Orlando having its three-game win streak come to an end Wednesday night in Toronto was bad enough, with the Magic losing by a 113-97 final score. What made it even worse was the fact that two starters, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, suffered ankle injuries during the game. On Thursday more was learned about both injuries and how much time the players could possibly miss, with the news being better with regards to Gordon’s status.
Gordon’s MRI revealed a right ankle contusion, and according to the team when he’ll return to action will depend upon how the ankle responds to treatment. As for Vucevic, who made his first All-Star team last season, he was diagnosed with a lateral sprain in his right ankle and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. It was reported Thursday afternoon that he’ll be out for four weeks, but all that’s known for sure at this stage is that he’ll miss Orlando’s next five games.
So who steps forward for the Magic? With regards to the positions that Gordon and Vucevic play, Jonathan Isaac (who should already be rostered in most leagues) is the obvious choice. In 12 games he’s averaging 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 three-pointers per, with shooting splits of 48.2% from the field, 32.6% from three and 86.2% from the foul line. Al-Farouq Aminu, who’s playing 21.6 minutes per game this season, stands to see an increase in opportunities as well but after that it’s slim pickings.
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Mo Bamba hasn’t been all that productive in his 12 appearances, posting averages of 3.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game, and Khem Birch has seen spot duty in his five games played. Of the three non-Isaac forwards/centers mentioned Aminu is the most proven, but none offer much in the way of upside.
Given the fact that Vucevic and Gordon combine to score just over 30 points per game, those shots are going to have to be taken by someone. With that being the case Evan Fournier’s usage should go up, even though he’s already tied with Vucevic to lead the team in scoring (17.1 ppg). And Markelle Fultz stands to see an increase in his scoring opportunities as well. Averaging 7.3 minutes per game playing without Vucevic, in those minutes Fultz is accounting for 4.1 points and 1.6 assists per while shooting 48.6% from the field. Losing Vooch (and Gordon) is a big deal for Orlando, but it gives a player like Fultz the chance to do more individually. We’ll see if he can take advantage of the opportunity.
There were only two games on the NBA schedule Thursday, with the Bucks hosting the shorthanded Trail Blazers and the Pelicans visiting Phoenix.
Bucks 137, Trail Blazers 129 — While Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t have his best night shooting the basketball, going 9-of-27 from the field and 5-of-10 from the foul line, he did manage to put up a solid stat line. The reigning MVP finished with 24 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists, three steals, one blocked shot and one three-pointer, numbers that played very well in DFS. The five turnovers weren’t great, but Giannis did more than enough to both make up for the turnovers and shooting percentages and put his team in position to win. Also productive was Eric Bledsoe, who shot 11-of-21 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line, scoring 30 points with six assists, four rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers.
In total six of the ten Bucks players who saw action scored in double figures. Pat Connaughton, who scored a total of 21 points in his first eight appearances this month, shot 7-of-10 and finished with 18 points, four rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes. With Khris Middleton sidelined due to a left thigh contusion, Connaughton and Sterling Brown (8/6/1 with two 3-pointers) are two of the three guards who have been given the opportunity to fill the void. The other is second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo, who has started Milwaukee’s last five games and has reached double figures in four of them.
Thursday’s outing was DiVincenzo’s best of the season, as he tallied 16 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes. While it would be easy to put some of this on the matchup, as Portland was poor defensively even before the roster was hit hard by injuries, DiVincenzo has been playing well of late. Currently rostered in just 22% of Yahoo leagues, it would be a good idea to grab him with Middleton set to miss a total of three-to-four weeks as he recovers.
Also reaching double figures for the Bucks were Wesley Matthews (three rebounds, one assist and four 3-pointers) and Brook Lopez (three assists, two blocks, one steal and two 3-pointers), who scored 12 and ten points, respectively. Interestingly the latter failed to grab a single rebound, the first time that he’s failed to do so in a game in which he’s played at least 30 minutes since March 7, 2018 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
As noted above Portland’s rotation is nowhere near complete, with Damian Lillard (back spasms) and Hassan Whiteside (right hip) both sitting out Thursday’s game. Whiteside’s absence meant another change to the starting lineup, with Anthony Tolliver serving as the de facto center in the starting lineup. With he, Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood starting in the front court and C.J. McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. in the backcourt, the Trail Blazers were fighting an uphill battle from the start.
While Tolliver (8/3/2 with one block and two 3-pointers) didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, his backup had a surprisingly good night. Skal Labissiere played a season-high 28 minutes off the bench and had one of the best games of his career, scoring 22 points (10-of-16 FGs) with 12 rebounds, five blocks, three assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. The fourth-year power forward surpassed the 20-point mark for just the sixth time in his career, and for the first time this season.
At minimum he’s earned himself a longer look, especially if Whiteside has to miss more time. If Labissiere can be added to your roster without having to give up any value, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to at least consider the possibility. Given his career to date that is admittedly a shocking thing to write, but that’s where we are at this point thanks to Portland’s front court injuries.
McCollum led the way offensively, shooting 15-of-29 from the field and tallying 37 points, ten assists, six rebounds, three blocks and five 3-pointers in 38 minutes. With Lillard down there really aren’t many places where Portland can turn for consistent scoring, so he’s going to get up even more shots than he did when his “partner in crime” was healthy. The hope is that Portland’s rotation issues don’t torpedo McCollum’s shooting percentages, and that didn’t happen Thursday night.
The aforementioned Anthony made his second straight start, and things went better for him in Milwaukee than they did in his debut Tuesday in New Orleans (as one would expect). He played 29 minutes, shooting 6-of-15 from the field and tallying 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three 3-pointers (on five attempts).
Anthony was one of three Trail Blazers to reach double figures in field goal attempts, with McCollum and Labissiere being the others. And Melo's is going to continue to get the shots up, due to both the Lillard/Whiteside injuries and Portland’s lack of consistent front court scoring. Portland ranks 27th in the NBA in points per game from the forward position and 18th at center. The problem is that Anthony doesn’t do much for Portland defensively, and the issues on that end of the floor that were problematic before his arrival remain. Losing both Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless has hurt the Blazers defensively, and finding a solution won’t be easy.
Trent Jr. and Hood (four assists, three rebounds, two steals and one three-pointer) scored 13 and 11 points apiece, with the former shooting 3-of-4 from three and also accounting for two assists, two blocks, one rebound and one steal in 21 minutes. The second-year guard was making his first start of the season, with Anfernee Simons (six points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 17 minutes) moving back to the bench.
Kent Bazemore also struggled to get going off the bench, playing 18 minutes and scoring two points (1-of-8 FGs). But he managed to contribute in other areas, dishing out six assists, grabbing five rebounds and tallying a steal as well. Mario Hezonja played ten minutes, finishing with more fouls (four) than shot attempts (zero) or rebounds (one).
Pelicans 124, Suns 121 — In his second game back from a knee injury that sidelined him for four, Brandon Ingram had a huge fourth quarter to lead New Orleans past Phoenix. He scored 15 of his 28 points (9-of-19 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs) in the final stanza, and along with the point total he also accounted for eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks, one steal and three 3-pointers. Ingram has now scored 21 points or more in five straight and ten of his 11 games this season, and he’s been a top-20 player in both eight- and nine-category formats. The combination of production and positional versatility makes Ingram a very valuable player in all leagues.
In total New Orleans had four double-digit scorers, with J.J. Redick adding 26 points (five rebounds, two assists, one steal and five 3-pointers), Jrue Holiday (nine assists, four rebounds, three assists, one block and one three-pointer) 23 and E'Twaun Moore (five rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers) 19. Redick shot 10-of-14 from the field, which included a 5-of-8 night from beyond the arc.
New Orleans also welcomed back Lonzo Ball, who was on a minutes restriction and was limited to 19 minutes as a result. He shot 3-of-9 from the field, scoring nine points with five assists, one rebound and two 3-pointers. Jaxson Hayes wasn’t as impactful as he was on Tuesday, finishing with seven points, four rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot, while fellow starter Kenrich Williams accounted for nine rebounds, two blocks, one assist and one steal to go along with two points. Derrick Favors (back spasms) won’t be traveling with the team to Saturday’s game in Utah according to Tony Jones of The Athletic, which ensures Hayes of quality minutes for at least one more game.
Going back to Williams, he isn’t much of a scorer but he does a lot of the little things that help teams win. And on many nights, that has translated into solid rebounding/defensive numbers. That means that Williams has fantasy value, especially in deeper leagues.
Nicolo Melli played 21 minutes, posting a line of nine points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and two 3-pointers, while Frank Jackson (2/3/1) was quiet in his 14 minutes of action. Nickeil Alexander-Walker only played two minutes, getting on the floor due to Alvin Gentry’s desire to get Holiday a couple minutes’ rest towards the end of the third quarter. After going off in games against Miami and Golden State, the rookie guard hasn’t done much in the two contests since. Given the up-and-down nature of his production, now may be a good time for those who have Alexander-Walker on their rosters to cut bait.
For the Suns, Frank Kaminsky made his second straight start in place of the injured Aron Baynes (hip). Kaminsky played 24 minutes, scoring 14 points with five rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer. With Dario Saric (5/5/1/1 with one three-pointer) playing 16 minutes and Cheick Diallo (8/3/1 with one block) 14, there were times when Phoenix went with a smaller lineup. Mikal Bridges played 36 minutes off the bench, scoring 12 points with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Elie Okobo and Cameron Johnson played 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, with the former tallying 11 points, seven assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. With Tyler Johnson (6/5/4/2/2 with one three-pointer) starting in place of Ricky Rubio (back spasms), Okobo moved into the backup point guard role and played well. He’s played 18 and 20 minutes in the two games that Rubio has missed, dishing out a total of 12 assists. While solid, that’s not enough to warrant grabbing him off the waiver wire. As for Johnson, the rookie wing shot 3-of-4 from three, scoring 14 points with two steals.
Kelly Oubre paced the starters with 25 points, shooting 7-of-17 from the field and 9-of-9 from the foul line. He also tallied six rebounds, four assists and two 3-pointers in his 35 minutes on the floor. Devin Booker added 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two 3-pointers, but he also turned the ball over six times. He’s now turned the ball over four times or more in six of Phoenix’s last ten games, and that’s been an issue whether Rubio is in the lineup or not. A top-30 player in nine-cat formats, Booker is within the top-20 in eight-cat when turnovers are punted.
Friday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)
Atlanta at Detroit, 7 PM
Charlotte at Washington, 7 PM
Sacramento at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM
Miami at Chicago, 8 PM
LA Lakers at Oklahoma City, 8 PM
San Antonio, at Philadelphia, 8 PM
Cleveland at Dallas, 8:30 PM
Golden State at Utah, 9 PM
Boston at Denver, 9 PM
Houston at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM