It’s always an action-packed day in the NBA. We had stars return to the court. We had taunting that made referees take action. We had dancing that made the refs laugh. And, of course, two teams scored 144. All of that along with a number of impressive performances. Let’s get into it!
Heat 93, Magic 83
Heat fans rejoice! After being plagued by more non-COVID related injuries than anyone else in the league, your superstar has returned! Jimmy Butler may not have put up superstar numbers (17 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, 5/14 FGs), but his presence was definitely felt. With all the other injuries they’ve faced, a spot in the starting lineup opened up for Omer Yurtseven, who had a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. As long as Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon are sidelined with injuries, Yurtseven will be an excellent source of rebounds. Unless you are a die-hard Heat fan or have a deep understanding of the NBA landscape, there’s a chance you didn’t know who Max Strus was three weeks ago. Now, him having 13 points, two rebounds, and two assists is a bad game for him. Strus had been on fire as of late, averaging 25 points, six rebounds, and 5.3 deep balls per game over his past four games before this one. Hopefully for fantasy managers, Strus can bounce back and this isn’t the new norm now that Butler is back healthy. Tyler Herro had an odd game that was cut short by an ejection. Before he received his second technical, Herro was shooting 1-for-5 from the floor with two points and eight assists in 19 minutes. The points were a season low and only the third time this season he scored in single digits. The eight assists, however, were his second highest output this year. Caleb Martin returned after not playing in nearly three weeks and scored 17 points, which means he’s now scored in double figures in four straight games and six of his past seven. He’s also available in 90% of Yahoo! leagues.
This season has been a lost one for Orlando for a while, but it's hard to find many positives for fantasy when the top guys are out. Cole Anthony was a late scratch as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain, which left Hassani Gravett the keys to the offense. He’s been solid for the Magic, and even scored a season-high 12 points tonight, but he doesn’t provide much for fantasy managers, especially long term. Despite a slow start to the season, Gary Harris has turned it on lately. So far this month, he’s been averaging 15.1 points, three rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a steal on 49/44.9/84.4 shooting splits with 2.2 trey balls in 32.7 minutes per game. Gary Harris season is here. Well, at least until Anthony and Jalen Suggs are back. Then we’ll see. R.J. Hampton returned from league protocols and was the only source of offense off the bench. The shooting wasn’t great, but he had 14 points, five assists, and two steals with no turnovers in 32 minutes off the bench. Solid return for him, especially with plenty of opportunity to gain minutes. Wendell Carter Jr. had a team-high 14 rebounds. He also had a team-high six turnovers. This was only his second game back from a short-term knee injury, so he should be fine moving forward.
Cavaliers 144, Raptors 99
Darius Garland for All-Star! Darius Garland for All-Star! 22 points, eight assists, and two steals in only 29 minutes is impressive, but he was a +37 in those minutes, which may be even more impressive. He’s a big reason why the Cavs are winning like this with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in protocols and why they’re fighting for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Kevin Love had one of his best games of the season with 22 points and nine rebounds in… 18 minutes of play. This game was a complete massacre in the second and third quarters. Toronto led 34-29 late in the first before Cleveland scored 12 straight. It just got worse from there. Lauri Markkanen scored 20 points and added seven rebounds. Him and Love have filled in for Mobley and Allen nicely, though they don’t block nearly as many shots. Dean Wade tied his season-high with 17 points. The Cavs have stuck with their three big man starting lineup despite not having two of their stars, but it’s worked just fine. Denzel Valentine scored in double figures for the first time this season with 17 points. Tacko Fall had seven rebounds and two blocks, which means over the past two games, he’s had 17 rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes of play. The Cavs could roll out a lineup with Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen, and Tacko Fall. Not that they would, but it makes you think.
Yuta Watanabe actually scored a game-high 26 points and collected 13 rebounds. The Raptors are incredibly short-handed due to league protocols, so Watanabe likely won’t see 37 minutes consistently when everyone is back, let alone shoot 20 shots. With 10 players in league protocols, Chris Boucher must’ve thought it was his time to shine. He’s had trouble carving out a consistent role this year, despite being a fantasy star last season and shining at times this year. However, what compelled him to shoot this? He shot 2-for-10 on 3-pointers in the game, but did finish with 21 points. D.J. Wilson played for the first time since May 1st and had 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block in 34 minutes. He’s only getting a shot because of protocols, but he may have earned himself some more opportunities in the future. The Raptors had exactly eight active players, which is the league minimum. All of them had a +/- of -23 or worse, except Daniel Oturu (-16). It was an ugly game, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise with that many players in protocols.
76ers 117, Wizards 96
Joel Embiid is the flopping king. Some may say it’s James Harden or Trae Young or Chris Paul, but it’s Embiid. That’s because there’s nothing the NBA can do about his flopping. He instigates and baits his opponents into getting chippy with him, and then sells it enough to get them in trouble. That’s exactly what he did to Montrezl Harrell tonight in order to get him ejected. Still, Embiid did have 36 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks in 31 minutes to lead Philly to victory. Harrell didn’t take too kindly to Embiid’s antics. Tobias Harris 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and gathered seven rebounds. After shooting 0-for-6 from deep against Atlanta, he didn’t attempt a three this game. We’ll see if that’s a sign of things to come for him. Tyrese Maxey and Georges Niang returned from league protocols, and Maxey had 13 points, three rebounds, and four assists with no turnovers in 33 minutes. Matisse Thybulle missed his only shot attempt, but finished with four rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block, no turnovers, and five fouls in 28 minutes. He also had a +/- of +29, which officially makes this the most Matisse Thybulle stat line that he’s ever had.
The Wizards struggled to put points on the board, despite only turning the ball over eight times. Plain and simple, the Wizards just didn’t shoot the ball well as a team. 38.9/24.2/64.3 team shooting splits just won’t get the job done. Spencer Dinwiddie had been excellent without Bradley Beal in the lineup, averaging 24.4 points, 8.4 assists, and 6.4 rebounds in five games without him. Tonight was a little below that average with 17 points, six assists, and three rebounds, but the most alarming was the 3-for-7 shooting from the charity stripe. He’s a career 79.4% free throw shooter, but has actually shot 59.3% from the line in games without Bradley Beal. The two have zero correlation whatsoever, but it’s an interesting trend. Kyle Kuzma had 12 points and 10 rebounds, giving him back-to-back double-doubles for the first time since the first two games of the season. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 7-of-8 on free throws before his ejection. Over the last five games, Harrell is shooting 20-for-23 on freebies.
Grizzlies 127, Kings 102
Desmond Bane led the way for the Grizzlies as they dominated the Kings in the second half. After leading by one at halftime, Memphis outscored Sacramento by 26 points after the break. Bane led the way with 28 points. His numbers have taken a slight hit since Ja Morant returned, but he proved once again that he’s a reliable fantasy asset. Morant had 18 points, seven boards, and nine dimes in 30 minutes. It’s only his third game back after missing nearly a month with a knee injury. John Konchar stepped into the starting lineup with Dillon Brooks in protocols, and decided he’d grab a career-high 14 rebounds in 28 minutes. The 6’5” rookie hadn’t grabbed double-digit rebounds in a game before tonight. Jaren Jackson Jr. stuffed the stat sheet, per usual. 21 points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks in 26 minutes is a solid game for him. However, the big man shot 5-of-18 from the floor, including 1-of-8 from deep, which wasn’t his best performance. Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson each added 14 points off the bench, and Steven Adams had 10 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Alvin Gentry said that this is the most disappointed he’s been in his 34 years in the NBA. If you’re a fantasy manager that was relying on a Kings’ player, you probably feel the same way. De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, and Terence Davis were cleared to return from league protocols before the game, but that didn’t help the result. Fox finished with 12 points, five assists, and seven turnovers in 30 minutes, which isn’t what fantasy GMs were hoping for. Davis had a solid performance with 15 points in 16 minutes, but didn’t shoot the ball well (4-of-12 from the floor). Bagley only played 10 minutes and didn’t do much. Tyrese Haliburton had 18 points, seven assists, and three steals, all of which were team-highs. Chimezie Metu started but only played 19 minutes. He had been averaging 13.4 points and 7.2 rebounds over the past five games, but didn’t see enough minutes in this one, finishing with four points and three rebounds. Richaun Holmes only played 13 minutes because he was in foul trouble. Buddy Hield didn't have a very Buddy Hield-type game. He played 24 minutes, but only shot three shots, missing all of them. Damian Jones may have been the only King that played above average. He had 15 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.
Thunder 117, Pelicans 112
Josh Giddey had one of the strangest stat lines you’ll see. He finished with a double-double: 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Not strange enough for you? How about that he didn’t score? In fact, according to Stat Muse, he’s the first player in 40 years to record a double-double without scoring. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made up for Giddey’s lack of scoring by dropping 31 points to go with four rebounds, five assists, and three blocks. He did shoot 8-for-13 from the charity stripe, which is a little down from how he’s shot lately. SGA has been a 90% shooter from the line this month. Aaron Wiggins scored a career-high 24 points, which is also the first time he’s scored in double figures this season. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 15 points, which marks his third consecutive game that he’s scored in double figures.
Giddey wasn’t the only starter to not score in this game. However, Brandon Ingram has a better reason. He left the game with Achilles soreness after playing nine scoreless minutes. That left a scoring void that was filled by Josh Hart, who scored a season-high 29 points. He’s now scored 20+ points in three consecutive games and is averaging 14.7 points, nine rebounds, and 5.7 assists this month. Yet he’s only rostered in 72% of Yahoo! leagues. Garrett Temple also helped make up some scoring by pouring in a season-high 22 points. Jaxson Hayes tied season-highs with 15 points and six rebounds. He’s gotten more of a role with Jonas Valanciunas sidelined with a non-COVID illness, but it’s unlikely he sustains it when JV returns, especially with Willy Hernangomez playing solid minutes.
Spurs 144, Pistons 109
Two teams winning big while scoring exactly 144 in the same day? The Spurs joined the Cavaliers in destroying a short-handed opponent, with Keldon Johnson leading the charge. Johnson tied his season-high with 27 points, except this time he did it on 10-of-12 shooting (4-of-4 from deep) with five rebounds. Jakob Poeltl had 14 points in 15 minutes. Derrick White had 10 assists in 16 minutes, which means if he played the whole game he would’ve tied Scott Skiles record for assists in a game because that’s how it works, right? However, he didn’t even finish with the most assists on the team, since Tre Jones dropped 11 dimes off the bench. Keita Bates-Diop followed up his perfect shooting, 30-point performance by adding 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting, to go with six rebounds and two assists. They can’t all be perfect. The Jock Landale hype train continued with him scoring his career-high again. This time, he had 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 17 minutes. The Spurs had six players score either eight or nine points, while five scored in double figures. This was the epitome of “Spurs’ basketball”.
The Pistons had only nine active players, and it showed on the scoreboard. However, it left plenty of opportunity for guys to step up and provide DFS value. Saddiq Bey didn’t shoot it great (5-of-16 FGs), but he did score 23 points, giving him his fifth 20-point game in his last six games. He also contributed eight rebounds. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but he’s the most reliable player in Detroit right now. Luka Garza got the spot start with Trey Lyles out and exploded for a career-high 20 points before fouling out in 20 minutes. He should get another start next time out, so keep him on your fantasy radar. Frank Jackson continues to be a score first, score second, score third guy, which is great when he’s on. He’s an excellent scoring option for the Pistons, especially with how injured they are. However, he’s not the best fantasy option. He finished with 17 points on 7-for-19 shooting. Hamidou Diallo scored a season-high 28 points while shooting an efficient 13-of-19 from the floor. Of course, that was tainted by seven turnovers, but it was still a nice outing for Diallo, who should remain a depth option when the Pistons are healthy. Derrick Walton Jr. was born in Detroit, played four seasons at Michigan, and finally got to start for the Pistons. Unfortunately, the moment turned sour quickly, as he was held scoreless in 31 minutes in a blowout loss. He did have four rebounds, six assists, a steal, and two blocks, despite standing exactly 6’0”. With the way things are going for the Pistons, he may get another opportunity.
Bulls 113, Pacers 105
Though they were missing Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Billy Donovan, this is what the Bulls envisioned when they put together this roster. Zach LaVine scored a game-high 32 points in his first game back from protocols, which was his 65th 30-point game as a Chicago Bull. According to Stat Muse, that puts him “only” 472 games away from Michael Jordan’s record. DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points in his first game playing with Zach LaVine since December 4th. Nikola Vucevic played one of his most efficient, complete games of the season, scoring 16 points (7-of-10 FGs, 2-of-3 3PTs) with 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks in 33 minutes. He’s finally getting back to playing like the All-Star that he is. Coby White started in place of Ball, but finished with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. He’s had a rough go this season, but will have a chance to shine over the next week or so with Ball and Caruso sidelined. Javonte Green scored a season-high 13 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting. This team has already proven that they're very good, but they’ll be scary when they’re fully healthy.
With Malcolm Brogdon sidelined again, Caris LeVert continued to take over playmaking duties, finishing this time with nine assists to go along with a team-high 27 points. Over the past two weeks, LeVert has been the second-best fantasy asset on the Pacers, behind Myles Turner. Turner finished this one with 19 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. He’s now had at least two blocks in six consecutive games. Domantas Sabonis struggled from the floor (5-for-17 shooting) but did manage 14 points and 16 rebounds while dropping five dimes and collecting two steals. He’s been struggling with his shot over the past two games, shooting 9-for-28 between them. That’s part of the reason that he’s providing value outside of the top-130 over the past two weeks. Chris Duarte continues to start with Brogdon out, this time scoring 16 points to go with five rebounds and two steals.
Nuggets 103, Clippers 100
What doesn’t he do? Nikola Jokic provided everything tonight. Points, rebounds, assists, dancing, steals, and blocks. The Joker went off with 26 points, 22 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and two blocks. Is he playing like he should repeat as MVP? Absolutely. With the Nuggets hovering around .500, it’ll be hard for him to surpass guys like Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kevin Durant, but Jokic has been insane this year. Austin Rivers got the starting nod and played a season-high 31 minutes while scoring in double figures for the fourth straight game. Rivers may have finally carved out a role for himself, and he’s available in virtually every league. He may not provide a ton of value, but with half the league in protocols, beggars can’t be choosers. Davon Reed scored a season-high 15 points off the bench. This type of performance isn’t one he’ll likely get an opportunity to repeat, but he did have a nice game that probably gave someone a boost in DFS. Will Barton is the only player on this team aside from the Joker providing top-100 value this season. He scored 17 points on an inefficient 7-of-18 shooting night, including 2-of-9 from deep.
Brandon Boston Jr. may have missed the game-tying shot, but he didn’t miss on the opportunity with the Clippers struggling with injuries. Once heralded as a guaranteed lottery pick, Boston Jr. plummeted down draft boards while at Kentucky. He scored 18 points in this one to go with three rebounds and two assists. He may not get consistent minutes when Paul George is back healthy, but with rumors that PG may not return this season, he could end up being a steal. Eric Bledsoe tied Boston Jr. for a team-high 18 points. Bledsoe added 10 assists, five steals, and two blocks, giving him season-highs in assists and steals. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game over his past six games. He’s only rostered in 39% of Yahoo! leagues. Terrance Mann put up 11 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists in 36 minutes. He’s another guy that’ll benefit from PG’s absence. Ivica Zubac had 17 points (7-of-8 FGs), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in 27 minutes. A solid performance for him, especially against the Joker.