With Saturday’s five-game slate headlined by a matchup between the reigning NBA champions and a team hailed by many as the favorite to win it all this season, few expected to be focused on an extraordinarily bad trade that was completed last year. But thanks to T.J. Warren that’s exactly what happened, as his 53-point effort against the 76ers led to many revisiting Phoenix’s decision to trade him to Indiana for cash considerations.
Heat 125, Nuggets 105
For the first time since joining the Heat, Meyers Leonard wasn’t in the starting lineup. Not only was he replaced by Jae Crowder, with Erik Spoelstra going to a smaller first unit, but Leonard ultimately picked up the dreaded DNP-CD. That doesn’t bode well for him when it comes to his place in the rotation moving forward, as Kelly Olynyk is a better fit as a stretch five. Olynyk was scoreless during the first three quarters but caught fire in the fourth, scoring 20 points and knocking down four 3-pointers. Spoelstra making the switch to Crowder while also having the ability to use Derrick Jones Jr. at the four may make Leonard the odd man out in the frontcourt.
Jimmy Butler (22/4/7/3 in 30 minutes) and Bam Adebayo (22/9/6 in 28 minutes) led the way offensively for the Heat, with Crowder (9/7/1/1) and Duncan Robinson (17/2/1) hitting three 3-pointers apiece. Miami went ten deep Saturday, with 11th man Solomon Hill playing a couple minutes to close things out. That was in a blowout, and rotations tend to shrink when the postseason rolls around.
Denver was once again without Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gary Harris, leaving Monte Morris (13/3/5 in 28 minutes), Torrey Craig (10/5/4/1 with two 3-pointers in 28 minutes) and Michael Porter Jr. (11/1/3 with one block and two 3-pointers in 25 minutes) to join Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in the starting lineup. Morris’ shift from reserve to starter opens up minutes for P.J. Dozier, who played 16 minutes and finished with nine points, two rebounds and four assists. He isn’t much of an option in any fantasy format right now. Nine Nuggets played at least 16 minutes on the day and a tenth rotation player, rookie Bol Bol, played 12.
Jokic (19/7/6/1/1 with one 3-pointer) remains a highly valuable fantasy option but the same can’t be said for Millsap, who finished the loss with eight points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals and one 3-pointer in 28 minutes. Personally I’d take Jerami Grant if forced to choose between he and Millsap, as Grant’s athleticism has made him a better choice despite his coming off the bench. In 26 minutes Saturday, Grant racked up 19 points, two rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer. No word yet with regard to when Denver’s rotation will be back to full strength, but the Nuggets need those guys back as Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston are all right on their heels.
Thunder 110, Jazz 94
Speaking of the race for the 3-seed, Oklahoma City took a big step forward with its blowout of the Jazz. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19/2/6/3 with two 3-pointers) and Chris Paul (18/7/7/2 with one 3-pointer) led the way offensively, with six Thunder players scoring in double figures. If there’s a question to be answered rotation-wise when it comes to the Thunder is what will happen when Dennis Schroder (13/2/2/1 in 22 minutes) leaves the bubble for the birth of his second child. To prepare for that moment coach Billy Donovan has looked to get Gilgeous-Alexander more time on the floor as the lone point guard, something that he will have to do when Schroder departs.
An overwhelming majority of SGA’s minutes have been played either at the two or the three (when sharing the floor with Paul and Schroder), hence the need to get him more time at the point. He didn’t play any minutes without those two on Saturday, but that’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. In theory Gilgeous-Alexander would be a more effective assist man in that scenario, but we’ll have to wait and see. Steven Adams (16/11/2 with two blocks) posted a double-double, Nerlens Noel blocked four shots, and Luguentz Dort did a very good job defending Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell shot 5-of-15 from the field, finishing with 13 points, one rebound, four assists and four turnovers in 32 minutes. Four of Utah’s five starters played between 29 and 32 minutes, with Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang playing 24 and 25 minutes, respectively. Emmanuel Mudiay and Tony Bradley complete the rotation, but Juwan Morgan played seven minutes in the second half after the outcome was essentially decided. He isn’t a fantasy option, because he’s out of the rotation when the Jazz are competitive.
Mike Conley (12/2/4/1 with one 3-pointer) and Rudy Gobert (10/7/2 steals/2 blocks) joined Mitchell in double figures, with Clarkson (4-of-17 FGs) scoring 11 points and Royce O’Neale 10. The Jazz need to get Joe Ingles (7/2/4/2 with one 3-pointer) going, but he did manage to contribute in non-scoring areas Saturday. With Bojan Bogdanovic done for the season Utah will need others to step forward offensively to help shoulder the load, and that didn’t happen against the Thunder.
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Clippers 126, Pelicans 103
Zion Williamson remains on a minutes limit, as the Pelicans continue to use him in “bursts.” He’ll start a quarter, but after being moved from the game that’s it for the rookie until the next stanza. Williamson played just 14 minutes Saturday, with just over five coming in the first quarter, another five in the second and four in the third. With the Pelicans trailing by as much as 42 during that period, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that we’d seen the last of Zion for the day. No fourth quarter minutes, and he finished with a line of seven points, five rebounds and three turnovers.
It’s likely that he’ll be on a similar restriction for the Pelicans’ next game, and that combined with the team’s place in the standings (they’re 1.5 games behind ninth-place Portland) is reason to not consider Williamson in any fantasy format. And given the way in which the Pelicans have handled him, it would not come as a surprise if Williamson were held out once the team has not shot of reaching the playoffs. Another player worth tracking in that regard is Derrick Favors, who played 21 minutes Saturday. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to use those final games to get rookie Jaxson Hayes more game experience if New Orleans is simply playing out the string.
The Clippers have no such concerns, as they extended their lead on Denver for the 2-seed to two games. L.A. set a new franchise record with 25 3-pointers, and Paul George (28/3/1/3 with eight 3-pointers) led the way. Kawhi Leonard (24/6/5/1 with two 3-pointers) was next in line points-wise, while Patrick Beverley (9/4/3/1), Reggie Jackson (15/8/2/2) and JaMychal Gree (9/4/2) made three 3-pointers apiece. Beverley is back in the starting lineup, but he was on a minutes restriction and played just 18 Saturday. His minutes should increase as the Clippers work their way towards the postseason.
And Jackson still has some short-term fantasy value as a reserve. The Clippers are still without Lou Williams (quarantine) and Montrezl Harrell (personal), and with Landry Shamet still working off the rust Jackson won’t lack for scoring opportunities. I’d continue to use him to fill out a DFS roster, especially if the price tag is relatively cheap.
Pacers 127, 76ers 121
T.J. Warren out-dueled Joel Embiid, as he scored a career-high 53 points on 20-of-29 shooting from the field. Warren also knocked down nine 3-pointers, grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists and blocked two shots in his 41 minutes on the floor. He’s the third player since 2010 to score 50 points or more in a game with five or fewer free throw attempts, joining Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Malcolm Brogdon (neck) being sidelined freed up even more opportunities for Warren to score, and he was hot from the start. Nineteen points in the first quarter and 29 at the half, and Philadelphia had no answer for him.
Aaron Holiday and Victor Oladipo added 15 points apiece, with Oladipo playing 32 minutes (he was expected to play 28-30 minutes). Holiday had the ball in his hands more with Brogdon out, and he dished out a game-high 10 assists with just one turnover. T.J. McConnell added eight assists off the bench while also tallying 10 points, three rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes. Justin Holiday replaced Brogdon in the starting lineup and filled the power forward role, with Warren at the three. Holiday didn’t have a great overall game, but he did manage to lead the Pacers with four steals.
His defensive production makes Holiday a worthwhile option to fill out a DFS roster, as his price tag tends to be quite low. Myles Turner’s struggles with foul trouble meant spot minutes at center for both JaKarr Sampson and T.J. Leaf, but neither is worth rolling the dice on. Just hope that Turner can bounce back from what was a tough individual matchup for him.
Embiid (41/21/4/1/3 with one 3-pointer), Tobias Harris (30/8/1 steal/1 block and three 3-pointers) and Ben Simmons (19/13/4/1) led the way for Philadelphia, while guards Josh Richardson and Shake Milton struggled mightily. Embiid and Milton had a heated exchange at the end of the first quarter but Brett Brown didn’t think it was a big deal when asked following the game. It's worth noting that this was the first actual game action for Philadelphia's new starting five, so there will be hiccups. The All-Star center also appeared to tweak his ankle during the fourth, but after taking his customary break he was back on the court for the stretch run. Hopefully that injury doesn’t linger, as Embiid was just getting over a sore calf that sidelined him for Philly’s last two scrimmages.
Al Horford (10/6/2/1 block and one 3-pointer) moved back to the second unit, where his fantasy value is nowhere near what it is when he starts. There were times when he and Embiid were on the court together, but Horford struggled to make an impact in those situations. I wouldn’t say that Horford holds no fantasy value as that would be extreme, but there are other productive forwards that will be cheaper if you’re looking to fill out a DFS roster. Raul Neto (back) was back in the rotation, but he was largely ineffective in his 21 minutes off the bench. He was better than Milton, who failed to score and had as many turnovers as assists (three), but that isn’t saying much.
Raptors 107, Lakers 92
Kyle Lowry stole the show with the second 30/10 game of his career, finishing with a line of 33 points, 14 rebounds (a career-high), six assists, one steal and five 3-pointers in 35 minutes. OG Anunoby added 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, two steals and three 3-pointers in 33 minutes, with Pascal Siakam (15/9/3/2/2 with two 3-pointers) and Fred VanVleet (13/5/11/1/1 with three 3-pointers) also scoring in double figures. But one of the most impactful performances came from a player who scored just eight points.
Marc Gasol rejoined the starting lineup and played 25 minutes, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists. Not the most impressive line, but his impact on the Raptors defense cannot be ignored. When he was on the floor the Lakers had an offensive rating of 60.8, and Anthony Davis had an especially hard time. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, three blocks and one 3-pointer, shooting 2-of-7 from the field and 9-of-9 from the foul line. Toronto attackEd Davis with aggressive double-teams early, and the Lakers countered by involving him in more pick-and-roll actions. But it wasn’t enough to get Davis untracked, as evidenced by the final stat line.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tweaked his ankle late in the first quarter, but was back on the court for the second half. He played a total of five minutes, and he was on the outskirts of the rotation when healthy. Toronto went eight deep, with Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and Terence Davis being the most-used reserves.
Going back to the Lakers, LeBron James (20/10/5/1 block and two 3-pointers) led the way offensively, with Kyle Kuzma (16/4/1/1 block and three 3-pointers), Dion Waiters (12/3/2/1 block and two 3-pointers) and Alex Caruso (11/3 assists/3 steals/1 block and one 3-pointer) joining he and Davis and double figures. Before the game Frank Vogel said that he wanted to find more minutes for Markieff Morris and J.R. Smith, and Morris played 10 minutes while Smith played eight. Just stick with Kuzma, Caruso and Waiters when looking at Lakers reserves that could potentially be used in a fantasy roster.
Caruso played 24 minutes and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played 30, with Vogel making good on another pregame statement that he wanted to give those two more responsibility. With Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley no longer in the fold, those two will be key as the Lakers look to win the franchise’s 17th title.