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Another day goes by, and it’s another day that Lakers fans are punching the air in frustration. Their play-in hopes are slipping away despite entering the season as the second most likely team to win the title, but there is a lot more to take away from this five-game Tuesday than the struggles of this squad. I’ll break down the good and the bad on a game-by-game basis.
Bulls 107, Wizards 94
After losing to the Knicks a night prior, the Bulls really needed this one and now sit half a game ahead of the Raptors for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan went beast mode in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his game-high 32 points in that frame alone, and also chipping in with seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, one triple and just one turnover in 36 minutes. He shot 12-of-27 from the field and made all seven of his freebies, and he just has that clutch gene built in, which his teammates should be thankful for. Nikola Vucevic got hot early with 20 first-half points to finish with 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting along with five rebounds, four assists, one steal, two 3-pointers and one turnover in 31 minutes, and he’s been a bit quieter as of late but has a floor in the early-middle rounds as long as he’s not shooting in the low 40s like he was for much of the start of the season. Rui Hachimura scored a new season-high 21 points (8-of-10 FGs) with two treys, four rebounds and nothing else besides two turnovers, but even when he’s scoring, he doesn’t do a ton else and is far from a standard league asset. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was close behind with 20 efficient points of his own, with the only exciting part of his line being his one steal, but unlike Rui, he’s very much been a fantasy guy with top-75 value over the past month. Kristaps Porzingis went just 6-of-14 from the floor and didn’t make a triple but was otherwise nice with a 14/10/5 line with three more swats, and as usual, just make sure he’s actually playing before utilizing him. In particular, watch out for his status ahead of Washington’s game against the Magic on Wednesday, in addition to another back-to-back set on April 5 and April 6. Deni Avdija posted a 14/8/3/1/1 line but just had 12th-round value coming in over the past two weeks, and his ranking on the season is miles from relevant, but lines like this make him worth keeping an eye on.
Zach LaVine was iffy coming in with his lingering left knee injury and scored just 14 points with very little else in his 34 minutes. The fact that he played on the second night in as many days is good news, but he only took 10 shots and may have been limited by the knee, not being aggressive whatsoever with his first field goal coming in the second half of the third quarter. Alex Caruso (2/3/4 with three steals) and Ayo Dosunmu (4/1/6) are basically cancelling each other out when they both start, and the only appeal here is Caruso’s steals and sometimes some dimes from either guy, but it’s not a steady source of them. Tomas Satoransky dished out 10 dimes but scored just three points with his three boards, one steal and one block in 25 minutes of another start, and the expectations for him going forward will be useful assist numbers maybe with a steal each night, assuming he stays a starter.
Bucks 118, 76ers 116
Milwaukee and Philly (along with Boston) were all one single game behind the No. 1 Heat in the East entering Tuesday, but now the Bucks have sole possession of the second spot. It was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was probable coming in with right knee soreness (and may carry that tag often going forward) who absolutely feasted to the tune of 40 points (16-of-24 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), 14 rebounds, six dimes, one steal, three blocks, one 3-pointer and three turnovers in 38 minutes. I feel like his knee might be fine, but just be ultra-careful and keep an eye on his status going forward, but I don’t expect him to miss any games until their playoff berth is locked in. He’s just a freak and earned his nickname for a reason, and it’s insane that there’s a good chance he’ll finish third place in MVP voting this season. Teammates Khris Middleton (22/7/9/1/1 with three triples) and Jrue Holiday (18/8/10 with a steal and two treys) both teased triple-doubles, and it’s worth noting that Jrue did miss Saturday’s game against the Grizzlies with left ankle soreness but didn’t seem to be in pain in the slightest as one of the best players on the floor in the fourth. Brook Lopez scored a season-high 17 points and he keeps getting better and is looking more comfortable, but per usual is just suited for some triples and blocks (although no swats in this one). Though Joel Embiid’s numbers looked measly compared to Giannis’, he still put up a MVP-like stat line inclusive of 29 points (11-of-21 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs), 14 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, three 3-pointers and four turnovers across 40 minutes. On most books, he and Nikola Jokic are basically a coin toss regarding who will walk away with the MVP award, and I really think it’s going to come down to the last game or two and where their respective teams end up in the standings. James Harden scored his most points as a 76er in his efficient 32/5/9 effort with four triples and a block, and he lived at the free throw line with a 10-of-12 clip from there, doing what he does best. Tobias Harris wasn’t as good as Philly’s main duo but was highly impressive with a 22/11/6 showing with three steals, two triples and no turnovers in 36 minutes of action, and these were the only three to really show up all too much on the Sixers’ side. Danny Green hit three triples, which is cool because he’s about 55 years old by now, as did Georges Niang, but they aren’t options for your team.
This was easily a top-two game of the night, but the TNT crew still decided to show the Lakers/Mavs game, for whatever reason, but maybe they’ll finally learn. Wesley Matthews (five points) took Grayson Allen’s (10 points, four boards) spot in the first unit, and while Allen is still the superior option, the role won’t be good for him if it sticks and he wasn’t always getting it done anyway. Bobby Portis hit rock bottom with three points, five boards, one steal and one triple in 14 minutes, and with Lopez playing 29 minutes, Portis’ run could be coming to an end. He’s still rebounding very well, especially on a per-minute basis, so at least stick with him if that’s a category in which you need some production. Pat Connaughton (two points in 18 minutes) hasn’t hit a three in either of his last two games but hit 11 total in his three games before that, so he’ll right the ship soon, but some of his shots weren’t even close. Tyrese Maxey scored just seven points with six assists despite playing 40 minutes, but no need to worry there, and Matisse Thybulle got his usual two steals with a block with just two points and a board otherwise - as we know, he’s just a defensive specialist.
Mavericks 128, Lakers 110
The headline of this will be the Lakers falling to No. 11 in the West with the loss, but more people should be talking about the Mavs now being just one game back from the No. 3 Warriors, who are struggling mightily without Stephen Curry (foot). Getting there is very realistic at this point based on the respective performances of each team, so we’ll see how it shakes out. Luka Doncic triple-doubled with a massive line that consisted of 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting (6-of-7 from the line), 12 rebounds, 12 assists, one steal, four 3-pointers and only one turnover in 30 minutes. He had a 17/5/5 line after the first quarter and notched his triple-double before even playing 25 minutes, and he also tied Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place on the all-time 30-point triple-doubles list (Oscar Robertson is way up in first with 106 of them). Reggie Bullock scored 17 points with five 3-pointers and a pair of steals, Dwight Powell was alright with 12 points and eight boards and even Davis Bertans caught fire with four triples in just 15 minutes. It was a very well-balanced effort by a team that saw seven of their guys that got in the game hit double figures in scoring, and they’ve now quietly won four of their last five and really made a statement. Russell Westbrook (25/8/6) got more touches without LeBron James (ankle, he’s out Thursday as well) and Anthony Davis (targeting a return Friday or Sunday), and Malik Monk led the way with a 28/4/2/1/1 evening with six triples. Other than Stanley Johnson’s very random 16/5/3/1/1 line in a start, the Lakers were dreadful and aren’t going to care about their individual stats, but rather how in the world they’re going to get back into the play-in with such a tough schedule.
I promise, this game didn’t look like an 18-point loss at all, as the Lakers were down by as many as 37. They even gave up 82 points in the first half, which marks the second most first-half points allowed in franchise history, just one point shy of the record of 83 set in the first half of the Lakers/Celtics game back in 1959, when the team wasn’t even based out of L.A. The entire Lakers team not named Russ/Malik/Stanley were honestly all dreadful, and I won’t list them all because it’s only Carmelo Anthony (four points, four boards, one steal in 15 minutes) who is somewhat worthy of consideration out of the slew of stinkers on the Lakers’ side of the box score. Wenyen Gabriel (eight points, seven boards) wasn’t horrible but he sprained his ankle and is considered day-to-day, officially making him a non-factor with time very much ticking. Dorian Finney-Smith scored just eight points with two triples, a steal and a block and has definitely been quieter on offense but has been solid all in all, while Jalen Brunson (12/5/3 with a steal on 3-of-12 shooting) and Spencer Dinwiddie (13/3/6 with two treys) were both a bit worse than normal but still just fine.
Nets 130, Pistons 123
Easy Money Sniper, aka Kevin Durant, took matters into his own hands in a game that shouldn’t have been as close as it was (thanks Cade), and led the charge with an astounding line of 41 points (14-of-23 FGs, 9-of-9 FTs), 11 rebounds, five assists, one steal, three blocks, four 3-pointers and two giveaways in 39 minutes. It was eerily similar to Giannis’ line maybe besides the threes, but on a night when Kyrie Irving didn’t totally have it going (more below), he had no issue being “that guy.” Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown both shot at least 70% from the floor, with Drummond double-doubling with 14 points, 13 boards and a steal (4-of-4 FTs too) and Bruce Brown tallying a 15/2/4 line with one steal and three 3-pointers despite playing just 23 minutes. Cade Cunningham scored more than twice the amount of the next Piston, going for 34 points (13-of-24 FGs), one board, six assists, two steals, five triples and four turnovers in 32 minutes. This line becomes even more mind-boggling when you consider the facts that 1) he was questionable to return with a tailbone contusion at some point in the second quarter and 2) 27 of his 34 points came in the second half of action. Any other year he’d probably win the Rookie of the Year award, but some missed games to start the year and Evan Mobley’s excellence are the main reasons why he likely won’t win it. Isaiah Stewart was impressive with a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double to go with two dimes, two swats and even two triples (yes, two triples, after making six on the season coming in) in 31 minutes, and Killian Hayes also posted a sneaky good 13/4/3/4/1 line in 33 minutes off the bench. Hayes is so inconsistent it hurts, and you may not want to bother right now, but he could be a nice late-round pick next season.
Kyrie Irving was not “bad” by any means, but everyone has their own standards, and we have to remember this man scored 60 points exactly two weeks ago. Kyrie shot just 7-of-18 from the floor (made all six free throws) for 24 points, adding just one board, four dimes, one steal and a costly six turnovers in 40 minutes. He’s in a mini two-game slump, shooting just 13-of-40 combined (32.5%) in that pair, but maybe he’s just getting used to playing at his home arena and he’s the last guy to worry about. Seth Curry was pretty so-so with a 11/3/4 line but at least had two steals, two triples and made all of his five freebies, which inflated his point total despite shooting just 2-of-7 from the field. Goran Dragic (9/6/3 with a steal and four turnovers in 27 minutes) hasn’t been awful and he’s getting the minutes, but it’s not really translating to stats too well and he can be ignored with Kyrie officially available to play in home games now. Marvin Bagley (11/5/2 with a triple) and Saddiq Bey (15/4/4 with a steal and three triples on 5-of-13 shooting) weren’t all too bad but weren’t anything to write home about either, and both guys should see heavy minutes going forward with Jerami Grant (left calf strain) ruled out for the season.
Clippers 121, Jazz 115
If the Clippers make the playoffs and go on any sort of run in the postseason, this could be a game that they’ll remember for a long time. Not only did they erase a 25-point deficit, but they got one of their two All-Star wing players back, with Paul George getting his first NBA action since December 22. PG-13 not only played, but he made it through 31 minutes (he was supposed to be restricted, oh well) and led both teams with his 34 points (10-of-20 FGs, 8-of-11 FTs), and also filled it up with a couple boards, six dimes, four steals, one block, six 3-pointers and two turnovers. The return couldn’t have been more perfect with all things considered, and he truly looked like he never left. If Kawhi Leonard makes some sort of surprise comeback and George stays healthy, they could be a serious contender if they build up their chemistry in a timely manner. Other notable Clippers were reserves Isaiah Hartenstein (14/7/6 with a steal) and Luke Kennard (17 points, three boards, one steal, four triples), and Hartenstein in particular should really have your attention after playing incredible basketball over the past week. On Utah’s side, Donovan Mitchell was battling an ankle injury but still recorded 33 points on 9-of-12 shooting (9-of-12 FTs), two boards, six assists, one steal, no triples and six turnovers, some of which occurred late and contributed to the team’s devastating loss. Rudy Gobert (right leg) returned from a one-game absence and did his thing with nine efficient points, 16 rebounds, two steals, three blocks and three turnovers in 38 minutes, but his 1-of-6 mark from the free throw line is killer, especially in head-to-head settings. All of Mike Conley (19/2/3 with four treys and a steal), Jordan Clarkson (17/2/5) and even Juancho Hernangomez (13 points, six boards, three triples, one block in 26 minutes of a start) fared quite well too, but Hernangomez was barely averaging six points per game in six previous starts this season, so don’t get too excited.
With the return of Paul George, there were a bunch of flops on the Clippers’ side, including Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Robert Covington, Terance Mann and Amir Coffey. None of them reached double figures in scoring and while Batum had two steals and a block, there wasn’t much else exciting about any of their numbers. I’m not overreacting to one game, but plenty of guys are going to see dips in production and managers should be prepared to plan accordingly. Reggie Jackson did post a 21/3/5 line with a block and two triples, and that’s all good, but his 8-of-24 mark from the floor is just brutal, and per usual, the volume being that high makes it hurt even more. With the loss, the Jazz now have an identical record to the Nuggets (45-31) and sit at No. 5 in the West since they hold the tiebreaker, but the No. 7 Timberwolves are just two games behind both teams, so it could get very, very interesting. No one on the Jazz that usually produces was a letdown, but it’s worth noting that Trent Forrest (2/2/3 in seven minutes) was ruled out with concussion-like symptoms mid-game after receiving a shot to the head by Gobert. Forrest isn’t a fantasy guy, but with Bojan Bogdanovic not able to shake his calf issue, Quin Snyder may be forced to give Nickeil Alexander-Walker (DNP-CD) some more floor time -- he’s played a total of 14 minutes over his past four games.