December 5, 2021, 10:10 pm
The Blazers have been through a pretty eventful last week or so, with Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy) getting shut down for 10 days after looking to be past his injury woes, and then the organization dismissing GM Neil Olshey for unprofessional conduct. They were able to dodge a bullet when CJ McCollum (ribs) left Saturday’s game, as it looks like he’ll be alright, but the Blazers are in the middle of another big skid.
They’ve lost five of six, with the one win coming over Detroit. Among the losses are a home defeat to the Kings, road losses to the Jazz and Warriors, and most troublingly, two home blowouts against the Spurs and the shorthanded Celtics.
The last game there prompted Chauncey Billups to drop this gem of a quote:
Chauncey Billups: "I've never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters. That shit is crazy to me. It's supposed to be the other way around."
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) December 5, 2021
Of all that’s gone on, the firing of Olshey has been the biggest relief for Blazers fans, but the real work is just beginning. This is a roster that has painfully hit its ceiling a while ago; one that required some superhuman efforts from Lillard. Last year’s pickup of Norman Powell has gone well, but does not lift the team’s floor or ceiling enough to matter. It’s a roster that is in dire need of versatile forward depth, consistency out of the center spot, and perhaps most of all, a big shake up. The Blazers’ attempt at contending with this roster core has been admirable, but many of their moves have ultimately proven to be misguided.
Robert Covington is being used in a role that plays up his weaknesses. Larry Nance Jr. hasn’t been able to make a big impact. Jusuf Nurkic’s inconsistency has been a massive problem, with his ceiling-level performances tantalizing enough to keep you invested. The team still can’t defend. New management might take some time before making more drastic moves but they’d be insane not to check the market on the entire roster, and that kind of situation is one that savvy fantasy managers should keep an eye on. The Blazers, as we know them, should be playing their final batch of games together. Let’s see if any new fantasy value emerges from whatever happens.
Two Games: Hawks, Suns, Raptors
Three Games: Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Heat, Pelicans, Blazers, Kings, Jazz, Wizards
Four Games: Nets, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers
Five Games: Spurs
Tues/Weds: Nets, Celtics, Mavs, Knicks
Weds/Thurs: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Sixers, Jazz
Fri/Sat: Cavs, Rockets, Kings
Sat/Sun: Magic, Spurs
The light days next week are once again Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. We’ve got two teams who go on all of those dates: the Lakers and the Spurs. Considering the Spurs have a weekend back-to-back as well, they’re the easy choice here.
Best Schedule: Spurs (@ Suns, vs. Knicks, vs. Nuggets, vs. Nuggets, vs. Pelicans)
Speak of the devil! It’s impossible to pick anyone other than the five-game Spurs here, and your only concern is that some guys get rested in the two back-to-back sets (Monday/Tuesday and Saturday/Sunday). Aside from Monday’s game in Phoenix there’s a whole lot to like about the matchups here with the scuffling Knicks followed by three games against some of the league’s worst defenses. Your key Spurs are obviously going to be in play here but you might even consider auto-starting someone like Keldon Johnson this week, or maybe Doug McDermott if Devin Vassell remains sidelined by his quad problems. Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker IV become sound choices in deeper formats, too.
Worst Schedule: Hawks (@Wolves, vs. Nets)
Two games is a tough hill to climb, especially when you draw a rejuvenated Minnesota team that’s being carried by its defense, and doubly so when they’re expected to have Karl-Anthony Towns (tailbone) and Jaden McDaniels (illness) back too. Add on a date with the Nets, who should be coming out feisty after some rough games this week, and you’re probably not entertaining the notion of any Hawks in your lineups beyond Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela.
Game of the Week: Utah Jazz @ Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday December 9, 7:00 pm ET
All the love has gone to Golden State and Phoenix, for good reason, but the Jazz are still very, very good, and the Sixers have battled through their big wave of early absences to stay above .500 and are still well within reach of the East’s top tier. This should be a terrific game, with a spotlight on the Rudy Gobert / Joel Embiid matchup. It’s a bit of a throwback to watch the two centers crash and bang, but it’s going to be a good time.
Pat Connaughton, G, Milwaukee Bucks
Connaughton popped onto everyone’s radar with a big game on Saturday night, with Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf) and Grayson Allen (illness) both out, but he’s become a consistent high-minute guy for the Bucks no matter how he’s deployed. Connaughton has been riding his mutli-cat potential top comfortable top-90 value to this point in the season, and although he lacks some of the upside of other guys on the wire, he also has a much safer floor. You know he’s going to play a lot, and you know he’s going to get shots as part of his natural role with the Bucks. It’s a boring choice but getting some intermediate-term value while you wait for one of those big upside players to jiggle free is not to be overlooked.
Garrison Mathews, G, Houston Rockets
Mathews has been terrific for the Rockets since Jalen Green (hamstring) exited the lineup, and he should have a starting spot for another week at least. He’s riding some hot shooting but has been a top-100 guy over the last two weeks and the Rockets won’t change what’s been working.
Ish Smith, G, Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier should both miss at least the full week, which makes Smith a very easy call for any managers in need of a low-end point guard. His efficiency and turnovers may keep Smith from universal appeal but the depth chart is so thin that he should have no problem pushing out top-125 numbers.
This was not a good week for injury news, as we got a few big names hitting the shelf.
Damian Lillard is in the midst of his 10-day (minimum) absence due to abdominal tendinopathy, while his top replacement Anfernee Simons is now out with a right ankle sprain. Things are going great in Portland.
Zion Williamson had a minor setback in his rehab from right foot surgery and the Pelicans dialed back his workload, which will only prolong the ramp-up process.
Bam Adebayo is out for 4-to-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on a torn UCL in his right thumb. If there’s any solace for the Heat it’s that Jimmy Butler (tailbone contusion) is expected back on Monday after missing four games.
Elsewhere in the world of tailbone contusions, Karl-Anthony Towns is looking likely to return on Monday after missing one game.
The Hornets are missing their top dogs with LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier (as well as Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels) placed into the health and safety protocols.
No updates on OG Anunoby, who has gone from being questionable to just straight out on recent injury reports with his hip pointer.
TJ McConnell suffered a right wrist injury and is expected to miss multiple weeks.
Kristaps Porzingis didn’t miss any time after spraining his ankle but did hit the shelf with a left knee contusion anyway, while Luka Doncic continues to get random nights off with various bumps and bruises.
Tobias Harris (illness) is questionable for Monday but did practice on Sunday.
The same can be said for Josh Giddey (illness), while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (concussion) was able to go through a non-contact practice.
Jalen Green is “not close” with his left hamstring strain and will miss at least a week, while the third aggravation of a left thigh contusion finally put Kevin Porter Jr. on the sidelines. We’ll see how long that one goes.
Devin Booker (left hamstring) will not play on Monday and he hasn’t been able to do much at practice of late.
Mikal Bridges dislocated his pinkie finger on Friday but is able to play through it — who says we only cover bad news here?