• OPPONENT: Denver Nuggets

    RECORD: 23-23 (16-6 at home, 4-6 last 10 games)

    MEASURABLES: 106.4 offensive rating (11th), 106.6 defensive rating (20th), -.2 net rating (15th)

    PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Jamal Murray, SG Gary Harris, SF Wilson Chandler, PF Trey Lyles, C Nikola Jokic

    The Denver Nuggets deserve far more credit for staying afloat without Paul Millsap. The two-month absence of a player his caliber would doom most young teams with hopeful playoff aspirations, especially given that Denver traded Danilo Gallinari to create the cap space needed to sign him. Millsap, glut of Nuggets bigs notwithstanding, was supposed to be one of the most irreplaceable players on this roster.

    There’s a chance that’s still the case, of course, but no one would know it considering how Denver has played since he broke his wrist on November 19. The Nuggets are 14-16 with a -1.1 net rating in the interim, keeping pace with the Portland Trail Blazers and other members of the Western Conference middle class despite missing the only player on their roster with All-Star experience and legitimate two-way acumen.

    Each of the players Malone has called upon to pick up Millsap’s slack warrant praise, but none more so than Trey Lyles. After becoming a punchline early in the season amid a string of DNP-CDs while Donovan Mitchell, the player for whom he was traded on draft night, made it easier and easier for Utah Jazz fans to forget about Gordon Hayward, Lyles has played the best basketball of his career since Malone gave him a chance to shine. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26.9 minutes per game dating back to December 1, shooting a sterling 42.9 percent from 3-point range on just over four attempts a night.

    Still, Malone has been slow to make Lyles the primary replacement for Millsap, a coaching choice that’s left many Nuggets fans scratching their heads. The chief justification for that hesitance is defense, but numbers don’t support the notion that playing Plumlee next to Nikola Jokic makes their team worse on that side of the ball. Since Millsap’s injury, Denver has actually allowed six fewer points per 100 possessions with Lyles beside Jokic than it has Plumlee, per NBA.com/stats. One of the Nuggets’ greatest strengths, two-way rebounding, isn’t adversely affected by the presence of Lyles, either, a more perimeter-oriented power forward who’s faced criticism for a lack of physicality in the past.

    Given Portland’s personnel and his increasingly strong play, expect Lyles to get the start over Plumlee on Saturday night, just his third of the season but second in a row. Like Lyles, Jokic is versatile enough offensively to hurt the Blazers from both beyond the arc and in the post. His playmaking prowess is among basketball’s rarest, too, and promotes the kind of quick-hitting, side-to-side ball movement that pushed Denver to the most efficient offense in the league over the second half of last season.

    The Nuggets haven’t been quite so dynamic this season, but through no lack of individual development among their young core. Jamal Murray, entrenched as his team’s point guard of the present and future, has shrugged off an abysmal start shooting the ball to consistently show off the elite shot-making skill, improved finishing ability and burgeoning court sense that makes him a potential star down the line. Gary Harris has maintained his efficiency while upping his 3-point rate and overall usage, and, most importantly, grown more comfortable making plays with the ball in his hands. The fourth-year wing still doesn’t draw enough fouls and probably won’t ever be a primary offensive option, but has almost every skill a team could ask of a supporting scorer – and is only getting better. Will Barton, now a full-fledged backup point guard, is having a career year, too.

    Defense is Denver’s bugaboo, and the side of the ball Millsap was supposed to make his biggest impact. The Nuggets have trouble containing the ball at the point of attack, a deficiency that puts an onus on their big men to stymie ball handlers who turn the corner unencumbered after screens. Jokic isn’t a sieve, but lacks the foot speed to be an effective back-line helper or rim-protector. Plumlee, as Portland fans know all too well, isn’t that type of defender despite his quick-twitch athleticism, either. The result: Denver allows 33.1 percent of opponents’ shot to come at the rim and 65.9 percent shooting on those attempts, seventh-highest and third-worst in the league, respectively, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    Keeping the Nuggets off the offensive glass and making it hard for them to grab clean defensive boards and ignite fast breaks will be of utmost importance to Portland on Saturday night. If Jusuf Nurkic had only one job to do against his old team, that would be it: Making it hard for Denver to grab rebounds on both sides of the floor. But guarding Jokic isn’t anywhere close to that easy, of course, especially for a player who’s spent most of his time patrolling the paint rather than recovering to shooters at the arc. Nurkic must stay engaged against the Nuggets, which should be easy considering the frustrating nature of his diminished role under Malone.

    Portland beat Denver 99-82 on November 13, and the teams will finish the season series with another matchup in Denver on April 9, the Blazers penultimate regular-season game. What a coup it would be for Portland to win this potential tie-breaker now, not just because of playoff ramifications to come, but also because this team finally has a sense of real momentum its lacked all season long.

    Doing so won’t be easy, though. Pepsi Center, at one mile high, is a very difficult place to play, and the Nuggets fully understand big-picture the importance of this mid-January matchup, too.

Fantasy News

  • Derrick Rose
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.

    Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.

    Source: James Edwards III

  • Zion Williamson
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.

    This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.

    This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Corey Brewer
    SF, Sacramento Kings

    Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.

    Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.

    Source: HoopsHype

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.

    This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.

    Source: TMZ

  • John Wall
    PG, Washington Wizards

    John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."

    Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.

    An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.

    With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Stephen Curry
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

    Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter

  • Kz Okpala
    F, Miami Heat

    Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.

    Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.

    Source: Miami Herald