• Wednesday night could not have played out any better for the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Their first-round fate was sealed minutes before tipoff against the Utah Jazz, after the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder both won their regular-season finales, locking the Blazers into a matchup with the Pelicans that will be hosted at Moda Center. The only things left to decide from there were what side of the bracket Portland would be on, and how much momentum, if any, it would carry into the postseason after the good vibes remaining from that 13-game winning streak had all but completely vanished. No more.

    The Blazers beat the Jazz 102-93 on Wednesday night, ending a four-game losing streak, winning the Northwest division and securing the three seed in the Western Conference – and a potential date with the fragile Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs. Damian Lillard was dominant for Portland from the opening tip to the time he left to a standing ovation late in fourth quarter, scoring 36 points and doling out 10 assists on 13-of-25 from the field and 4-of-10 from beyond the arc. The only other Blazers to reach double figures were C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the former of whom seemed to break out of a shooting slump in an eye-popping second-quarter sequence, but still needed 18 shots to score 19 points.

    Portland shot 46.1 percent overall and made nine of its 24 tries from beyond the arc, acceptable efficiency made artificially encouraging by team-wide shooting struggles of the previous three weeks. Utah’s inability to find a consistent means of offense contributed to feelings of a relative offensive outburst for the Blazers, too. The Jazz, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, shot just 37.1 percent from the field and 8-of-23 from 3-point range. Those numbers would have looked even worse if not for an ultimately futile fourth-quarter charge. Utah entered the final stanza trailing by 21 points and slowly cut into that massive deficit, hanging around long enough for Terry Stotts to leave his starters on the floor until the game clock read 1:01 and his team led 101-90.

    There was much more at stake for Utah on Wednesday night than Portland. This loss, the Jazz’s first since March 28, pushed them down to the five seed, losing home-court advantage in a juicy first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Utah just didn’t have the legs to keep up with Portland. Donovan Mitchell, absolutely hounded at times by Evan Turner and Wade Baldwin, who was Stotts’ first sub off the bench in both the first and second halves, didn’t get his first basket until late in the second quarter, finishing 6-of-23 from the field and connecting on one of of his eight 3-point attempts en route to 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. Ricky Rubio matched his backcourt mate’s team-high point total, and Rudy Gobert had 13 points and 13 rebounds, but didn’t make the type of impact normally reserved for Defensive Player of the Year candidates – let alone frontrunners.

    The Blazers, to be sure, had something to do with that. Lillard played a step ahead in the pick-and-roll game, routinely finding Nurkic with early pocket passes for scores and pulling up from deep a bit farther out than normal. Portland swarmed Mitchell with well-timed help whenever he was able to crease the paint, and frustrated Joe Ingles – who was a major problem at times when these teams met this season  –  into five points on 2-of-7 shooting. The home team, in a welcome change from recent games, played with the relentless activity, emotion and engagement on both ends of the floor that’s proven all too fleeting of late.

    It would be a mistake to dismiss the outcome of this game as inconsequential, and not just because the Blazers are on Golden State’s side of the bracket rather than the Houston Rockets’. Portland needed a victory to feel good about itself entering the postseason, and got one against a very good team that had every motivation to pull off a victory on the road despite tired legs. Considering the quality of their opponent and their control of the game from its very beginning, this is one of the Blazers’ most impressive wins of 2017-18.

    Will they build on it against the Pelicans, living up to the lofty reputation established during that season-changing winning streak that seems so, so long ago ? We’ll find out this weekend, when the real games finally begin.

Fantasy News

  • Jakob Poeltl - C - San Antonio Spurs

    Jakob Poeltl shot 4-for-6 from the field for eight points with nine boards, two assists and one block in 28 minutes for a 120-103 win over the Nuggets in Game 6 on Thursday.

    Poeltl was not able to shut down Nikola Jokic (43 points) but it didn't matter, as the Spurs shot 57.1 percent from the field to blow out the Nuggets. The Spurs will head to Denver for a winner-take-all affair in Game 7 on Saturday.

  • Gary Harris - G - Denver Nuggets

    Gary Harris scored 14 points in Game 6 against the Spurs on Thursday night as the Nuggets fell 120-103.

    Harris scored a few points in this one but didn't do a whole lot else. The Nuggets will probably need him to have more of a visible imprint on the game to make major noise.

  • Derrick White - G - San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White shot 4-for-7 from the floor for 13 points with one rebound, two assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes against the Nuggets on Thursday.

    White wasn't particularly effective on the stat sheet in Game 6, but his grit and solid defense helped the Spurs secure a win on their home floor. He limited his turnovers to just one in this game. White will need to stay efficient in a decisive Game 7 on Saturday in Denver.

  • Paul Millsap - F - Denver Nuggets

    Paul Millsap was almost a non-factor on Thursday night scoring just 12 points and adding four boards in heavy minutes.

    Millsap has to be better for this team to make any major noise deep in the playoffs. He just hasn't been back to his normal self for long stretches this year, so here's to hoping he can find form.

  • Rudy Gay - F - San Antonio Spurs

    Rudy Gay shot 7-for-11 for 19 points with four boards, two assists, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 28 minutes against the Nuggets on Thursday.

    After being a non-factor for much of the series, Gay played extra efficient as a savvy veteran on Thursday night. He led the bench in scoring and helped set the tone to force a Game 7. Gay will need another game like this if the Spurs want any chance of surviving in Denver.

  • DeMar DeRozan - G - San Antonio Spurs

    DeMar DeRozan shot 12-for-16 from the field for 25 points with seven assists and seven boards in 36 minutes to force a Game 7 against the Nuggets on Thursday.

    DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points and 10 rebounds) took it to the Nuggets for their final home game of the opening round. For a team not making much noise in the regular season, all eyes will be on the Spurs and Nuggets Game 7 on Saturday. Never count out Pop and the Spurs.

  • Jamal Murray - G - Denver Nuggets

    Jamal Murray scored just 16 points (7-of-19 from the floor) on Thursday in the Game 6 loss to the Spurs.

    Murray was quiet in this one as the Nuggets tried to close it out. He did manage six assists but Nikola Jokic is going to need some help from his supporting cast to cement a date with Portland.

  • Nikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets

    Nikola Jokic scored a career-high 43 points and approached a triple-double with 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday's Game 6 loss.

    It was a waste of a great performance from Jokic as the Nuggets couldn't close out the Spurs in Game 6. Home cookin' might be just what the doctor ordered.

  • LaMarcus Aldridge - F - San Antonio Spurs

    LaMarcus Aldridge shot 10-for-18 from the field for 26 points with 10 boards, five assists, one block and one 3-pointer in 37 minutes to avoid elimination against the Nuggets on Thursday.

    Aldridge was terrific all night, using home court advantage to play with energy. He took matters into his own hands, forcing a Game 7 on Saturday in Denver. Expect Aldridge to be giving his best effort on a winner-take-all affair.

  • Jeff Hornacek - Team - New York Knicks

    The Kings have interviewed Jeff Hornacek for an assistant coach position.

    The Kings have already hired their head coach, Luke Walton. However, with Walton's status up in the air with the recent allegations made against him, the Kings would do well to hire an assistant with head coaching experience. Hornacek last coached for the Knicks before being fired at the end of the 2017-2018 season. His overall record as head coach for the Knicks and the Suns is 161-216.

    Source: James Ham on Twitter