Sunday’s NBA schedule was a busy one, as there were ten games on the slate including Dwayne Wade’s visit to Madison Square Garden and one of the league’s best all-around players in Kawhi Leonard facing off with highly regarded rookie Luka Doncic. Also in action was All-Star guard Chris Paul, who made his return to the court after missing just over a month due to a hamstring injury. Below is a look at what happened, beginning with Paul’s return and his impact on James Harden.
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As noted above Chris Paul had not appeared in a game in more than a month due to a hamstring injury, so it was expected that the Rockets would exercise caution when it came to his minutes. CP3 was under a minutes restriction of 20-25 minutes, and in the Rockets’ 103-98 comeback victory he played 25. Paul finished the game with 12 points (4-of-8 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), six assists, five rebounds, three steals and two 3-pointers. While looking a bit rusty, as one would expect, during his first stint on the court, Paul looked better as the game progressed and along with Kenneth Faried (12 points, ten rebounds, five assists, two steals) helped supplement the efforts of James Harden as Houston rallied in the fourth quarter.
Paul’s two three-pointers were made during a 13-3 fourth quarter run, and with him on the court the Rockets outscored the Magic by ten points in the final stanza. But while his return was critical to the Rockets’ win, Harden is the headliner on the offensive end of the floor. Paul’s return, once he’s no longer under a minutes restriction, will help Harden with the burden of initiating the offense. But the point guard said after the game that he does not want “The Beard” to change the way in which he operates.
“James is going to be James,” Paul said. I don’t care who’s on the court, me or anybody. He’s going to be him. We need him to be him. That’s why he’s the MVP.”
Sunday night the reigning MVP tallied 40 points (14-of-27 FGs, 8-of-9 FTs), 11 rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots, one steal and four 3-pointers in 37 minutes, and he scored seven points in the final 75 seconds to give Houston the win. Harden’s now scored 30 points or more in 23 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain has the three longest streaks of 30-point games). While that streak lives on, Harden’s run of games in which none of his made field goals were assisted came to an end.
Only 78.6% of Harden’s 14 made field goals were unassisted Sunday, ending a run of six consecutive games in which all of his made baskets were unassisted. The 78.6% mark is Harden’s lowest since January 9 vs. Milwaukee (76.9%), but it should be noted that even when Paul was healthy earlier this season that figure was still well over 60% on most nights. Harden’s an isolation player, and that’s going to be the case even with Paul back on the court. If anything Paul’s presence will impact the supporting cast more that Harden, as Houston will now have a second player capable of creating either for himself or his teammates.
In addition to Faried’s double-double, his second in as many games, Eric Gordon shot 4-of-8 from three and finished with 16 points (6-of-14 FGs), five rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes. In the nine games Gordon played since Paul’s hamstring injury he averaged 19.8 points per game, but did so while shooting 42.1% from the field and 34.6% from three-point range. The Paul/Harden dynamic will be what many focus on as the former shakes off the rust, but the supplementary players in the Houston attack shouldn’t be ignored either.
Paul George shines brightly as Thunder beat Bucks
Sunday’s schedule included a quality matchup between two of the NBA’s top MVP candidates, as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks visited Paul George and the Thunder. George and company won out by the final score of 118-112, with the small forward putting forth a performance worthy of an MVP candidate. George led all scorers with 38 points (12-of-21 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) while also accounting for 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals and eight 3-pointers (on 12 attempts) in 38 minutes. He also made key plays on both ends of the floor down the stretch, including a one-handed dunk on Antetokounmpo and a dagger of a three made over Malcolm Brogdon. Over his last five games, George is shooting 54.3% from three with an average of five made three-pointers per contest. And during that stretch he’s accounting for 31.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.6 steals per night with shooting splits of 48.0/54/3/84.4. Over the last two weeks only one player in the NBA has been better than PG13 in nine-category leagues: James Harden.
But it wouldn’t be fair to act as if George carried the Thunder by himself Sunday night. Russell Westbrook had a tough night shooting the basketball, as he scored 13 points on 5-of-20 shooting from the field, but he tallied 13 rebounds and 11 assist as well. And Jerami Grant excelled on both ends of the floor, as he tallied 16 points (5-of-10 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), five blocks (all coming against Antetokounmpo), four assists, two rebounds and one three-pointer in 33 minutes of action. Terrance Ferguson (15 points, three rebounds, one assist, one block, three 3-pointers), Steven Adams (14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block) and Dennis Schroder (14 points, seven assists, two rebounds, two 3-pointers) also scored in double figures for Oklahoma City.
Giannis Antetokounmpo goes for 27 and 18 in loss
The Greek Freak didn’t have his best night at the office, as he shot 8-of-22 from the field in Milwaukee’s loss to the Thunder. But he still managed to post his sixth consecutive double-double, as he also racked up a game-high 18 rebounds to go along with four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes. This is the second time this season that Antetokounmpo has shot 3-of-5 from deep in a game, with the first being Milwaukee’s January 5 loss to the Raptors. While that percentage is encouraging, it’s difficult to state that he’s turning the corner as a three-point shooter. In the nine games in between 3-of-5 efforts, the MVP candidate shot a combined 3-of-16 from beyond the arc. But that’s fine given what Antetokounmpo produces on a nightly basis, as he’s averaging 26.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 56.4% from the field in January.
All five Bucks starters scored in double figures Sunday night. Khris Middleton added 22 points, six assists, four rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers, and Brook Lopez shot 5-of-6 from three as he scored 19 points with four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal. Over his last five, Lopez is averaging 2.8 three-pointers per game and shooting 53.8% from beyond the arc. Malcolm Brogdon (18 points, six rebounds, four assists, one three-pointer) and Eric Bledsoe (11 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, one three-pointers) round out the quintet, with Tony Snell chipping in with eight points and three rebounds off the bench.
Montrezl Harrrell continues to excel for Clippers
Clippers power forward Montrezl Harrell is in the midst of his best season as a professional, and in Sunday’s 122-108 win over the Kings he added another quality performance to his resume. In 29 minutes off the bench the fourth-year forward shot 11-of-13 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line, finishing with a game-high 25 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. While it’s been established for quite some time that the minutes of centers Marcin Gortat (four points, seven rebounds and one assist in 14 minutes vs. Sacramento) and Boban Marjanovic (DNP-CD) would depend largely upon matchups, Harrell’s been a constant in the Clippers rotation and with good reason.
Averaging 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on the season, Harrell’s accounting for 16.2 points per while shooting 64.7% from the field over his last five. Over the last month the energetic forward is a top-80 player in 9-category leagues and just outside of the top-80 in 8-category leagues. Harrell’s currently owned in 86% of Yahoo leagues, and his positional flexibility (he can be used at either PF or C) helps his value as well. Given his play that number should move closer to 90% in the near future.
Kawhi Leonard surpasses 30-point mark for fourth straight game
After scoring 32 points in Friday’s loss to the Rockets, his first game back after missing four straight due to “load management,” Leonard once again surpassed the 30-point mark in Toronto’s 123-120 win over the Mavericks in Dallas. In 35 minutes he scored 33 points, shooting 10-of-23 from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line, with ten rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers. Leonard didn’t tally any defensive stats but he looked refreshed, which is what the Raptors hoped would be the case after the team decided to sideline its star wing for a week. Leonard has now scored 30 points or more in four consecutive appearances for the first time this season. He had two runs of four straight and one run of six consecutive games with 30 points or more during the 2016-17 season as a member of the Spurs.
Kyle Lowry added 19 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal and five 3-pointers in 37 minutes, with Pascal Siakam (14 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer), Fred VanVleet (13 points, six assists, one rebound, three 3-pointers) and Serge Ibaka (11 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal) among the others of interest. Also, Danny Green put together a solid stat line of ten points (4-of-6 FGs, 2-of-3 3-pointers) seven rebounds, two steals and one assist in 31 minutes of action.
Luka Doncic posts second career triple-double
Also of note from the matchup between the Raptors and Mavericks was the play of rookie forward Luka Doncic, who went off for 35 points (14-of-24 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs), 12 rebounds, ten assists and three 3-pointers in 36 minutes. The triple-double is his second of the season, making him the first teenager in NBA history to post multiple triple-doubles in the same season. Doncic, who is also the first teenager in league history to have a 30-point triple-double, has now scored 30 points or more in consecutive games for the first time in his NBA career.
The lottery pick has managed to put together a solid argument for his inclusion in next month’s All-Star Game in Charlotte. The question between now and Thursday, when the reserves will be announced, is whether or not the West’s many candidates and his lack of NBA experience are held against Doncic by the coaches. Regardless of what happens, there’s no denying the fact that the Mavericks have a special talent to work with as the team builds for the future.
LaMarcus Aldridge posts 30/9/6/1/2 stat line as Spurs beat Wizards
One day after tallying 28 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in a win over the Pelicans in New Orleans, LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 30 on the Wizards Sunday night. In San Antonio’s 132-119 victory the All-Star forward shot 12-of-21 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line, and he also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out six assists with two blocks and one steal. Over his last five Aldridge boasts averages of 25.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game, and he’s shooting 53.2% from the field and 82.8% from the foul line. Over the last month he’s been a top-15 player in nine-category leagues, and that’s with and average of 0.1 made three-pointers per game. San Antonio takes fewer three-pointers than any team in the NBA but the Spurs lead the league in three-point percentage, as players who aren’t good perimeter shooters simply leave that responsibility to those who can shoot.
Sunday night the Spurs shot 16-of-34 from three, with Davis Bertans (5-of-8), Bryn Forbes (4-of-7), Patty Mills (3-of-6) and Marco Belinelli (3-of-6) responsible for 15 of the makes. Thanks to the work of Aldridge in the mid-range and post areas and the team’s quartet of capable three-point shooters, San Antonio took care of business despite playing without DeMar DeRozan (knee) for the second consecutive game.
Donovan Mitchell continues his resurgence
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell got off to a slow start this season, as teams that may have been caught by surprise during his rookie season were well-prepared for the budding star. But in recent weeks he’s turned the corner, and in Utah’s 125-111 win over Minnesota he racked up 29 points (10-of-22 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), five assists, four rebounds and two 3-pointers with just one turnover in 36 minutes. Over his last five Mitchell’s averaging 29.6 points, 6.2 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game with shooting splits of 43.9/40.0/73.9. His overall field goal percentage isn’t much higher than his mark for the season (42.3%), but Mitchell’s made up for that by earning more trips to the foul line.
During this five-game stretch he’s averaging 9.2 free throw attempts per game, nearly double his season average (4.7 FTAs per game). In total seven Jazz players scored in double figures, including Ricky Rubio (18 points, eight assists, four rebounds, two steals) and Rudy Gobert (17 points, four rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals).
Dwyane Wade posts double-double in penultimate trip to MSG
The Miami Heat will play one more game at Madison Square Garden this season, with the team scheduled to visit March 30. But the atmosphere Sunday night would lead one to believe that this was Dwyane Wade’s last trip to the World’s Most Famous Arena, and he gave the fans something to cheer about in Miami’s 106-97 victory. Wade played 28 minutes and tallied 15 points (5-of-12 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), ten rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer, notching his third double-double of the season (second in his last five games). Over his last five Flash hasn’t shot the ball well, making just 39.3% of his shots from the field and 33.3% of his three-point attempts, but he has accounted for 6.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game (he’s averaging 4.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game for the season).
Also playing well for the Heat was Wayne Ellington, who in his return to the lineup scored 19 points and shot 4-of-11 from three. He didn’t provide much outside of the points and made threes, grabbing just one rebound, but this wasn’t a bad performance for a player who missed the five games prior. Hassan Whiteside tallied 13 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 24 minutes, and Justise Winslow put up a stat line of 11 points, six assists, five rebounds, one block and two 3-pointers.
Derrick Jones Jr. suffers right knee injury
If there was a negative for the Heat it was the right knee injury suffered by Derrick Jones Jr., with the ultra-athletic forward playing just four minutes as a result. While the X-rays were negative, he has an MRI scheduled for Monday that will reveal a lot more about the severity of the injury and how much time he could miss. Prior to Sunday the third-year forward reached double figures in two of his last three games, which included and 18-point, nine-rebound effort against the Celtics January 21.
Ante Zizic grabs career-high 14 rebounds
Five Cavaliers scored in double figures in Sunday’s 104-101 win over the Bulls in Chicago, with Alec Burks (18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three 3-pointers) and Jordan Clarkson (18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one three-pointer) leading the way. But neither of those two guards established a new career-high in a statistical category Sunday afternoon. The player who did was center Ante Zizic, who in 36 minutes grabbed 14 rebounds to go along with eight points (4-of-11 FGs), three assists, one steal and one blocked shot.
With Tristan Thompson (foot) expected to miss another 1-2 weeks the Cavaliers aren’t particularly deep in the post, with Larry Nance Jr. and Channing Frye being the reserves. That means Zizic, who’s averaging 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last five, won’t lack for playing time as Cleveland continues its slow march to the NBA Draft lottery. Over his last two weeks, Zizic has been a top-80 player in nine-category leagues.
Ivica Zubac goes for 24 & 16 as Lakers beat Suns
With Deandre Ayton out of the lineup and Richaun Holmes coming off of the bench in his return to the lineup, the Suns were unable to provide much resistance to the Lakers in the paint Sunday night. One player who took full advantage was Lakers center Ivica Zubac, who racked up 24 points (9-of-16 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs), 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in 35 minutes as the Lakers won by a 116-102 final score. With Kyle Kuzma (hip) out and LeBron James (groin) still working his way back Los Angeles hit the paint hard, and the approach paid off.
Zubac, who scored a career-high 26 points in the January 17 overtime win over the Thunder, was one of three Lakers to score at least 20 points against the Suns. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 24 points and Brandon Ingram 22, and in the fourth quarter air-guitar maestro Lance Stephenson got hot and finished with 17 points (7-of-10 FGs, 3-of-5 3-pointers), four assists, three rebounds and one steal. It wasn’t all good for the Lakers however, as Josh Hart asked to leave the game in the second half due to knee tendinitis. There’s a chance that he won’t practice Monday, and there’s been no determination regarding his status for Tuesday’s game against the 76ers.
Andrew Wiggins scores 35 points in losing effort
While the Timberwolves struggled mightily on the defensive end in the team’s 125-111 loss to the Jazz, wing Andrew Wiggins had one of his best offensive games of the season. Shooting 13-of-23 from the field, 6-of-7 from the foul line and 3-of-8 from beyond the arc, Wiggins scored a game-high 35 points with four assists, three rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes. This is the third time this month the Wiggins has scored 30 points or more in a game; by comparison he had just one such effort in the first two-plus months of the season. Over his last five games Wiggins is averaging 21.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per, and those numbers would be even higher with better shooting splits.
During this stretch he’s shooting just 38.5% from the field, 29.2% from three and 63.3% from the foul line. If Wiggins’ increased aggression on the offensive end can eventually come with higher efficiency, not only would his individual numbers improve but it would help his teammates as well. Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three blocks, with Jerryd Bayless (19 points, six assists, three rebounds and four 3-pointers) and Luol Deng (15 points, four rebounds, two steals) also scoring in double figures. Dario Saric grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds (tied with Utah’s Derrick Favors).
Aaron Gordon tallies second straight double-double
After leading for three-plus quarters the Magic were unable to hold off James Harden and the Rockets, but the play of forward Aaron Gordon was a positive for Steve Clifford’s team. Gordon played 40 minutes Sunday, finishing with 23 points (9-of-18 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), ten rebounds four assists and three 3-pointers. Not only was this his second consecutive double-double, but in both games Gordon tallied at least 20 points and ten rebounds. The last time Gordon posted double-doubles of at least 20 points and ten rebounds in back-to-back games: March 31 and April 1, 2017 against the Celtics (32 points, 16 rebounds) and Nets (22 points, 15 rebounds).
With Zach LaVine’s lone double-double of the season (October 27 vs. Atlanta) coming at a time when Lauri Markkanen was out due to injury, the two had yet to post one in the same game in 2018-19. That changed in Sunday’s loss to the Cavaliers, as Markkanen tallied 21 points (6-of-15 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), 15 rebounds, one assist, one steal and four 3-pointers and LaVine added 17 points (6-of-17 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), 12 rebounds and two assists. Markkanen, who now has six double-doubles on the season, reached double digits in rebounds for just the second time this month (6.8 rpg in January) after doing so four times in December.
Thomas Bryant extends double-digit scoring streak to seven
While Washington had three players score 20 points or more in Sunday’s loss the Spurs, with Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky scoring 21 apiece and Trevor Ariza 20, the focus here is young center Thomas Bryant. Bryant played 30 minutes, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line and finishing with 15 poitns, ten rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer. Bryant, who played a total of 31 minutes in six appearances before November 20, has now scored ten points or more in seven consecutive games (the longest such streak of his career).
Averaging 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for the season, in January the second-year center is contributing 12.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per while shooting 66.7% from the field. Bryant doesn’t provide much production outside of points and rebounds, but over the last month he’s been a top-60 player in nine-category leagues.
Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) misses second half
Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina made his second consecutive start Sunday, but unfortunately for the second-year pro his night came to a premature end. Ntilikina left the game in the second quarter with a sore groin and did not return, leaving the ball-handling duties to a veteran in Trey Burke who only rejoined the rotation due to Emmanuel Mudiay’s shoulder injury and rookie guard Allonzo Trier. Ntilikina’s considered to be doubtful for Monday’s game against the Hornets, and with Mudiay still out Burke and Trier are in line to benefit from a minutes standpoint. Both reached double digits Sunday, with Burke tallying 16 points, two assists and one rebound and Trier finishing with 11 points, two rebounds and two assists. Time Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 22 points, but the other four starters combined to score 16 points in the loss.
DeAnthony Melton expected to be out until All-Star break
Due to a left ankle injury the Suns guard is expected to miss the next three weeks, which in theory would open up a few more minutes for fellow rookie Elie Okobo. In Sunday’s loss to the Lakers Okobo started and played 22 minutes, finishing the game with four points (2-of-6 FGs), three assists, two rebounds and one blocked shot. Devin Booker, who was doubled often by the Lakers, was asked to do more work on the ball and finished the frustrating night with 21 points (9-of-18 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), six assists and two rebounds. A positive for the Suns was the return of Richaun Holmes, who played 27 minutes off the bench and tallied 12 points, ten rebounds, four blocked shots, one assist and one steal. With Dragan Bender struggling and the aforementioned Ayton still out, Holmes is a key figure for a team that’s really lacking quality options in the paint.
Monday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)
New York at Charlotte, 7 PM
Golden State at Indiana, 7 PM
Brooklyn at Boston, 7:30 PM
Denver at Memphis, 8 PM
Atlanta at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM