• The Portland Trail Blazers have lost three games in a row for the first time this season. Even more frustrating for the team and its fans, though, is that Sunday’s loss in many ways mirrored the postseason struggles Portland pledged to overcome in 2018-19.

    The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Blazers 104-100, erasing a 13-point halftime deficit to assume first place in the Western Conference standings – an enviable, surprising position the Blazers found themselves in just a few days ago. Tobias Harris matched his career-high with 34 points and also grabbed 11 rebounds, further staking his claim for an All-Star spot no one saw coming. True to form, though, the Clippers’ come-from-behind victory was a team effort. Montrezl Harrell continued his aggressive, impactful play, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, while Danilo Gallinari capped his strong all-around performance by breaking a tie with a leaning jumper as the game clock ticked below one minute left to play.

    This loss would have been worse for Portland if not for typical heroics from Damian Lillard. Seven of his team-high 30 points came on back-to-back triples late in the fourth quarter, erasing a Clippers lead in the blink of an eye that seemed increasingly insurmountable as the Blazers tossed up brick after brick from the perimeter.

    Portland shot just 8-of-38 from beyond the arc on Sunday, good for ugly 21.1 percent shooting. Lillard was just 3-of-13; Al-Farouq Aminu missed all five of his long-range tries, most of which were wide open; and Moe Harkless and Evan Turner combined to go 0-of-6. Terry Stotts’ team has shot worse than 28 percent on threes in four of its last five losses.

    The Blazers weren’t shooting all that well in the first half, but the issue was exacerbated after intermission, when Doc Rivers changed up his team’s pick-and-roll coverage. Just like the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Clippers forced the ball from Lillard’s hands early, blitzing ball-screen action at times all the way up to half court to ensure anyone but Portland’s best player would beat them. Mission accomplished.

    Other factors contributed to the Blazers’ collapse, too. Jusuf Nurkic spent the second half in the locker room after suffering a right shoulder injury during the second quarter. Los Angeles outscored Portland 23 to eight from the free throw line. The Clippers, fifth in turnover rate coming into Sunday’s action, also committed just four turnovers, their fewest amount of the season.

    The standings mean little with respect to championship hopes right now, but there’s no denying that Los Angeles, 9-2 in its last 11 games, is a playoff-caliber team. The Blazers are, too. But on a night when jumpers weren’t falling and one of its most important players was forced to leave the game, Portland just didn’t bring enough consistent energy to keep the Clippers at bay. More damning? They reminded the league of a simple blueprint to beat the Blazers that proved so effective last spring.

    NOTES

    • Nurkic’s injury was barely noticed until he wasn’t on the floor to begin the third quarter. He left the locker room before speaking to reporters after the game, and Stotts didn’t have an update on his status at the post-game podium, either.

    • Harkless received his first start of the season after returning last Wednesday from a three-week absence related to ongoing knee soreness. Jake Layman, on the other hand, was left on the bench for the game’s entirety. It’s no surprise that Harkless was earmarked as a regular starter despite his early-season injury, nor that Layman seems to have fallen out of the rotation now that the Blazers are healthy. The former gives Portland two-way dynamism no other potential starter could match, as was obvious during an encouraging first half that portended a blowout win for the home team. On one multi-possession sequence, Harkless abused Shae Gilgeous-Alexander in the post, raced down the floor for a dunk, and orchestrated three successful switches with Aminu on the same trip down. Harkless isn’t 100 percent quite yet, and is still playing on a minutes limit. If he knocks down jumpers like he did last season, though, his addition could provide the Blazers with a major boost.

    • Meyers Leonard‘s shot-blocking and rim-protecting woes are well-documented by now, but it was still jarring to watch Milos Teodosic – a genius pick-and-roll operator, to be fair – score on him at the rim. Most seven-footers would have no problem managing an effective contest on a double-pumped finger roll from a player of Teodosic’s physical profile, but Leonard proved the exception in the second quarter. His lack of length, anticipation and timing as the last line of defense can still be something to behold, even during a season in which he’s been a bit stingier at the rim than expected. Leonard played well on Sunday. His career-high 15 rebounds are evidence enough of that reality, and he also kept the ball humming in an impressive stint by Portland’s all-bench unit early in the second quarter. Still, his limitations were hard to ignore.

     

    • Nik Stauskas didn’t play in the second half, which wasn’t only odd because the Blazers needed shooting in the worst way once the Clippers adjusted their pick-and-roll defense after halftime. He also flashed in the first half, on multiple occasions creasing the paint and attacking close-outs to draw help and create efficient looks elsewhere. Stauskas’ utility to Portland doubles if he’s operating as more than a shooting specialist, and he certainly was doing just that before intermission, chipping in four points and two assists in seven minutes of play.

     

    • Zach Collins fouled out despite registering only 19 minutes of court time, an especially troubling development considering his foul rate as a rookie, but made plays all over the floor before being disqualified. He had nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and three blocks, showing off the touch, athleticism, and shot-blocking instincts that make him such a crucial part of the Blazers’ future. It’s not often that Harrell, one of the league’s most powerful high-fliers, gets rejected at the rim, but Collins did just that on this key sequence early in the fourth quarter.

    • Speaking of the fourth quarter, both Lillard and McCollum were on the floor to open the final stanza – a major departure from Stotts’ early-season rotation. Circumstances of time and score called for that change, obviously, and also informed the players Stotts put next to them: Seth Curry, Turner, and Collins. That’s a flammable offensive unit, with multiple shooters and ball handlers, and one containing just enough defensive backbone to make the inevitable offense-defense tradeoff worth it. One issue: Turner spent a portion of the time that lineup was on the floor playing off the ball, which seemed directly contradictory to the role he should have played given his skill set and how the Clippers were defending Lillard. Regardless, look for this quintet to appear again when Portland needs points.

Fantasy News

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    LeBron James put up a triple-double for the fifth time this season in a 112-107 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, providing 25 points (10-of-21 FGs, 3-of-5 FTs), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes.

    James has now triple-doubled against all 30 NBA teams. He's hardly slowing down, ranking 12th in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues for the season. LeBron's scoring has dipped since last season from 27.4 points per game to 25.0, but his assists have skyrocketed from 8.3 assists per game to 11.1 this season.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis (right shoulder soreness) put up a game-high 34 points (13-of-24 FGs, 5-fo-6 FTs) as part of a full line that included seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 37 minutes in a victory over the Thunder on Tuesday.

    Davis has been a great fit for the Lakers and he once again toughed out an injury (or two or more) while producing in every category. He's currently ranked 4th in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues. If he ever truly gets healthy, he should have a great shot at the top spot. Next to Davis tonight, JaVale McGee swatted four more shots in 23 minutes and continues to be an excellent streaming option for blocks, boards and field goal percentage.

  • Rajon Rondo
    PG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Rajon Rondo handed out 10 assists to go with eight points, two rebounds and one 3-pointer in 27 minutes off the bench vs. the Thunder on Tuesday.

    Rondo shot just 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line. His percentages have traditionally been harmful to fantasy teams, but his rebounds, assists and steals continue to pile up even as his minutes dip as he's nearing age 34. At this point, he's just a streamer for those categories, but remember that he averaged over eight assists the past two seasons. If he were to find himself regularly getting 30 minutes per game, there's probably a team in every fantasy league that could use him.

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (eye abrasion) left Tuesday's game after playing just nine minutes, and while he was technically available to return, Frank Vogel chose not to use him anymore.

    It's a positive sign that he was available after the injury, but the situation should be monitored to be sure that Kuzma is going to play in the Lakers' next game on Friday before making decisions about how to use him.

    Source: Mike Trudell on Twitter

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Nerlens Noel had another good game on Tuesday in a road loss to the Lakers as he went for 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds, one assist and three steals in 24 minutes.

    Noel has quietly entered the top-100 in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues and completely blown by the struggling Steven Adams. It's hard to trust Noel on a nightly basis, but there aren't many players better at racking up defensive stats (1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks in 18.3 mpg).

  • Dennis Schroder
    PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Dennis Schroder had a season-high 31 points (12-for-20 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs) to go with four boards, one dime and three triples in 30 minutes off the bench in a 107-112 loss to the Lakers.

    Schroder has had some great games this season, but it just hasn't been consistent enough to make him a must-start standard league player. Perhaps a trade will settle things for him a bit more in the next few months. Schroder's backcourt mates had mixed results tonight with Chris Paul scoring just four points on 1-of-7 shooting but with five boards, 10 dimes and four steals while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot just 5-of-16 from the field but 4-of-4 from the line and had 16 points, five boards, four dimes, two treys, a steal and a block.

  • Danilo Gallinari
    SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Danilo Gallinari had a very efficient night, scoring 25 points on 7-of-11 field goals and 7-of-9 free throws vs. the Lakers on Tuesday.

    Gallinari added six rebounds, two 3-pointers and one assist in 31 minutes. Gallo is once again sneakily providing top-60/50 (8-cat/9-cat). Elsewhere in the frontcourt, Steven Adams had a rough game with just two points, six rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes.

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic was on fire on Tuesday as he led the Kings to victory with a season-high 31 points (11-of-14 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) to go with seven triples, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes off the bench.

    Bogdanovic has been thriving lately, and the fact that his hot stretch started before De'Aaron Fox went down is even more encouraging. Bogdanovic's production has put him into the top-65 for the season and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight to his impressive stat lines.

  • Cory Joseph
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Cory Joseph delivered a career-high 14 assists in 39 minutes in the Kings' 120-116 win over the Suns on Tuesday.

    Joseph added six points on 2-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, a steal and two blocks in his fourth consecutive start. Joseph traditionally provides very low per-minute stats, so when he doesn't get near 40 minutes, his numbers aren't quite so palatable. Until De'Aaron Fox returns, Joseph is a low-end starting point guard for those desperate for assists.

  • Richaun Holmes
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    Richaun Holmes grabbed a career-high 15 boards vs. the Suns on Tuesday as part of a 20-point night (8-for-11 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs) with a steal and two blocks in 34 minutes.

    The days when we could only dream of what Holmes would do with 30-plus minutes are gone. Since Holmes joined the starting lineup, he's been playing right around 30 minutes, which has him looking like a middle-round value. He could be in for a slight reduction in value once Marvin Bagley returns if the Kings frontcourt is otherwise healthy, but it appears that the Kings might finally be the team that just lets Holmes play. Nemanja Bjelica also had another good game tonight with 17 points, eight rebounds, a steal, a block and three treys in 31 minutes.