Is it 'shutdown time' in Portland?
The Portland Trail Blazers weren't one of the 12 teams in action on Saturday, but there were certainly some impactful actions in Rose City. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Saturday that the team was "leaning toward" shutting down Damian Lillard for the final nine games. While nothing has officially been announced, it's easy to see why this could be the path that Portland takes. They trail 10th-place Oklahoma City by three games in the loss column and would have to pass Dallas and Utah to reach that point.
Lillard missed Friday's game against the Bulls with tightness in his right calf and was also ruled out for Sunday's matchup with the Thunder. If there's a game a team with playoff ambitions would want to have all hands on deck, wouldn't it be the one where they're facing a direct competitor? In addition to Lillard, the Blazers will also be without Anfernee Simons (foot), Jerami Grant (quad), and Jusuf Nurkić (knee). Down four starters in what's essentially Portland's last gasp regarding a play-in spot, the team appears headed toward the draft lottery. And landing a high pick this summer may be the Blazers' best shot at rejuvenating the franchise.
So, while nothing has been made official regarding any of Portland's injured starters, fantasy managers need to operate under the assumption that we aren't going to see much of those guys in game action. Trendon Watford (36%) and Shaedon Sharpe (29%) are the best fantasy options moving forward, while Drew Eubanks (9%) will continue to fill the void in the middle left by Nurkic. Matisse Thybulle (25%) has never been a great fantasy option due to his limited offense, but he should be on the court enough to make adding him worthwhile.
Cam Reddish (21%) and Nassir Little (2%) haven't been particularly dependable, either, but Portland does play four games in each of the final two weeks of the regular season. There are few surefire fantasy options on this roster, which is why fantasy managers preparing for Championship Week (Week 23) should keep a close eye on Portland's final game of Week 22. Let's take a look at a few pickups who were in action Saturday, beginning with a few Pacers.
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Isaiah Jackson (24%) and Jalen Smith (32%)
Myles Turner did not play in Indiana's loss to the Hawks due to a sore back, which opened the door for Jackson to slide into the starting lineup. While he did land in foul trouble during the 143-130 defeat, Jackson was on the court long enough to produce a line of 14 points, five rebounds, one assist, and three steals in 23 minutes. His foul trouble meant more minutes for Smith, who logged 25 and posted a stat line of 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block, and one 3-pointer. With Indiana now four games in the loss column behind 10th-place Chicago in the East with seven to play, we're on track to see a lot more of the Jackson/Smith tandem in the middle. Also, the Pacers will play four games in Week 23.
Jordan Nwora (10%)
If anything, Nwora's value took a hit before Saturday's game, as Chris Duarte was cleared to return after missing five games with a sore left ankle. Duarte only played five minutes before having to exit due to his balky ankle, which freed up additional playing time for Nwora. And he was on fire Saturday afternoon, scoring a franchise-record 25 points in the second quarter. Nwora would finish with 33 points, six rebounds, one assist, one block, and four 3-pointers, shooting 12-of-17 from the field and 5-of-5 from the foul line. Given Indiana's place in the standings, there's little reason for them to risk anything with Duarte. And Nwora is someone the team will want to take a longer look at with an eye toward the future.
Davion Mitchell (6%)
De'Aaron Fox was held out of Saturday's game against the Jazz after experiencing tightness in his hamstring during Friday's comeback win over the Suns. His absence meant a spot start for Mitchell, and "Off Night" played well as the Kings moved a step closer to their first playoff appearance since 2006. In 29 minutes, Mitchell put up 11 points, six assists, and four steals without committing a turnover. Of course, you want a point guard to do better than 0-of-6 from three, but there was some value to be had here. Sacramento hosts Minnesota on Monday to begin a four-game week. Still, the remainder of the week (two games at Portland, San Antonio at home) could be viewed as an opportunity to get Fox extra rest of the Kings have locked down a playoff spot.
Ochai Agbaji (18%)
With Jordan Clarkson still dealing with a painful finger injury, Agbaji remained in the starting lineup for the Jazz on Saturday. And he could be a valuable fantasy option in Week 23, as Utah will play four games. While closer to the final play-in spot in the West than Portland, the Jazz have been without three starters (Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, and Collin Sexton). Agbaji is one player who's taken advantage of the opportunity, and he finished Saturday's loss to the Kings with 20 points, three rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and three 3-pointers in 36 minutes. That rostered percentage is too low, given who Utah is currently without.
Eric Gordon (19%)
Saturday's 131-110 loss to the Pelicans was a bad one for the Clippers, who remain without Paul George (knee) and lost Kawhi Leonard at the end of the third quarter with a facial contusion. We'll go with Gordon here because he didn't miss a shot (5-of-5 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) in his 24 minutes on the court, accounting for 15 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and three 3-pointers. But there really wasn't a player whose production jumped out.
Nicolas Batum (13/1/1/1 with four 3-pointers; 3% rostered), Robert Covington (11/2/1/2/1 with three 3-pointers; 18% rostered), and Bones Hyland (18/2/7 with three 3-pointers) contributed off the bench, with only Hyland (34%) being rostered in more than 30% of Yahoo leagues. But he also racked up a team-high five turnovers, which is the last thing fantasy managers need. Hyland will occupy the bench scorer role that belonged to Norman Powell until he's cleared to return from a shoulder injury. And these games will go a long way toward determining if Hyland has a shot at any rotation minutes once the actual postseason begins.
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