April 21, 2018, 8:48 pm
At least they put up a fight. The Portland Trail Blazers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 131-123 on Saturday, putting an official and depressing end to their season by becoming the first three seed since 2001 to get swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Anthony Davis played perhaps the best game of his career, finishing with a postseason franchise-record 47 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on 15-of-24 shooting. Jrue Holiday, incredibly, might have been better, pouring in a personal playoff-best of 41 points on 15-of-23 shooting to go along with eight assists. Those eye-popping numbers don’t tell the real story of their impact in Game 4, either. The film certainly does.
With Portland, courtesy of some key two-way adjustments, staging a sustained fourth-quarter rally in a last-ditch effort to extend its season, New Orleans’ best players consistently came up big when their team needed them most. On eight separate occasions, the Blazers’ chance to take the lead on their next trip down the floor was thwarted by scores from Holiday or Davis. They did it however they wanted, embarrassing Portland defenders with the frightening combination of ease and intensity they displayed throughout this series.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 21, 2018
— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2018
It’s not like Holiday and Davis only dominated late, either. They combined for 32 of their team’s 43 points in the third quarter, a new franchise best for the postseason, and spearheaded an offense that shot a remarkable 66 percent on two-pointers and doled out 28 assists. The Pelicans’ offensive rating in Game 4 was 130.5, an easy high in a series that made the Blazers’ surprisingly strong defensive performance during the regular season moot – and calls into major question the makeup of Neil Olshey’s roster going forward.
Jusuf Nurkic, a restricted free agent this summer who had 18 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, helped Portland get back into the game late by beasting Nikola Mirotic in the post. C.J. McCollum erupted for 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting, and Al-Farouq Aminu, arguably his team’s best player in Game 4, had 27 points while connect on 5-of-11 from beyond the arc. Damian Lillard was better, too, scoring 19 points on 16 shots, dishing six assists and committing a single turnover. The Blazers shot 52.6 percent from the field, 10-of-27 from three and 13-of-16 from the line. They managed 20 assists against six turnovers, a major departure from the previous three games, and were far better prepared to deal with double-teams on the perimeter.
None of it mattered. Holiday and Davis were relentless, and the hole Portland dug itself during the first 36 minutes of Saturday’s contest proved just a bit too deep to save the season.
“There’s no way you could have told me before the series that there wouldn’t be a Game 5,” Ed Davis told NBC Sports Northwest in the post-game locker room. “We’re shocked.”
Just as shocking, though, were means of the Blazers’ almost-comeback, which aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Terry Stotts’ job security. The Pelicans put Mirotic on Nurkic from the opening tip of Game 4, just like they did the previous two games. But it was only late that Portland began exploiting that mismatch with planned post-ups, an especially vexing non-development given New Orleans’ success neutralizing Lillard in ball-screen action. Stotts also toggled the defensive matchups with the season on the line, moving Aminu to Holiday and stashing Evan Turner on Mirotic. Holiday had some success against Aminu, but hardly to the calm, casual extent he did while being checked by Turner, Lillard, McCollum, Pat Connaughton or even Moe Harkless, the latter of whom missed the 2017-18 finale with left knee soreness stemming from arthroscopic surgery late last month.
Portland’s personnel is limited in many ways, a reality forcefully manifested in the Pelicans’ two-way game-planning and, more troublingly, their new frontcourt pairing of Mirotic and Davis. An overwhelming majority of league analysts picked the Blazers to advance past the first round, but most did so acknowledging the possibility that the Pelicans could pose them an unfixable set of problems. Fine. But the simple strategic tweaks that turned Game 4, playing through Nurkic and letting Aminu guard Holiday, were available all series long, yet only put into place when Portland’s collecgive back was against the wall. Why?
Stotts is a very good coach, but he’s culpable here. So is everybody else.
This offseason is the Blazers’ most important since 2015, when the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez ushered in a new era of Rose City basketball. The inevitable rebuild accompanied by those losses never came; Lillard, McCollum and Stotts made sure of it. Might similarly drastic changes be on the horizon?
Only time will tell. After a well-earned sweep at hand of a lower-seeded team, though, it’s never been more obvious the status quo just isn’t good enough.
December 7, 2019, 1:21 amDamian LillardPG, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard put forth a valiant effort with 29 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two threes in Friday's 113-136 loss to the Lakers.
Even as the Blazers continue to scuffle, Lillard is locked in as an elite fantasy talent. It's looking increasingly unlikely that the Blazers make the postseason this year but, A: Never count out Lillard and B: He doesn't seem like the kind to accept a shutdown. We're a long way off from that point, thankfully, and you can continue to enjoy first-round value in the meantime.
December 7, 2019, 1:18 amHassan WhitesideC, Portland Trail Blazers
Hassan Whiteside had another productive game with 17 points (8-for-12 shooting), 13 rebounds, three steals and a block in 32 minutes on Friday night.
Whiteside is rolling along in fantasy land even as his on-court lapses continue to harm the Blazers. We wouldn't expect him to finish at his current top-35 standing so there's a bit of a sell-high window, though the numbers he's bringing back in blocks and rebounds might change the calculus since you probably won't be able to replace them in a trade.
December 7, 2019, 1:16 amKent BazemoreSG, Portland Trail Blazers
Kent Bazemore logged 25 minutes in Friday's loss to the Lakers, notching 10 points, two rebounds and a 3-pointer.
Bazemore is staring at a much heavier workload with Rodney Hood now out for the season and Portland completely devoid of other viable wing options. He's been a top-100 guy in starter's minutes in the past, so he's a pickup in all competitive leagues.
December 7, 2019, 1:14 amAnthony DavisPF-C, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis and LeBron James both torched the Blazers in Friday's road win.
Davis put up 39 points (12-for-21 FG, 13-of-15 FT), nine rebounds, two steals, three blocks and a pair of 3-pointers while James had 31 points (11-of-23 FG, 5-for-7 FT), seven rebounds, eight assists, a block and four threes. They're alright at this.
December 7, 2019, 1:10 amAlex CarusoSG, Los Angeles Lakers
Alex Caruso played 24 minutes on Friday night, posting eight points, three assists, a steal and a three.
Caruso got some extra run with Rajon Rondo departing early because of hamstring tightness, and given the likelihood that he misses some time you can consider Caruso a potential pickup in deep leagues.
December 7, 2019, 1:09 amJaVale McGeeC, Los Angeles Lakers
JaVale McGee finished Friday's win with 13 points (6-of-7 shooting) and two blocks in 15 minutes.
McGee isn't nearly as fun to rock with as he was last season but he's still blocking shots and boosting your field goal percentage enough to return late-round value in 12-teamers. Dwight Howard is doing the same thing with more boards and slightly fewer blocks, as he had five points, 10 rebounds and two steals tonight. Neither is a must-own in 12-team leagues.
December 7, 2019, 1:07 amDanny GreenSG, Los Angeles Lakers
Danny Green had a lackluster showing, to be polite about it, on Friday with a 3-pointer, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 21 minutes.
Green is just a late-round guy and doesn't have a ton of upside given that he's only getting 25.5 mpg on the year. He's worth holding onto in general, but a drop won't hurt you that much. The same goes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had five points, five assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes.
December 7, 2019, 12:54 amKevin LovePF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Cavs are prepared to listen to trade talks involving Kevin Love.
The Cavs simply have no use for Love, who can be a series-shifting player as a second or third option on a good team. Cleveland is predictably seeking young players and future draft picks, but it remains to be seen if they'll get much considering Love is still owed $90 million over the next three seasons. That's not inconsequential, and most teams in position to get pushed over the top by adding Love to the mix also don't have the ability to add such a big financial commitment to their books easily. While Love would be bumped down the pecking order on a better team, he might also end up playing more games. We won't go too much deeper than that until Love starts getting connected to specific suitors.
December 7, 2019, 12:50 amDeMar DeRozanSG, San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan's 3-point binge continued in Friday's 105-104 OT win over the Kings, as he hit three more triples on his way to 15 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
DeRozan has now hit five threes in his last four games after hitting zero in over a full year. That obviously won't keep up but DeRozan is back in the top-50 area after scuffling early in the year. He's about as reliable as they come.
December 7, 2019, 12:47 amJakob PoeltlC, San Antonio Spurs
Jakob Poeltl returned to the bench on Friday with LaMarcus Aldridge back but still delivered three blocks in 18 minutes.
Poeltl also tallied 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and a less-perfect 3-of-5 from the line. He's now climbed up to top-170 value on the year and should be on any rosters where fantasy GMs are short on blocks. In the past two weeks he's been a top-60 player.