The Athletic
September 18, 2019, 2:23 pmJoel EmbiidC, Philadelphia Sixers
In a video, Joel Embiid announced that he lost about 25 pounds over the summer.
Embiid is one of the best fantasy players around but has struggled at times with conditioning. The Sixers will gladly accept any improvements from last season's averages of 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds.
Source: NBC Sports