Sunday’s eight-game schedule in the NBA was headlined by the Rockets’ trip to Boston to take on a Celtics squad that has struggled recently. James Harden essentially did James Harden things as Houston extended its win streak to five, but the game also marked the return of guard Eric Gordon. Joining Harden and Gordon on the list of standouts Sunday were Landry Shamet, Alex Len and Kyle Lowry just to name a few. Below is a look at what happened Sunday, and some early injury notes for Monday’s games.
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Eric Gordon (knee) returns as Rockets get closer to full strength
Injuries have been an issue for Houston for much of this season, with Mike D’Antoni having to go with various rotations that essentially have just one constant: James Harden. But the team has gotten healthier in recent weeks, with Chris Paul and Clint Capela both returning to action, and the signing of Kenneth Faried has worked out as well. Faried wasn’t available for Sunday’s game in Boston but guard Eric Gordon, who did not play in Thursday’s win over the Heat, did make his return to the starting lineup. Gordon knocked down eight three-pointers on the day, finishing with 32 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal in 35 minutes of action as the Rockets won, 115-104. His return to the lineup meant fewer minutes for reserve guards Gerald Green and Austin Rivers, and rookie forward Gary Clark returned to the bench after scoring 14 points in the win over Miami.
Green missed all three of his shot attempts Sunday, going scoreless with just three rebounds to his credit in 13 minutes, with Clark also failing to score in his five minutes on the court. As for Rivers, he played 25 minutes and finished with six points, three rebounds and one blocked shot. As for the impact of Faried’s absence, Nene (three points, two rebounds) played 14 minutes after getting just seven Thursday night. The biggest beneficiary was PJ Tucker (nine points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers), who played a team-high 40 minutes and made some key plays in the fourth quarter as Houston held off the Celtics. There have been times this season when D’Antoni used Tucker as the five, essentially betting that his combination of strength and toughness will override the size disadvantage. Tucker also gives Houston the ability to force mismatches on the other end of the floor from a spacing standpoint when he’s used at the five.
This isn’t something one should expect Houston to do all the time, but it is an interesting wrinkle that has paid off.
If there was a positive to take from the Celtics’ loss, it’s the fact that veteran center Aron Baynes (foot) was able to return to the lineup. Having not played in a game since February 1, Baynes played 12 minutes Sunday and finished with four points, four rebounds and one assist. There was a stretch in the third quarter in which Baynes replaced Marcus Morris rather than Al Horford in the lineup, with Brad Stevens playing his two centers together. During that stretch Boston trimmed its deficit from 24 points to 17, with Horford scoring four of the team’s 11 points (all from the foul line; Marcus Smart scored the other seven).
Those two, when on the court together last season, were elite defensively (95.0 defensive rating) and the tandem can also help improve Boston’s offensive spacing thanks to Horford’s ability to knock down perimeter shots. That’s something to be mindful of heading into the stretch run of this season, as Boston is in need of a spark as the Celtics have dropped five of their last six games. Baynes’ return cut into the minutes of Daniel Theis, who after accounting for 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and one assist in 18 minutes Friday vs. the Wizards played just eight minutes Sunday afternoon.
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No Paul George (right shoulder) for Thunder
Thunder wing Paul George missed his third straight game Sunday, which meant that Dennis Schroder remained in the starting lineup. Schroder played 41 minutes in Oklahoma City’s 99-95 comeback win over Memphis, shooting 6-of-22 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line and finishing with 17 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals, one blocked shot and one three-pointer. In the last three games Schroder has shot just 26.9% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc, averaging 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals per outing. The scoring average is nearly a point higher than his season average, but he’s producing these numbers on an average of 16.3 field goal attempts per game so he hasn’t been producing in an efficient manner.
Abdel Nader, who’s seen an increase in playing time with George out of the lineup, accounted for 15 points, two rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes Sunday. In the four games prior, he scored a total of 11 points. Russell Westbrook scored 22 points (7-of-20 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) with six rebounds, five assists, three steals, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers, and Jerami Grant (seven rebounds, five assists, one blocked shot) and Steven Adams scored 13 apiece with the latter grabbing a game-high 22 rebounds.
Trae Young ejected during win over Bulls
There seems to be a budding individual rivalry in the Eastern Conference, with the combatants being Atlanta’s Trae Young and Chicago’s Kris Dunn. In Friday’s triple-overtime thriller Young scored 49 points with 16 assists, and Dunn was his primary defender for much of the night. Sunday afternoon the two teams met again in Chicago, with Atlanta winning by a 123-118 final score. The issue for Young: he only played 18 minutes, as he was assessed his second technical foul of the game in the third quarter after knocking down a deep three and staring down Dunn (they received technicals with 5:41 remaining in the first quarter after exchanging words). Young finished the game with 18 points, five assists, two rebounds and three 3-pointers, and his early exit meant even more minutes for Jaylen Adams.
The rookie out of St. Bonaventure, who’s moved into the backup point guard role in the aftermath of Jeremy Lin being waived, accounted for a career-high 14 points, four rebounds, four assists, four 3-pointers and three turnovers in 26 minutes Sunday. Over the last six games he’s played 13.5 minutes per, averaging 4.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per appearance. Adams isn’t much of an option fantasy-wise right now, even with his being in the backup point guard spot. What also happened in the aftermath of Young’s ejection was fellow rookie Kevin Huerter getting some time as the primary playmaker when Adams needed a break at the start of the fourth quarter. Huerter finished the game with 12 points, three assists, two steals, one rebound and two 3-pointers in 23 minutes. The rookie out of Maryland hasn’t been all that productive from a fantasy standpoint, however.
No Collins or Spellman means big day for Alex Len
The Hawks were shorthanded Sunday, as John Collins (flu), Omari Spellman (high ankle sprain) and Taurean Prince (awaiting the birth of his second child) were all out of the lineup. That opened up even more minutes for center Alex Len, who started alongside Dewayne Dedmon for the first time since a December 23 win over the Pistons. And both had solid days at the office in Sunday’s win over the Bulls, with Len tallying 28 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and five 3-pointers and Dedmon posting a stat line of 13 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and one steal. Len scored 24 points and grabbed ten minutes in 36 minutes off the bench Friday night (also against the Bulls).
Len’s move into the starting lineup (combined with Collins, Spellman and Prince being out) opened up minutes for the seldom-used Alex Poythress, who played 26 minutes and accounted for nine points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers. Prior to Sunday, Poythress had not appeared in a game for the Hawks since New Year’s Eve. With Spellman not expected back anytime soon, that could open up a few more minutes for a player like Poythress who’s looking to make a positive impression. But it’s unlikely to be enough to turn him into a viable fantasy option, given how little he’s played.
DJ Augustin (right ankle) starts 2nd game of back-to-back
Despite having to miss most of the second half of Saturday’s win over the Pacers after spraining his right ankle late in the second quarter, point guard D.J. Augustin was back on the court Sunday as the Magic visited Cleveland. Augustin was effective, scoring 19 points with five rebounds, five assists, and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes, but many of his teammates were not as Orlando fell by a 107-93 final score. The veteran point guard being available to play ended up being bad news for Jerian Grant, who was a DNP-CD after playing 12 minutes and giving Orlando a nice spark off the bench Saturday night.
Isaiah Briscoe played 28 minutes Sunday but struggled mightily, finishing with four points, three assists, one rebound, one steal and a minus-24 rating (only Terrence Ross, who had a minus-28 and shot 1-of-12 from the field, was worse in this regard). After accounting for eight points, nine rebounds and two assists in Orlando’s February 28 win over the Warriors, the rookie out of Kentucky has struggled in the two games since. Briscoe has been Steve Clifford’s preferred choice as the backup point guard in recent games, making it tough for Grant to earn consistent playing time off the bench.
Nikola Vucevic played well for Orlando, finishing the night with 28 points (13-of-16 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), 13 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 38 minutes.
Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, who knocked down the game-winning basket in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers, did not play Sunday night in Detroit. As a result Jeremy Lin replaced the All-Star in the starting lineup, making his first start since joining the team in mid-February. And things did not go well for the veteran guard, as Lin missed all eight of his field goal attempts and finished the night with one point, two assists, one rebound and one steal in 25 minutes of play. Due to the combination of Leonard’s absence and Lin’s struggles, both OG Anunoby and Norman Powell saw increased playing time in the 112-107 overtime loss to the Pistons.
Anunoby played 35 minutes off the bench, tallying 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field with six rebounds (five offensive), one blocked shot and one three-pointer. As for Powell, he played 20 minutes and posted a stat line of 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. Anunoby surpassed the 30-minute mark for the first time since February 13. That win over the Wizards, which Leonard missed, was also the last time Powell played 20 minutes or more in a game as he played 31 that night.
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam led the way offensively for the Raptors Sunday night, with the former scoring 25 of his 35 points after halftime and the latter going for 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists in 44 minutes played. Lowry (24 field goal attempts) and Siakam (20) both attempted at least 20 shots, with no other Raptor taking more than ten (Anunoby and Marc Gasol, who shot 2-of-10 from the field).