• Good teams beat bad ones when playing at a level far less than their best. That’s what happened in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 106-104 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. Focusing on the Blazers’ lackluster team-wide effort, though, misses the most notable aspect of this crucial victory: Another MVP-type performance from Damian Lillard. Portland’s only All-Star played like it and more on Saturday, dropping 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while willing his team to a frantic come-from-behind win against an inferior foe.

    It’s a testament to the Blazers’ execution and offensive versatility that they were able to stick with the Suns early despite losing so badly from beyond the arc. Phoenix, buoyed by four triples from sharp-shooting sub Troy Daniels, went 7-of-16 on triples in the first half, a solid but hardly overwhelming performance. It should be for Portland, though, which shot a dismal 1-of-13 from 3-point range over the game’s first two quarters. Getting outscored by 18 points in one of half of play isn’t a winning formula, and certainly not one the Blazers have grown accustomed to over the past few seasons.

    No matter. Behind 12 points off seven Suns turnovers, 14-of-17 shooting at the free throw line and just two giveaways of its own, Portland managed 55 points in the first half despite making just one 3-pointer. Lillard, just as he did late in Friday night’s win over the Utah Jazz, made up for those team-wide shooting labors by attacking the rim with a vengeance. He scored seven points in the last one minute and 47 seconds of the second quarter, giving the Blazers a five-point lead at intermission.

    It didn’t last long. After jumping out to an early 10-point lead in the third quarter, Portland suddenly found itself with a double-digit deficit of its own just a few minutes later. The Blazers continued shooting cold from deep, and Phoenix swarmed on defense, walling off the paint to force Lillard, McCollum and the rest into a horde of missed jumpers from mid-range. The Suns led 79-67 on a 3-pointer by Devin Booker, who was heating up, with one minute and 45 seconds left in the period, and took a 10-point advantage into the final stanza.

    Any hopes of a comeback victory appeared squashed after Phoenix quelled momentum Portland had built over the first few minutes of the fourth. Booker had it going from beyond the arc and in the paint, frustrating the Blazers’ primary and help defenders with his unique all-court scoring abilities. Not even this jaw-dropping put-back dunk by Lillard, which turned out to be his second most important offensive rebound and score of the game, could get his team out of its funk.

    Portland turned the ball over on its next two possessions, leading to Phoenix taking a 15-point lead with 7:26 left on a pair of freebies by Booker. Unbeknownst to anyone at Talking Stick Resort Arena, with the notable exception of Lillard, that was the last time the Suns would feel comfortable.

    The Blazers got lasting life after a timeout by Jay Triano, with his team up 95-86, yielded a shot-clock violation for the Suns. McCollum hit a step-back jumper on Portland’s next trip down, and after stellar individual defense from Harkless on Booker, Lillard stepped behind the arc for a 3-pointer – the first of two to come in the final stanza. The teams mostly traded baskets from there, with Booker and Lillard taking turns playing hero. The latter’s and-1 tip-in with 2:38 remaining tied the game at 97-97, and set the stage for a frantic final stretch that he made sure he would finish.

    It wouldn’t have been possible without defense, though. A perfectly-timed double-team by Nurkic on Booker forced a wild turnover in crunch time, and the Blazers forced a five-second violation as the Suns attempted to inbound the ball with 20 seconds left and the game tied at 104-104. Stotts initially called for a timeout, but was waived off by an ever-confident Lillard. It was Dame time, on his terms.

    Lillard scored 13 points on 5-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from 3-point range over the game’s final five minutes and 37 seconds, erasing a nine-point deficit to give the Blazers their first lead of the fourth quarter with .9 seconds left. By the time Daniels’ ensuing 60-foot heave fell just short of the rim, Portland fans were already celebrating not just a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, but another legendary performance from a player staking his case as one of the league’s true best.

    The MVP race is pretty much over. James Harden will win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, and rightfully so – his resumé of individual excellence and consistency combined with team success is unmatched. There’s definitely some room to be had below the overwhelming favorite in MVP voting, though, and it’s become increasingly difficult for a national audience to overlook what Lillard has done in the last month. Could he force his way into the conversation over the season’s final seven weeks of play?

    Some superstars, especially those who have been perpetually overlooked throughout their careers, might be concerned with that possibility. Not Lillard. He’s content leading the now fifth-place Blazers to the playoffs, apparently by even the ugliest means necessary.

    This is not a game Portland should have won. Shooting 6-of-30 on threes is a losing recipe for any team in the modern NBA, but especially one driven by the unique shot-making abilities of its star guards. It would have been easy for the Blazers to lay down in the fourth quarter, chalking up a disappointing loss to tired legs and the ball not bouncing their way. But Lillard had other ideas, and received just enough help down the stretch to force them into fruition by the final buzzer.


Fantasy News

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis has high expectations for the Lakers when they resume play later in July in Orlando, citing the long layoff as a favorable development for his squad.

    As if the Lakers weren't already squarely in the hunt for an NBA championship. When speaking to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Davis said that he believes their "chances are higher just because we’re all rested and we’re all ready to go.” Depth seems to be the most glaring issue potentially facing the Lakers as they prepare to make the trip to Disney World, as defensive stalwart Avery Bradley recently opted out of the remainder of the season. Bradley was subsequently replaced by well-traveled veteran guard J.R. Smith (who has a long history of playoff runs alongside LeBron James with the Cavs), but the team is still unsure of veteran center Dwight Howard's status the rest of the way. Other than Howard, the Lakers' roster is seemingly set for Orlando. Davis sounds like he's ready to rock, however.

    Source: ESPN

  • Deng Adel
    PF, Brooklyn Nets

    Deng Adel, who played 19 games for the Cavs last season as a two-way player, is being pursued by the Illawara Hawks of Australia's NBL, which, notably was the team 18-year-old LaMelo Ball played for last season (and has attempted to purchase).

    Adel had two short stints before last season with the Rockets and Nets in the Summer League and the preseason, respectively. He was originally a standout at Louisville but went undrafted in 2018 before hitching on with the Cavs on a two-way pact. This season he had been playing for the Long Island Nets, the Nets' G League affiliate, prior to the pause and ultimately the end of the G League season. Adel had registered averages of 11.1 points, 4.2 boards and 2.6 assists to that point. Also of note, Adel spent the lion's share of his childhood in Australia after his family moved from South Sudan around the time he was eight.

    Source: Sportando

  • Darius Miller
    SF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Darius Miller is unsure if he will be able to play in Orlando, as he continues to recover from a torn a ruptured right Achillies.

    Due to the lockdown, Miller has been unable to participate in any live-action, or else he would have played in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 by now. At this point, it would be surprising for the Pelicans to risk his health by pushing for him to participate in the eight-game regular season.

    Source: Will Guillory on Twitter

  • JJ Redick
    SG, New Orleans Pelicans

    J.J. Redick has intentionally lost 10 pounds since the quarantine began.

    Redick's goal was to get back to his playing weight during his college days at Duke, and it's not a surprise that one of the most dedicated workers in the league was able to drop weight during the coronavirus pandemic. Redick's shooting will be sorely needed when the Pelicans try to chase down the Grizzlies for a playoff spot, but if he does not come out of the gates making an impact the Pelicans are likely to shift to another hot hand on their deep roster. Redick has only seen 26.4 minutes per game this season, and that is going to limit his impact to strictly 3-pointers (2.9 per game).

    Source: Daniel Sallerson on Twitter

  • Tyler Herro
    PG, Miami Heat

    Tyler Herro said the time off allowed his right ankle to fully recover.

    Herro returned to action just before the shutdown due to COVID-19. With the ankle back to 100 percent, he will face no restrictions when play picks back up in Orlando. While Herro's scoring prowess caused some increased expectations for his rookie season, he's largely been an afterthought for the Heat. He can clearly shoot the rock (2.1 treys on .391 shooting), but the rest of his game is lacking, and the Heat do not have time to devote to rookie development when the season resumes.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Kent Bazemore
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Kent Bazemore, who has been a welcomed presence since joining the Kings in January, reiterated that he'd like to stay with the team.

    Bazemore had a lot of opportunity before him when the Blazers were faltering due to injuries at the start of the season and he failed to take advantage. However, a change of scenery made a significant difference, as his field goal percentage leaped from .347 with the Blazers, to .426 with the Kings, and his scoring also increased from 7.9 points to 10.3 points per contest. He sounds locked in as the Kings prepare for the Orlando bubble, but a healthy Kings' roster could handicap his opportunity for playing time when things start back up.

    Source: James Ham on Twitter

  • Victor Oladipo
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Shams Charania is reporting that Victor Oladipo will sit out the remainder of the Pacers' season.

    Oladipo decided to exercise caution as his quad tendon is still susceptible to a relapse, and the circumstances of the Orlando bubble are anything but predictable. It's a big hit to the Pacers chances when play resumes, but Oladipo should be close to 100 percent next year as he continues his rehab and seeks to further strengthen his quad tendon. This season was a flop as he only appeared in 13 games, but Oladipo should be looking to return fully recovered and seeking early-round value next year. The Pacers will continue leaning on their depth to fill the void, and Malcolm Brogdon will continue to be the lead guard running the show in Indiana.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Jimmy Butler
    SG, Miami Heat

    After a second member of the Heat tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, the team practice facilities have been closed to all activities, with an exception for testing.

    Derrick Jones Jr. had tested positive earlier in the week, and it has not been reported who the latest player to test positive for the coronavirus is. This is a precautionary measure that many teams are undertaking as they prepare to shift operations to the Orlando bubble. The Heat will resume team activities there on July 8.

    Source: Ethan J Skolnick on Twitter

  • Gordon Hayward
    SF, Boston Celtics

    Both Gordon Hayward and Vincent Poirier plan to leave the NBA bubble in September, when their respective partners are set to give birth.

    Both are expected to be given permission to leave the bubble and will be able to return after a four-day quarantine. If the league's plans play out, September will be right in the thick of the playoffs, so it's unfortunate timing for the team even though it's the right decision for Hayward. It's something to keep in mind if you're planning to play fantasy games through the postseason.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    The Clippers closed their practice facility in a precautionary move after a member of their Orlando traveling party tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

    This seems like something that will continue to happen as we prepare to move teams into the Orlando bubble. We'll keep an eye on whether any specific player is infected and how that will impact the restart plans for this team.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter