• OPPONENT: Phoenix Suns

    RECORD: 18-42 (9-22 at home, 1-9 last 10 games)

    MEASUREABLES: 101.6 offensive rating (29th), 110.7 defensive rating (30th), -9.1 net rating (30th)

    PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Elfrid Payton, SG Devin Booker, SF T.J. Warren, PF Dragan Bender, C Alex Len

    INJURIES: Tyson Chandler (questionable – neck), Tyler Ulis (questionable – back), Alan Williams (out – knee), Brandon Knight (out for season – knee)

    WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 9:00 EST, Talking Stick Resort Arena (Phoenix), NBC Sports Northwest/FOX Sports Arizona

    The Phoenix Suns have reached a nadir. Not even their bottom-ranked status in the standings or overall net rating does this team’s putrid recent play justice. Three of the Suns’ last four losses were highlighted by embarrassing quirks that served as the latest, mounting evidence that they’re playing as poorly as they have since the beginning of the season, when Earl Watson was fired after three games for overseeing a defense that allowed at least 124 points in successive season-opening losses.

    The first one came in a 123-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets on February 10, when Troy Daniels, miffed by comments Denver guard Will Barton made on the “Road Trippin” podcast about the Suns being sent to the G-League following a 48-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs, initiated a shoving match with Barton in the game’s opening minutes. Next was Steve Kerr letting Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and David West coach his team, suffering from a midseason malaise reserved only for overwhelming title favorites, during the Golden State Warriors’ 129-83 lashing of the Suns two days later. And finally, on Friday night, after a more routine loss to the Utah Jazz and a nine-day All-Star break to regroup, Phoenix fell behind 19-0 in a 128-117 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

    “We can’t come out with mindset here we have to get punched in the face and then fight back,” Devin Booker said after the game. “We’ve got to be the aggressors.”

    Even more than Booker’s imminent flammability, rookie Josh Jackson playing the best basketball of his career and the inevitable pitfalls of the second half of a road back-to-back, the Portland Trail Blazers’ concern on Saturday should lie with the Suns finally getting sick of being basketball’s laughingstock. Friday night’s impressive win over the Utah Jazz will loom large to Portland’s playoff hopes regardless of what happens in Phoenix. Tie-breakers could very well come into play in deciding the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field, and the Blazers, 2-1 against the Jazz so far, play their season finale in Salt Lake City on April 11. The margins will matter when it comes time for teams to emerge from this middle-class muck.

    Still, the obvious momentum the Blazers have established with consecutive victories over the defending champions and the hottest team in basketball would be squashed with a loss in Phoenix. It’s not like the Suns don’t have enough talent to be competitive, either. Interim coach Jay Triano had his young team playing hard in the immediate wake of Watson’s dismissal, winning four of its next five games – including a 114-107 victory at Moda Center on October 28, 10 days after Portland beat Phoenix by 48 points in the season-opener.

    Booker had 34 points in that game, and 43 points, six rebounds and eight assists in the Suns’ 118-111 loss to the Blazers on January 16, a game that wasn’t as close as his incredible fourth-quarter shot-making making made it seem by the final buzzer. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard’s sustained success against Portland this season is no accident, though, indicative of the same personnel deficiency that always plagues Stotts’ team against oversized guards. Putting Maurice Harkless, recently living up to his sky-high defensive potential, on Booker would be ideal, but leave C.J. McCollum tasked with checking 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward T.J. Warren, a bucket-getter of old-school variety from inside the arc. The Blazers’ lack of perimeter size comes into play when Jackson is running the wing next to Booker, too.

    Pace could also be in Phoenix’s favor. The Suns average more possessions per game than all but three teams in the league, and have been running to an almost reckless extent of late. Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick acquired at the trade deadline for a second-rounder, has an on-court pace factor of 103.25 in his four games with the team, per NBA.com/stats, a hair higher than the Los Angeles Lakers’ season-leading mark. Somehow, Phoenix has played even faster with Payton on the bench, at an absolutely breakneck pace of 109.35. If Portland comes out flat and the Suns punch first, will the Blazers have the energy to comeback and keep up?

    Saturday marks a golden opportunity for Portland. This is a game a playoff team should win, circumstances of calendar and standings be damned. But considering the tenuous nature of the their postseason hopes, even after ending Utah’s double-digit winning streak, it’s almost one the Blazers need to win, too.

Fantasy News

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    In a recent fan question session Bucks' GM Jon Horst hinted towards signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a supermax extension when eligible.

    Horst mentioned that he cannot technically discuss an extension until he is eligible, but said Antetokounmpo will be a Buck for a long time. The Greek Freak will be eligible next summer and is all but sure to get a supermax extension.

    Source: Fox Sports Wisconsin on Twitter

  • Tacko Fall
    C, Boston Celtics

    Tacko Fall (mild knee sprain) is expected to miss one week after a collision in workouts.

    With training camp two weeks away, Fall should be ready to roll by then. He is currently on an Exhibit 10 contract, battling for the final roster spot with Javonte Green (partially guaranteed) and Kaiser Gates (Exhibit 10). Fall is an intriguing talent at 7'7" but is not expected to be fantasy relevant in his first season even if he does make the team with the Celtics already carrying four center eligible players on guaranteed contracts.

    Source: Jared Weiss on Twitter

  • Nicolas Batum
    SG, Charlotte Hornets

    According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been informed that, "The agenda is youth and development."

    The article adds that both players will have a chance to compete for minutes but the Hornets' top priority will be to develop their younger players which bodes well for Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, P.J. Washington and Willy Hernangomez. Miles was already putting up near top-100 value to close the season at around 25 minutes per game while the rest of the players could all produce fantasy value if given the minutes so they should at least be put on the watch list to see how the preseason plays out.

    Source: Charlotte Observer

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting and drained seven triples as Serbia topped Czech Republic 90-81 to finish in 5th place.

    Bogdanovic also added four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block and was certainly one of the most impressive players in the tournament. Although he has the talent to be a successful full-time starter, the 27-year old will likely be relegated to a similar 25-27 minute, off-the-bench role he played last season with Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and newly added Trevor Ariza also on the wings. Nikola Jokic also did his usual thing this game with seven points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. Boban Marjanovic and Nemanja Bejlica were not really involved in this one, playing only two and eight minutes, respectively.

    Source: FIBA

  • Donovan Mitchell
    SG, Utah Jazz

    Donovan Mitchell scored 16 points with 10 assists as US beat Poland 87-74 on Saturday to finish seventh place in the tournament.

    Mitchell was an efficient 5-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from downtown but the bigger story of course was USA's disappointing showing as this was only the second time that they finished outside the top-3 in the FIBA World Cup since 1978. Kemba Walker (neck), Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Marcus Smart (hand/quad/calf) all sat out the final game as they now have two weeks to rest before the start of training camp.

    Source: FIBA

  • Evan Fournier
    SF, Orlando Magic

    Evan Fournier scored 16 points to lead France in their semifinal loss to Argentina by the score of 80-66.

    This was a really poor showing all around in an elimination game by the French team. Fournier scored an inefficient 16 and was joined by Frank Ntilikina's 16 as two of just three French players in double figures.

  • Rudy Gobert
    C, Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert was invisible in France's loss to Argentina in the semifinals of the FIBA World Cup, scoring just three points and pulling down 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.

    This just wasn't enough from Gobert, who couldn't impose his will against a weaker Argentina squad on paper. Joining him in the "forgot there was a game" club was Nicolas Batum, who consistently finds a way to do nothing in heavy minutes. Batum's line in this one was a paltry three points (1-of-6 shooting), five boards, one assist and a block.

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills was the star for Australia, scoring 34 points and hitting four triples against Spain, but Australia fell in double overtime 95-88.

    Mills did as much as he could but he just didn't get enough help from his supporting cast. Joe Ingles couldn't find the basket and only had four points (to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists). With that off night of shooting from Ingles, the Aussies needed someone like Matthew Dellavedova (six points) or Aron Baynes (six points) to step up.

  • Ricky Rubio
    PG, Phoenix Suns

    Ricky Rubio approached a triple-double in the semi-final win over Australia with 19 points, seven boards and 12 assists in 38 minutes.

    It was another big line for Rubio in the semis, who has been a stalwart for this Spanish run to the finals. He was inefficient from the field (6-of-19) but ran the offense well and should be a factor again in the final game.

  • Marc Gasol
    C, Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol carried Spain to the FIBA World Cup Final in a double-OT win over Australia, finishing with 33 points, six rebounds and four assists.

    Gasol had a great outing to lift Spain here and they should have a great shot at winning the title against Argentina. We'll see how this high workload summer affects him going into the new season.