• Sometimes getting out of the first quarter alive is enough, which proved exactly the case for the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. And once the third quarter came, those early struggles had been forgotten almost entirely. Now only if the Blazers can remember what propelled them to such a dominant second-half performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves for the season’s remainder.

    Portland beat Minnesota 123-114 on Saturday night, extending their home winning streak to seven games and counting with arguably its most impressive performance of 2017-18. Damian Lillard celebrated his third All-Star berth with 31 points, four rebounds and five assists on 17 shots, and C.J. McCollum bobbed and weaved for 28 points and five assists of his own. But despite the dominant play of their star guards, this was a team effort for the Blazers more than anything else, a reality best exemplified by 17-of-30 shooting from beyond the arc and the defensive impact of a bench-heavy unit that opened the second quarter.

    Stotts’ team trailed 29-25 after the opening stanza, but it seemed like the Timberwolves’ lead should have been larger given the ease with which they scored early. A group of Shabazz Napier, McCollum, Pat Connaughton, Zach Collins and Ed Davis put the clamps on Minnesota thereafter, though, forcing a pair of shot clock violations and stringing together multiple consecutive stops. If not for the shot-making of Jamal Crawford, the Blazers might have left the first half with a lead. They had to settle for a tie instead after Lillard beat Wiggins, a common theme, to the rim for a layup just before the halftime buzzer.

    It didn’t take much longer for Portland to grab it and never look back, though. The home team scored a season-high 43 points in a beautiful third quarter, outscoring the Timberwolves by 13 points and blowing open a hotly-contested game between likely playoff squads. Several ping-ping offensive possessions warrant highlights, and Al-Farouq Aminu deserves individual recognition for draining two triples and jumping a passing lane for an uncontested fast break dunk. It was Pat Connaughton’s reverse alley-oop from McCollum, however, that best encapsulated the Blazers’ playing spirit during a quarter that saw them shoot 66.7 percent from the field, make seven 3-pointers and dole out as many assists.

    With Jimmy Butler watching in street clothes and Karl-Anthony Towns quiet, Portland’s 13-point opening advantage basically made the fourth quarter a formality. Not that Stotts’ team played like it, though. The Blazers continued pouring it on offensively late, moving the ball for open 3-pointers and getting out in transition with the same verve they showed a quarter earlier. By the time Connaughton had his second alley-oop dunk of the night off a no-look pass from Lillard with just over three minutes remaining, Tom Thibodeau had already emptied the floor of his regulars.

    A win is usually just a win in the NBA, but a team gets several victories every season that stands apart from others, and this one certainly applies for Portland. The question now is if the good vibes emanating from Saturday night will continue permeating from here on out. The Blazers’ improved offensive play of late suggests as much, but the influence of Butler’s absence can’t be discounted, either. He makes the his team go defensively, and is another player – like Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting – who Portland doesn’t have the personnel to defend effectively for 48 minutes

    But beating the Timberwolves, a top-four team in the West with a wealth of talent and experience, is an achievement nonetheless for the Blazers. We’ll find out soon if blowing them out means even more.

    NOTES

    • With both teams playing well, it might be time to begin examining a potential first-round matchup between Portland and Minnesota. The outcome of Saturday’s game notwithstanding, there were several aspects of the Blazers’ victory that will be cause for concern should they meet the Timberwolves in the playoffs. Chief among them: Guarding Wiggins, Butler and Towns, of course. Portland’s lack of size on the perimeter means one of the former two will always have a size advantage in the paint, and Stotts’ conservative pick-and-roll coverage – coupled with Thibodeau’s proclivity for playing two traditional big men – means Aminu is the better of two bad options in the starting lineup to guard Towns. The trouble Lillard and McCollum gave Minnesota off the dribble won’t necessarily come to pass in the postseason, either; having Butler next to Wiggins and Jeff Teague rather than Nemanja Bjelica makes Portland’s guards much easier for the Wolves to keep in relative check.
    • Blazers fans who have been frustrated by Nurkic’s vertical explosion at the rim had to be pulling their hair out in the first quarter. He missed two bunnies over the similarly ground-bound Bjelica after catching on the roll, both of which were the result of the Timberwolves forward attempting to take a charge. Plowing through Bjelica and earning an offensive foul isn’t the answer, but meek attempts to shoot over the top of a non rim-protector definitely aren’t, either. The good news: Nurkic was much better, and more physical, in the third quarter.
    • Davis has been a revelation passing the ball of late. He made several different high-level reads after catching on the roll Saturday night, finding shooters beyond the arc and cutters heading to the rim. Davis’ most impressive pass, though, was an airborne dime to Collins for a triple immediately following a catch deep in the paint. How many bigs in the league can even see this play, let alone execute it?

    • Connaughton gave Wiggins far more resistance than Turner did. The next time Portland is in a close game against a premier wing, I’d like to see Stotts give Connaughton a chance to guard the opposing team’s best player. Turner is strong and has good instincts, but just lacks the quickness to keep up with a guy like Wiggins off the bounce.

Fantasy News

  • Michael Carter-Williams
    PG, Orlando Magic

    The Magic will be without Michael Carter-Williams for Saturday's game with a hip injury.

    MCW has gotten an MRI, which while enouraging, has him still out for a few more games at least. If you're in a deep league and have been holding onto him, it might be time to move on.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Brandon Knight
    PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Brandon Knight (sprained right ankle) is available to play in Friday's game.

    Knight has not been fantasy-relevant outside of the deepest of leagues.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Danuel House
    PF, Houston Rockets

    Danuel House (shoulder) has been ruled out for Friday's game but is probable to return on Sunday.

    He's missing another game with a sore left shoulder but the advanced probability of a Sunday return is an encouraging sign. Hang onto House. He's been killing it this season with his multi-cat production.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Nerlens Noel is sick and will not play vs. the Lakers on Friday.

    Noel has been playing well as of late, so he's worth holding onto, especially considering this is a non-injury-related DNP.

    Source: Mike Trudell on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis (shoulder) will start on Friday vs. the Thunder.

    AD is good to go, which is a nice upgrade from his probable status prior to this update. He should feast on the young and rebuilding Thunder tonight. Expect a monster line.

    Source: Maddie Lee on Twitter

  • Kevon Looney
    PF-C, Golden State Warriors

    Kevon Looney went through some G League practices and will go through a full practice with the Warriors on Sunday, making a Monday return a possibility.

    Looney is worth a grab-n-stash play, considering how thin the Warriors are and how uninspiring Willie Cauley-Stein has been. He will require a bit of patience as he gets his legs back though.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanović (left hamstring tightness) will not take the floor vs. the Nets on Friday.

    This would have been a nice matchup for Bogdanović but at least you have enough time to adjust your DFS lineup. He should not be out for too long.

    Source: Grant Napear

  • Derrick Favors
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Derrick Favors will miss Saturday's matchup with the Jazz as he deals with a left ankle sprain.

    This will be Favors' fourth straight game on the sidelines. He was just beginning to round into form on his new squad before this injury hit. While Favors should still be capable of mid-round to late-round value when he gets healthy, it is looking like this season will be a disappointment based on his draft position.

    Source: Pelicans PR on Twitter

  • Josh Hart
    SG, New Orleans Pelicans

    Josh Hart and Jahlil Okafor are both questionable on Saturday vs. the Jazz as they deal with left ankle sprains.

    The Pelicans remain hard hit by injuries up and down the roster. Hart should be able to work his way back into a standard league role when he returns, but Okafor is unlikely to be fantasy relevant on a day-to-day basis. Derrick Favors should be returning shortly and Jaxson Hayes has emerged as a solid contributor for the Pelicans.

    Source: Pelicans PR on Twitter

  • Seth Curry
    SG, Dallas Mavericks

    Seth Curry will miss his third straight game due to illness on Friday.

    With Curry out more minutes will trickle down to a collection of teammates. Perhaps Tim Hardaway Jr. and Delon Wright are the most likely winners, but it is hard to predict how this rotation shakes out on a nightly basis if you are not Kristaps Porzingis or Luka Doncic.

    Source: Time MacMahon on Twitter