• Good teams find ways to stay competitive when their identity is suddenly hard to find. The Portland Trail Blazers did just that on Thursday night, keeping pace with the Indiana Pacers until the lid finally came off for their jump-shooters late.

    Portland beat Indiana 100-86 at Moda Center, winning the second of a three-game homestand after dispatching the Phoenix Suns with relative ease on Tuesday. Jusuf Nurkic was the star for the Blazers, finishing with 19 points (8-of-14), 17 rebounds (four offensive) two blocks and two steals just one game after being benched in the first half. Damian Lillard shook off early struggles to pour in a game-high 26 points, while Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison led Indiana with 23 points apiece.

    It was clear Nurkic would be the story of Thursday’s game from the opening tip. He had six early points via a pair of post-ups and a mid-range jumper, and was noticeably more engaged on both ends of the floor. The mercurial, talented big man had a double-double by halftime, and used the game’s last 24 minutes to do the dirty work that he occasionally avoids.

    By the time Nurkic authoritatively blocked a running layup attempt by Oladipo, stared him down, withstood a shove and got an and-1 layup on the next trip down late in the fourth quarter, Terry Stotts had already been planning his ceremonious exit. Just later, Zach Collins entered the game for Nurkic, setting him up for a standing ovation that a glowing Moda Center crowd happily gave him.

    Nurkic wasn’t the only Blazers big man who kept his team afloat against the Pacers while Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who scored 16 points on 18 shots, labored. Ed Davis had three putback layups in the first half alone – Portland had a whopping 14 offensive rebounds for the game – and Al-Farouq Aminu made several splash defensive plays, in addition to scoring nine of his 12 points in the first half.

    It briefly appeared as if the Pacers had control of the game in the third quarter, when Collison and Oladipo got hot from outside and the Blazers’ offense looked increasingly discombobulated. But back-to-back triples by Lillard and Shabazz Napier, the latter of which came after a steal in the backcourt as the third-quarter buzzer expired, completely erased a six-point Indiana lead in the final stanza – and gave Portland all the momentum it needed to run away with a quality win late.

    The Pacers shot just 4-of-21 in the fourth quarter, and didn’t score their second basket until 4:32 remained in the game. The Blazers were hardly humming offensively – Lillard missed a pair of open layups on consecutive possessions, strangely – but shots finally started falling from the outside. Four of Portland’s 10 3-pointers came during the final quarter, when Indiana shot just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.

    If the Blazers go on a run of sorts to begin distancing themselves from the pack of Western Conference teams fighting for both a playoff appearance and the highest seed possible, this game will surely have marked a turning point of sorts. Beating a quality team at something much less than your best always breeds confidence and optimism, especially when the victory in question is led by a key player who was steps away from the dog house.

    GAME NOTES

    • Mo Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh: DNP-CD. In case there was still any doubt remaining, Stotts’ rotation has been set.
    • In addition to Napier’s game-changing buzzer-beater to end the third, McCollum and Lillard also beat the clock. The former drained a tough triple from the corner at the end of the first quarter to put the Blazers up one, and Lillard made his way through traffic for a tough layup one second before the halftime buzzer, extending his team’s lead to five. Momentum always, always matters, and Portland got it on several occasions Thursday night.
    • Surprise! The three-guard lineup of Lillard, McCollum and Napier helped turn the game in the fourth quarter. That trio played the game’s final nine minutes and 33 seconds, a stretch the Blazers outscored the Pacers 21-12. It won’t always be so easy for Stotts to play that potential trump card, though. Indiana coach Nate McMillan countered with a similarly diminutive look of his own, ensuring the Blazers’ guards wouldn’t be overmatched by size. Three-guard looks are increasingly prevalent in the NBA, and Lillard, McCollum and Napier each play bigger than their height suggests when circumstances call for it. Against a team with high-caliber wings, though? Having to rely on that lineup to juice the offense will be a problem for Portland.
    • The ceiling on Zach Collins remains mostly unknown. Every game, though, the rookie’s floor seems to raise higher and higher. Case in point: A second quarter possession on which he stymied a drive by Cory Joseph after a switch, then forced an air ball on the other side of the floor after Joseph got it back. Being able to hang with guards off the bounce is absolutely imperative for Collins’ future if Portland deems him a full-time power forward, which, admittedly, may not prove the case. The only reason why it might be difficult for him to play center down the line is a lack of length; the strength will undoubtedly come.
    • It’s tough to gauge the positive value of Evan Turner when his jumper isn’t falling. He was signed as a player who could take some of the playmaking heat off Lillard and McCollum, but no one would know it by how he function in the Blazers’ offense. Napier has assumed that role, and it seems highly unlikely he’ll be letting go of it any time soon. Where does that leave Turner? Considering Pat Connaughton is a vastly superior 3-point shooter and Turner is no true stopper on defense, don’t be surprised if his minutes dwindle as the season wears and the games grow in importance night by night.
    • Aminu hasn’t quite developed into the defender Neil Olshey hoped, but remains Portland’s most versatile player on that end of the floor. He contested several shots at the rim on Thursday night through timely rotations and near-perfect verticality, an impressive feat for a player who once struggled to grasp high-level defensive concepts.

Fantasy News

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    LeBron James put up a triple-double for the fifth time this season in a 112-107 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, providing 25 points (10-of-21 FGs, 3-of-5 FTs), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes.

    James has now triple-doubled against all 30 NBA teams. He's hardly slowing down, ranking 12th in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues for the season. LeBron's scoring has dipped since last season from 27.4 points per game to 25.0, but his assists have skyrocketed from 8.3 assists per game to 11.1 this season.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis (right shoulder soreness) put up a game-high 34 points (13-of-24 FGs, 5-fo-6 FTs) as part of a full line that included seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 37 minutes in a victory over the Thunder on Tuesday.

    Davis has been a great fit for the Lakers and he once again toughed out an injury (or two or more) while producing in every category. He's currently ranked 4th in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues. If he ever truly gets healthy, he should have a great shot at the top spot. Next to Davis tonight, JaVale McGee swatted four more shots in 23 minutes and continues to be an excellent streaming option for blocks, boards and field goal percentage.

  • Rajon Rondo
    PG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Rajon Rondo handed out 10 assists to go with eight points, two rebounds and one 3-pointer in 27 minutes off the bench vs. the Thunder on Tuesday.

    Rondo shot just 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line. His percentages have traditionally been harmful to fantasy teams, but his rebounds, assists and steals continue to pile up even as his minutes dip as he's nearing age 34. At this point, he's just a streamer for those categories, but remember that he averaged over eight assists the past two seasons. If he were to find himself regularly getting 30 minutes per game, there's probably a team in every fantasy league that could use him.

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (eye abrasion) left Tuesday's game after playing just nine minutes, and while he was technically available to return, Frank Vogel chose not to use him anymore.

    It's a positive sign that he was available after the injury, but the situation should be monitored to be sure that Kuzma is going to play in the Lakers' next game on Friday before making decisions about how to use him.

    Source: Mike Trudell on Twitter

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Nerlens Noel had another good game on Tuesday in a road loss to the Lakers as he went for 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds, one assist and three steals in 24 minutes.

    Noel has quietly entered the top-100 in both 8-cat and 9-cat leagues and completely blown by the struggling Steven Adams. It's hard to trust Noel on a nightly basis, but there aren't many players better at racking up defensive stats (1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks in 18.3 mpg).

  • Dennis Schroder
    PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Dennis Schroder had a season-high 31 points (12-for-20 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs) to go with four boards, one dime and three triples in 30 minutes off the bench in a 107-112 loss to the Lakers.

    Schroder has had some great games this season, but it just hasn't been consistent enough to make him a must-start standard league player. Perhaps a trade will settle things for him a bit more in the next few months. Schroder's backcourt mates had mixed results tonight with Chris Paul scoring just four points on 1-of-7 shooting but with five boards, 10 dimes and four steals while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot just 5-of-16 from the field but 4-of-4 from the line and had 16 points, five boards, four dimes, two treys, a steal and a block.

  • Danilo Gallinari
    SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Danilo Gallinari had a very efficient night, scoring 25 points on 7-of-11 field goals and 7-of-9 free throws vs. the Lakers on Tuesday.

    Gallinari added six rebounds, two 3-pointers and one assist in 31 minutes. Gallo is once again sneakily providing top-60/50 (8-cat/9-cat). Elsewhere in the frontcourt, Steven Adams had a rough game with just two points, six rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes.

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic was on fire on Tuesday as he led the Kings to victory with a season-high 31 points (11-of-14 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) to go with seven triples, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes off the bench.

    Bogdanovic has been thriving lately, and the fact that his hot stretch started before De'Aaron Fox went down is even more encouraging. Bogdanovic's production has put him into the top-65 for the season and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight to his impressive stat lines.

  • Cory Joseph
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Cory Joseph delivered a career-high 14 assists in 39 minutes in the Kings' 120-116 win over the Suns on Tuesday.

    Joseph added six points on 2-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, a steal and two blocks in his fourth consecutive start. Joseph traditionally provides very low per-minute stats, so when he doesn't get near 40 minutes, his numbers aren't quite so palatable. Until De'Aaron Fox returns, Joseph is a low-end starting point guard for those desperate for assists.

  • Richaun Holmes
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    Richaun Holmes grabbed a career-high 15 boards vs. the Suns on Tuesday as part of a 20-point night (8-for-11 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs) with a steal and two blocks in 34 minutes.

    The days when we could only dream of what Holmes would do with 30-plus minutes are gone. Since Holmes joined the starting lineup, he's been playing right around 30 minutes, which has him looking like a middle-round value. He could be in for a slight reduction in value once Marvin Bagley returns if the Kings frontcourt is otherwise healthy, but it appears that the Kings might finally be the team that just lets Holmes play. Nemanja Bjelica also had another good game tonight with 17 points, eight rebounds, a steal, a block and three treys in 31 minutes.