The final day of games before Christmas was an especially busy one in the NBA, as there were 11 games on the schedule. Among the standouts were a trio of rookies, Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Luka Doncic, and veterans such as Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Myles Turner also produced quality performances.
But before getting into those games we’ll take a look at the Warriors’ win over the Clippers, with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant leading the home team on a night that saw the visitors put forth an impressive three-point shooting exhibition.
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In recent years, the basketball world has grown accustomed to watching the Warriors produce impressive displays of perimeter marksmanship. But despite Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant combining to score 77 points, that was not the case in Sunday’s 129-127 win over the LA Clippers. The numbers put up by that tandem were nothing to scoff at, as Curry and Durant helped hold off a team that shot a combined 18-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Curry finished the night with 42 points (12-of-22 FGs, 12-of-13 FTs), the last two coming on a layup with five-tenths of a second remaining to give Golden State the win, six rebounds, two assists one steal and six 3-pointers. Curry did this despite receiving some attention from the training staff for an apparent right leg injury suffered during the first quarter. As for Durant, he supplemented his teammate’s effort with 35 points (10-of-19 FGs, 12-of-15 FTs), 12 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, one steal and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes, returning to the game after briefly leaving to have his right ankle sprain attended to.
And with Klay Thompson (4-of-15 FGs, 12 points) continuing to struggle from the field, the Warriors needed every point scored by Curry and Durant to beat a Clippers squad that shot 13-of-16 from three in the first half. Tobias Harris (32 points, nine rebounds, two assists, six 3-pointers) and Danilo Gallinari (25 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, five 3-pointers) led the way for the visitors, with Lou Williams chipping in with 25 points of his own off the bench.
While Harris has been playing at an All-Star level for much of this season, Gallinari’s been good as well. After averaging 15.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in his first season as a Clipper, the Italian has been even better in his second. Gallinari’s averaging 19.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per game, with the points, rebounds and three-point averages being the best of his career to date. Harris is also in the midst of a career year, as he’s up to 21.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 three-pointers per game while shooting nearly 51% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc.
Harris and Gallinari have been dependable fantasy options this season, but they still didn’t have enough to take down the tandem of Curry and Durant. While the former surpassed the 40-point mark for the third time this season, the latter has scored 30 points or more 15 times (four games of 40 points or more) and is averaging 29.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.8 three-pointers per game. Just imagine what Durant, a career 38.3% shooter from three, would be putting up numbers-wise if he were shooting a higher percentage than his current mark of 36.5% from beyond the arc.
The Warriors have managed to hold off the Mavericks and Clippers in high-scoring thrillers, and Tuesday’s matchup with the Lakers could produce more of the same. And while the likes of Curry, Durant and LeBron James will grab the headlines, you can’t help but think that there are plenty who hope to see Klay Thompson break out after getting off to a slow start to the season.
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Alex Len takes advantage of opportunity
With John Collins (ankle) out of the lineup for the Hawks, Alex Len figured more prominently in the team’s game plan for Sunday’s game against the Pistons. It’s safe to say that the Maryland product made the best of his opportunity, finishing with 15 points (7-of-18 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), 17 rebounds, three blocked shots, one assist and one steal in 35 minutes. It isn’t as if Len has lack for minutes this season, as he’s averaging 19.2 per game, but there is a difference between being a supplementary piece who comes off the bench and being a guy the team has to rely on for production.
Len, who’s now reached double figures in scoring in three consecutive games, held his own against Pistons center Andre Drummond (13 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals) and that — along with Vince Carter scoring 18 off the bench — was one reason why the Hawks were able to leave Detroit with the win. As for Len’s fantasy value, it depends far too much upon Collins’ health to turn him into a consistent option for rosters. That being said, the next time the Hawks’ starting power forward is out of the lineup it may not be a bad idea to check into Len’s availability.
Myles Turner extends double-double streak to four
With the visiting Wizards having played a triple-overtime game the night before, it should come as no surprise that the Pacers had more “fuel in the tank” as Sunday’s matchup in Indianapolis wore on. One of the standouts in Indiana’s 105-89 win was center Myles Turner, who played 32 minutes and accounted for 18 points (8-of-17 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs), 17 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one steal and one three-pointer. The rebound total is a season-high for Turner, and he’s now reached double figures in boards eight times this month. He did so twice in October and November, combined.
Also, Turner’s posted a double-double in four consecutive games and is now up to nine on the season. The third-year big man has been noticeably more productive this month, increasing his fantasy value as a result. Also, Turner’s production is one reason why the Pacers are 9-2 in December despite not having Victor Oladipo for the first five games.
More aggressive Lauri Markkanen paying dividends for Bulls
Bulls second-year forward Lauri Markkanen is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the team’s rebuilding project, and he showed why that’s the case in Sunday’s win over the Cavaliers. The Arizona product finished with 31 points (11-of-18 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), four rebounds, three steals and five 3-pointers in 32 minutes played. The key for Markkanen is to be aggressive on a consistent basis, which was not the case in Wednesday’s loss to Brooklyn. He attempted just six shots in that game, with head coach Jim Boylen saying that Markkanen needed to be getting up at least 15 shots per game. Markkanen’s last two outings since: 20 shots against the Magic and 18 against the Cavaliers, and he’s been efficient as well. The 7-foot tall forward has scored a total of 63 points over the last two games, shooting a combined 23-of-38 from the field (9-of-16 3-pointers) with ten rebounds, six assists and just two turnovers. Over his last five games Markkanen is averaging 22.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.0 3-pointers per game with shooting splits of 51.9/50.0/86.7.
Justise Winslow fills the stat sheet as Heat beat Magic
The loss of Goran Dragic (knee), who underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his knee last week, means that Miami has to look to some “unconventional” sources to initiate things on the offensive end of the floor. The player most impacted by this has been Justise Winslow, who’s serving as the primary playmaker for the starting unit (Dwyane Wade does so for the second unit). Sunday evening the Duke product put forth one of his best efforts of the season, tallying 22 points (9-of-12 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), six rebounds, five assists, four steals and three 3-pointers in 31 minutes. One of three Heat players (James Johnson, Bam Adebayo) to dish out five assists Sunday, Winslow has scored 20 points or more in four games this month and is averaging 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in December. Miami will need more of this from Winslow, whose fantasy value improves due to the combination of his recent play and the fact that he’s in a position where he won’t lack for opportunities to make things happen within the offense.
Also of note from this game was the third quarter put forth by Tyler Johnson, who scored 20 of his 25 points in that stanza. The 20 points are the most in a quarter for a Heat player this season, and Johnson wasn’t even expected to start Sunday. Rodney McGruder (illness) was a late scratch, and after a quiet first half his replacement in the starting five came out hot in the third quarter. Johnson scored the Heat’s first eight points of the third, and he finished the game 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. Over the last five he’s averaging 16.6 points per game and shooting 50.0% from three (3.2 makes per game).
Kyrie Irving responds and two starters return for the Celtics
Friday’s home loss to the Bucks prompted the Celtics to have a team meeting, with players and coaches airing their grievances in hopes of turning things around. While the impact of such a conversation can’t be measured by just one game, Brad Stevens’ team looked good in Sunday’s 119-103 win over the Hornets, with Kyrie Irving setting the tone. Irving scored a game-high 25 points, shooting 9-of-15 from the field, while also tallying five assists, four rebounds, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers. In total the Celtics had five double-digit scorers, and that includes two starters in Al Horford and Marcus Morris Sr. who made their return to the lineup after missing time due to knee injuries. Horford finished with ten points, six rebounds, five assists and one block, and Morris tallied 12 points and eight rebounds.
Something that will be interesting to watch in the coming games, with regards to the impact that the returns of Horford and Morris have on the Celtics rotation, is how often Jayson Tatum gets to the foul line. Averaging just over three attempts per game on the season, Tatum was heading to the charity stripe far more often with those two front court players on the sideline. Sunday night the Duke product, who scored 17 points, attempted just three free throws. Tatum getting to the foul line more would likely increase his value from a fantasy standpoint, but given the depth on the Celtics roster it may be difficult for him to get those opportunities within the offense.
Willie Cauley-Stein drops 22 & 17 on Pelicans
Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t the first athlete to take a step forward in a contract year and he certainly won’t be the last. The Kentucky product is averaging career-highs in points (13.7 ppg), rebounds (8.3 rpg), assists (2.5 apg) and steals (1.2 spg), and in Sunday’s win over the Pelicans he dropped 22 points, 17 rebounds, three steals, two assists and one blocked shot in 35 minutes. Cauley-Stein has posted a double-double in consecutive games, which ties his second-longest streak this season (he had four straight in late-October). While his numbers have dropped some after averaging 17.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in October, the 7-footer has still been a productive big who’s impacting the game in multiple areas, making him a valuable fantasy big man.
Also of note in the Kings’ win was Buddy Hield making six 3-pointers and scoring 28 points, and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 24 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Anthony Davis finished with 26 points (7-of-20 FGs, 11-of-12 FTs), 17 rebounds, four assists, four blocks, two steals and one three-pointer, and Jrue Holiday went for 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a losing effort.
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Deandre Ayton dominates paint but Suns fall in Brooklyn
Since tallying seven points and five rebounds in a December 13 win over the Mavericks, Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton has posted a double-double in five straight games. Sunday evening the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft shot 13-of-16 from the field, finishing with 26 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks, two steals and one assist in 32 minutes. If there’s a concern for the rookie offensively it’s the fact that he didn’t attempt a single free throw, the fourth time that’s happened this month. Ayton will have plenty of chances to score in the Suns offense, but it feels as if his full fantasy value isn’t being realized due to the lack of trips to the foul line (averaging 2.6 FTAs per game on the season).
While Ayton and Devin Booker (25 points, nine assists, two rebounds) shouldered much of the load for the Suns, they were unable to overcome the Nets’ balanced offensive effort. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 24 points in 26 minutes off the bench, shooting 7-of-14 from the field, 8-of-9 from the foul line and 2-0of-5 from three with seven assists and two rebounds. Dinwiddie, who was rewarded for his play with a multi-year extension earlier this month, is averaging 19.8 points, 6.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 three-pointers in 29.6 minutes per game over the last five. And keep an eye on Nets rookie forward Rodions Kurucs, as he posted his first career double-double with 16 points and ten rebounds in 33 minutes. Kurucs has now scored a total of 40 points over the last two games, and he’s averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in six starts.
Andrew Wiggins reaches 30-point mark for first time this season
The Timberwolves managed to leave Oklahoma City with a two-point win despite Paul George scoring 31 points and Russell Westbrook posting another triple-double, and Wiggins was one reason why that was the case. Wiggins scored 30 points (11-of-20 FGs, 6-of-10 FTs) on the night while also accounting for six rebounds, five assists and two 3-pointers in 42 minutes. Prior to Sunday’s explosion, Wiggins went four straight games without reaching the 20-point mark. With Jimmy Butler long gone the door has been open for Wiggins to be more assertive offensively, but he hasn’t always looked to take advantage. The talented wing did so Sunday, and the end result for Minnesota was a road win over a division rival.
Has Russell Westbrook found his shot?
Westbrook has struggled to shoot the ball much of this season, as he boasts shooting splits of 42.3/23.6/60.8. In tallying 23 points, 11 rebounds, ten assists and one three-pointer in 36 minutes the former MVP was better, as he shot 10-of-19 from the field. Sunday was the first time since December 12, and just the second time this month, that Westbrook has shot at least 50% or better from the field in a game. With Paul George playing at a level that has more than a few believing that he should be in the MVP conversation, the Thunder need Westbrook to turn things around from a shooting standpoint as they jockey for position in the West. We’ll see if Sunday’s performance serves as a catalyst for Westbrook.
Lillard and McCollum outlast Doncic and Barnes
The late games Sunday produced two of the better finishes you’ll see, with the Warriors beating the Clippers in the final seconds and the Trail Blazers outlasting the Mavericks in overtime. That game, which Portland won 121-118, needed another five minutes because Luka Doncic hit a corner three as time expired at the end of regulation. While the rookie didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, going 7-of-21 from the field, he did finish with 23 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two 3-pointers and just one turnover in 35 minutes. Doncic and Harrison Barnes (27 points) combined to score 50 points on the night, but the latter’s stat line was a bit lacking as he produced five three-pointers and just one rebound.
The efforts of Barnes and Doncic weren’t enough to take down the Blazers, as Damian Lillard scored 33 points and C.J. McCollum added 22. Lillard, who shot 11-of-24 from the field and also tallied seven assists and two rebounds, is averaging 27.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over his last five appearances. And during this stretch he’s shooting 52.3% from the field and 60.6% from beyond the arc, so he’s been efficient in producing these numbers. As for McCollum, he shot 10-of-20 from the field (1-of-8 3-pointers) and also tallied five rebounds and five assists in the win.
Jaren Jackson Jr. matches career-high as Grizzlies beat Lakers
Grizzlies rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has been one of the league’s best rookies this season, and Sunday night he put forth one of his best performances of the season. The Michigan State product finished with 27 points (11-of-21 FGs, 4-of-5 FTs), nine rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer, an absolute dagger from the top of the key late in the fourth quarter. Jackson Jr. was one of six Memphis players who scored in double figures, with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol next in line with 17 points apiece. After scoring just three points in last Monday’s loss to the Warriors Jackson Jr. has bounced back nicely, shooting 22-of-41 from the field and averaging 18.3 points per night over the last three games.
LeBron James and Brandon Ingram paced the Lakers, who face Golden State Christmas Day, with 22 and 20 points, respectively. James also tallied 14 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes. The play of Ivica Zubac, who’s seen an increase in minutes due to the absence of both JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler, should not be overlooked either as he accounted for 19 points, four rebounds and four blocks. Zubac averaged 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3,0 blocks per game in his last two appearances for the Lakers, but minutes may be tough to come by once McGee and Chandler are able to play.