• OPPONENT: Utah Jazz

    RECORD: 48-33 (20-20 on road, 8-2 last 10 games)

    MEASUREABLES: 106.4 offensive rating (15th), 101.6 defensive rating (first), +4.8 net rating (fifth)

    PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert

    INJURIES, ABSENCES: Thabo Sefolosha (knee surgery – out)

    WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 10:30 EST, Moda Center (Portland), ESPN

    No matter what happens in the regular-season finale, the Portland Trail Blazers won’t see the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. That’s a good thing, too. As anonymous as the Jazz may be on a national scale, they’ve blitzed the NBA since Rudy Gobert returned from injury on January 19, tying the Philadelphia 76ers for the second-most wins over that timeframe with 30, and leading the league with a mind-boggling +11.4 net rating. Remember when it seemed like the Blazers were the clear-cut third-best team in the Western Conference? That was never actually the case; Utah was just quietly racking up wins, climbing the standings to earn that distinction by beating Portland on Wednesday.

    The winner of this game will be the three seed out west, and have the chance to play the hobbled, reeling Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs – assuming either the Blazers or Jazz and the defending champions get there. No other seeding or matchup scenarios are quite so cut-and-dried, other than that Portland can’t finish any lower than fifth in the West. The Blazers can make it easier on themselves and their fans, of course, by simply taking care of business on Wednesday at Moda Center.

    That will be far easier said than done. Utah is running on all cylinders right now, and has even more incentive than Portland to get a win. If the Jazz lose to the Blazers, there’s a chance they could drop all the way to seventh in the standings, setting up a date with the Warriors in round one. It’s not like a team coached by Quin Snyder, who some view as the frontrunner for Coach of the Year, ever needs extra motivation to get a victory anyway. Utah has long been one of the the most well-prepared and consistently engaged teams in basketball, and its supplemented that reality with top-tier talent and quality depth to match in 2017-18 despite losing Gordon Hayward over the summer.

    The late-season injury to Joel Embiid makes Gobert the prohibitive favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and rightfully so. The Jazz’s defensive rating since his return is 97.4, lowest in the league by four points; their defensive rating when he was sidelined for a calendar month from the middle of December to the middle of January was 110.6, per NBA.com/stats. Any statistic available makes him a worthy winner of the award, and so does the eye test. Gobert has the necessary combination of length and mobility to aggressive drop in ball-screen coverage, meeting the dribbler at the level of the pick while maintaining the ability to contest a pull-up triple and slide his feet to deter penetration. That’s key against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, obviously, especially considering the weeks-long shooting labors of their teammates.

    Donovan Mitchell would be a runaway Rookie of the Year in any other season, but might have to settle for being the rare first-year player to lead a postseason team in scoring – the first since Carmelo Anthony in 2003. The safest bet to keeping him in check is letting Mitchell launch off-dribble triples, shots he’s struggled with all season long despite steadily increasing their frequency. Mitchell’s blend of burst, ball-handling craft and overall knack ensures he gets wherever he wants on the floor regardless; forcing him to prove it from beyond the arc, though, will certainly make his life just a bit more difficult, and plays right into the Blazers’ ultra-conservative defensive scheme. This is another area where Portland will miss Moe Harkless. Evan Turner isn’t quite quick enough to keep up with Mitchell, leaving the Blazers’ biggest individual defense onus on Lillard.

    The Jazz still aren’t a prolific 3-point shooting team, but the improved Ricky Rubio and emboldened Joe Ingles – together with Mitchell, of course – have nevertheless made them much more dangerous from beyond the arc. They’re extra difficult to defend because each of those starting perimeter players can both run an effective pick-and-roll and make spot-up threes. Ingles, a deadeye shooter, killed Portland with his unique sense of timing as a playmaker in its 115-96 loss to Utah on February 11. Dante Exum and Royce O’Neal are far less threatening from deep than those other guys, but still give Snyder a dose of the two-way effectiveness he demands from all his players. It’s tough to imagine the Blazers’ bench thriving on Wednesday if it’s not making jumpers; the Jazz’s reserves, including Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko, are just too sound and talented defensively to allow Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis and company to make that big an impact offensively.

    Portland likely won’t be privy to the grab bag of easy points its consistently managed since the All-Star break, either. Utah has been the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA since Gobert’s return, grabbing 80.7 percent of opponent’s misses. While the Jazz are even more dominant on the defensive glass with Derrick Favors next to Gobert, the frontcourt tandem of Crowder and Gobert – which is included in Snyder’s preferred crunch-time lineup – still rebounds at a league-high rate. Utah is somewhat turnover prone, and the Blazers have grown increasingly comfortable running off opponent’s miscues as the season’s worn on. One problem: The Jazz have the second stingiest transition defense in basketball, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    The playoffs are finally almost here, and not a moment too soon for Portland. Terry Stotts’ team needs a reset in the worst way after four straight losses and seven defeats in 11 games, struggles that weakened its grip on the three seed to the point of almost losing it entirely. A win over Utah would go a long way toward helping the Blazers forget their recent play, and earn the postseason position that’s long seemed a formality. Either way, Portland will surely be content to move on from the regular season; how glad, though, will largely depend on what transpires Wednesday night.

Fantasy News

  • Richaun Holmes
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have announced the signing of Richaun Holmes.

    Holmes is set to make $10 million over the next two seasons. He'll push for minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but if it's a true meritocracy then he should quickly rise to the front of the pack. Last season he was able to deliver standard-league value in only 16.9 mpg, so he's someone to target late in drafts on the expectation that he gets more burn in Sacramento. It's a potentially messy situation but we have faith that Holmes will make the most of it for fantasy purposes. For the Kings, it's a straight up steal.

    Source: Sacramento Kings

  • Marcus Morris
    PF, New York Knicks

    The Knicks have announced the signings of Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock.

    Morris is on a one-year, $15 million deal while Bullock is coming in on a two-year deal worth less than $4.7 million annually, with a second season that isn't fully guaranteed. While both players began the offseason as potential standard-league targets, there's not much to see given the sudden depth of the Knicks roster. Morris will be one of five players who should mostly be playing power forward, while Bullock will slot into a busy backcourt and is already expected to miss at least a month of the season. New York's rotations are going to be a mess and we'd steer clear.

    Source: New York Knicks

  • Reggie Bullock
    SG-SF, New York Knicks

    Reggie Bullock is expected to miss at least one month of the regular season, per SNY's Ian Begley.

    Bullock, who initially agreed to a two-year deal worth $21 million, re-worked his contract to clock in at two years (with a second year that isn't fully guaranteed) for under the $4.7 million exception. There's no word on what exactly Bullock is dealing with, though he suffered from neck stiffness and plantar fasciitis in his right foot late last season. There's no need to monitor Bullock in standard leagues to open the year.

    Source: Ian Begley on Twitter

  • Markelle Fultz
    PG, Orlando Magic

    Speaking to Sirius XM, Steve Clifford said that although there remains no timetable for Markelle Fultz (shoulder), he is making good progress.

    Clifford said, "You know, right now we don't have a timetable for when he'll be back, but he's really doing a great job." Fultz simply wasn't ready to suit up, and even though we haven't really had any concrete updates on him since his last game on November 18, we're still expecting him to be ready to start the season. Fultz will make for a late-round flier on the chance that he finally gets healthy and puts it all together.

    Source: Sirius XM NBA Radio on Twitter

  • Blake Griffin
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Blake Griffin (left knee) has been cleared to start light basketball activities after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late April.

    Griffin dealt with left knee soreness in the season's final games and missed the first two games of the playoffs. His issues were dealt with quickly after the season ended and he should be ready for the start of the season. Look for Griffin to come off draft boards in the early-middle rounds after he put up a career season last year, though there might not be much profit margin at that price. There's a definite 8-cat lean as well.

    Source: Rod Beard on Twitter

  • Nicolo Melli
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli underwent knee surgery and will not participate in Italy’s training camp at the end of July, ahead of the FIBA World Tournament.

    This comes out of nowhere and the only relative information we have is that Melli will be re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis. The Italian big should be fine for the Pelicans training camp where he will compete for the backup power forward minutes as long as the surgery is not anything too serious.

    Source: Sportando

  • Bam Adebayo
    C, Miami Heat

    Bam Adebayo is envisioning himself as a better all-around player, with averages of 16.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists this upcoming season.

    Adebayo, who turns 22 on Thursday, averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 23.3 minutes while playing in all 82 of the Heat’s games last season. With the Heat trading center Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers earlier this month, Adebayo is expected to be the clear-cut choice at starting center and a fantasy breakout candidate.

    Source: Miami Herald

  • Reggie Bullock
    SG-SF, New York Knicks

    Reggie Bullock has agreed to sign a two-year deal with the Knicks for less than the $4.7 million exception.

    It was reported that Bullock intitally had an offer for two years and $20 million so this is a considerable drop on the monetary terms. The two parties had to rework their agreement after unanticipated health issues that almost made the deal fall through. This is also the end of the domino that had Marcus Morris back off his initial agreement with the Spurs and sign a deal with the Knicks instead. New York seems to be loaded in the forward positions and it’s anyone’s guess who earns the minutes to become fantasy relevant next year.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Dragan Bender
    PF, Phoenix Suns

    As Dragan Bender continues to explore the NBA market, the Cavs and the Raptors are among the teams that have inquired about the former lottery pick.

    The European market also remains an option for the Croatian forward as CSKA Moscow and Fenerbache are monitoring his situation. Bender is still only 21 years old and teams around the NBA could still take a chance on him after what has been a disappointing NBA career so far with averages of 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 131 career games.

    Source: Orazio Francesco Cauchi on Twitter

  • Raul Neto
    PG, Philadelphia Sixers

    Raul Neto could end up being Ben Simmons' backup to begin the 2019-20 season.

    Right now, the two candidates to be the backup to starter Ben Simmons are Neto and former two-way player Shake Milton, a second-year combo guard who earned a lot of minutes at the point in the NBA Summer League. Neto started 53 of the 81 games in which he appeared as a rookie in 2015-16, but only started once over the past three seasons. He has averages of 4.8 points, 1.9 assists and 37.7 percent shooting from 3-point range in 14.2 minutes and it’s highly unlikely that he gains fantasy value even if he earns the backup job.

    Source: Bucks County Courier Times