• 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.

    Epic.

Fantasy News

  • OG Anunoby
    SF, Toronto Raptors

    Coach Nick Nurse intends to put OG Anunoby "back out there in a primary role."

    With Kawhi Leonard vacating the starting small forward spot, Anunoby is the leading candidate to take the role. Before the arrival of Leonard, Anunoby started 62 games in his rookie season. Last season he started 6 out of 67 games, and missed the entire playoffs due to an emergency appendectomy. He averaged 7.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks over 20.2 minutes per game, while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor, 33.2 percent from 3-point range and 58.1 percent from the free-throw line. He can be picked up as a late round flier in drafts.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Daryl Macon
    PG, Miami Heat

    The Heat have signed Daryl Macon.

    Macon getting picked up by another NBA squad after a solid Summer League campaign is not a shocker. If he were to crack the rotation he would post a nice assist rate, but it is unlikely Macon will be getting playing time unless something goes terribly wrong for the Heat this season.

    Source: NBA

  • Tahjere McCall
    F, Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks signed Tahjere McCall from their Summer League team.

    This is just a depth signing for the Hawks. He shouldn't see much court time on the NBA floor if he makes the main roster out of camp

    Source: Kevin Chouinard on Twitter

  • Thabo Sefolosha
    SF, Houston Rockets

    Marc Stein is reporting that the Rockets will sign Thabo Sefolosha.

    Sefolosha was among the names at a recent mini camp, and he should make for a nice fit as a defensive stopper off the bench. The Rockets have a pretty thin group of reserves so we'd expect Sefolosha to be a regular rotation player, which puts him on the board as a steals specialist in deep leagues.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Tyler Zeller
    C, Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have signed C Tyler Zeller to the training camp roster on Thursday.

    Zeller played all of six games last season with the Hawks and Grizzlies. Zeller will try to latch on as a third-string C for the Nuggets' deep frontcourt. Zeller is off the fantasy radar.

    Source: Chris Dempsey on Twitter

  • Luke Kennard
    SG, Detroit Pistons

    Coach Dwane Casey said that he is not sure if he will start Luke Kennard or have him run a lot of the second-team offense.

    In addition, Casey mentioned that Kennard dealt with some knee tendinitis earlier this summer. Kennard is likely competing with Bruce Brown Jr. for the starting two-guard spot. We'll see how the rotation starts to shape in the preseason, but both players will get minutes either way.

    Source: NBA

  • Blake Griffin
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Coach Dwane Casey revealed that although the team's training staff is easing him into things, Blake Griffin (knee) is back on the court and playing.

    Coach Casey added that the team expects Griffin to be at 100% with "no lingering effects." It looks like Griffin is progressing nicely in his return and should be all systems go for the start of the season. With Griffin's extensive injury history, the team may manage him more this year. Coming off a career year, he's expected to be an early middle-round selection.

    Source: NBA

  • Victor Oladipo
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Coach Nate McMillan said that Victor Oladipo (knee) probably wouldn't play on opening night.

    Videos have surfaced this summer of Oladipo doing on-court work, and by all accounts, he is progressing well. Coach McMillan said that Oladipo isn't playing live yet and it would seem he still has hurdles to climb. Even when Oladipo does return, he will likely be facing minute restrictions and frequent days off, at least initially. Jeremy Lamb figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Oladipo's absence.

    Source: NBA

  • Nikola Vucevic
    C, Orlando Magic

    In an interview Wednesday, Magic head coach Steve Clifford said he could see Nikola Vucevic improving across all areas of his game, and echoing his player's belief that he is in his prime.

    One of the areas Clifford thought Vucevic could improve upon was his 3-point shooting percentage, and also seemed to indicate that he could contonue to up his play on defense. He's unquestionably solidified himself as the anchor of this team, and the Magic as a whole are likely eyeing to improve upon their momentum as a rising young playoff team in an Eastern Conference that looks pretty weak after the top four to five teams. Expect Vucevic to produce safe second-round value this season.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Deandre Ayton
    C, Phoenix Suns

    Suns General Manager James Jones said in a recent interview that Deandre Ayton is capable of playing PF if needed.

    One could chalk this up to either Ayton continuing his development in becoming a more dynamic offensive player, or the Suns covering up for the lack of depth on their roster at PF. In reality it's likley a mix of both, and is a positive for Ayton's value heading into this season. If he does end up spending meaningful time at the four, it would not bode well for the value of Dario Saric, who is already barely going at the end of drafts in 9-cat leagues.

    Source: NBA.com