We only had one injury scare on Thursday night with Kyrie Irving tweaking his hamstring, but there was no shortage of action with Russell Westbrook getting ejected and George Hill (toe) lighting it up in his return. For NBA news and fantasy advice, click here to follow me on Twitter! Let’s break it down.
Grizzlies 114, Thunder 80
The Grizzlies were already blowing out the Thunder when Russell Westbrook was ejected (link) with two technical fouls in the third quarter, but they outscored the Thunder 36-19 in the fourth quarter which goes to show how important Westbrook is to this team. “Honestly I don’t know, man. Honestly, it’s crazy man,” Westbrook said of the officiating. “Especially to be ejected like that when I didn’t do nothing.” Westbrook finished with 21 points, five rebounds, zero assists and six turnovers, but look for him to take out his anger against the Clippers on Saturday — he scored an average of 32.0 points in his last two games vs. LAC. The rest of the Thunder were terrible with the exception of Enes Kanter, as the big man finished with 19 points and five boards in 24 minutes.
Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 25 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and five blocks in one of the lines of the night, but be on the lookout for a potential maintenance day next week — the Grizzlies have a back-to-back set on the road on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 against the Lakers and Clippers. JaMychal Green had himself a day with 17 points and a full 9-cat line in 34 minutes, so hopefully you didn’t drop him after a rough few games. Mike Conley (toe) was “expected” to play tonight before the Grizzlies ultimately held him out, but expect to see him return on Saturday vs. the Kings. That also means Andrew Harrison (10 points, three assists) can be left on the wire. Chandler Parsons returned from a day of rest because the 28 seconds he played last week was too much, finishing with two points in 15 minutes. I won’t sugarcoat it, Parsons has been SO bad and is nothing more than a stash.
Hornets 91, Heat 82
Kemba Walker led the Hornets to their second straight win and fifth out of their last six games, scoring 22 points with seven rebounds, four assists and four 3-pointers, and he’s now scored 20+ points in four out his last five games. Nicolas Batum has been playing at an All-Star level lately and stayed hot with 16 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was averaging 12.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in his previous three games and has been benefitting from Marco Belinelli’s (ankle) absence, but he flopped with four points, six rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes. He’s a low-end option in standard leagues. Jeremy Lamb has also been relevant sans Belinelli, but he’s not seeing as many minutes as I was hoping for and finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and a block in 23 minutes.
Goran Dragic (back) returned from a one-game absence and really struggled, scoring five points on 2-of-11 shooting with eight assists and four turnovers in 32 minutes. After the game, coach Erik Spoelstra said "Goran probably shouldn’t have been out there," and Dragic admitted that his back tightened up on him. Reading between the lines here, it sounds like he will likely be held out on Friday vs. Boston. Josh Richardson is heating up and scored 20 points with three triples and a full line, so hopefully his early-season slump is behind him. Richardson scored 22 points in his previous game with Dragic out and there’s no reason he should be sitting on your wire.
Justise Winslow missed all nine of his shots from the field and finished with one point in 29 minutes, but at least he had five boards and five assists. He has little to no offensive game, so he’s prone to duds like these and must rely on his hustle stats to help fantasy owners. Tyler Johnson scored 18 points with seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block and two triples, and he looks like a strong DFS play on Friday with Dragic likely to sit — Johnson’s usage rate with Dragic off the court is 22.3 compared to 17.4 when he shares the floor with Dragic. Hassan Whiteside had his third quiet game in a row with eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes, and I’m not exactly thrilled with his rest-of-season outlook with the Heat sitting in 13th place in the East with a 10-23 record. He should be much better, but owning franchise players on tanking teams is always a concern down the stretch.
Cavaliers 124, Celtics 119
LeBron James returned from a rest day and scored 23 points with eight rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks, one steal and two triples, but he also turned the ball over eight times. Kevin Love was dominant with 30 points, 15 rebounds, six triples and a pair of assists and steals, marking his first game as a Cavalier with 30+ points and 15+ boards. Kyrie Irving pulled his weight too with 32 points and 12 assists, but he might’ve pulled his hamstring as well. Irving had a heavy limp after his post-game interview and admitted that his hamstring tightened up on him, but coach Tyronn Lue eased our concerns a bit by saying he was simply dealing with cramps. We’ll know for sure after Friday’s practice, but Irving’s status for Saturday’s game vs. the Hornets is up in the air. There are no speculative pickups here, as an Irving absence would just mean more work for LeBron and Love. Tristan Thompson added 11 points and nine rebounds in the win.
Avery Bradley was phenomenal with 23 points, four steals and three triples and is still returning early-round value on the season, while Isaiah Thomas finished with 31 points, nine assists and a pair of steals and triples. Incredibly, his 22.8 points per game career average for the Celtics is second only to Larry Bird (h/t StatMuse). Jae Crowder added 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two triples, but Al Horford posted a dud with six points, four assists, one rebound and three blocks. Horford has been a top-20 player on the season, so look for him to bounce back vs. the Heat Friday.
Suns 99, Raptors 91
Eric Bledsoe scored 22 points with 10 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, three steals and one triple to lead the Suns, but also turned the ball over eight times. Devin Booker’s FG percentage is still a major concern and he finished 6-of-19 from the field, but he’s still putting up decent numbers and had 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and one triple. Expect him to improve in the new year. Marquese Chriss (eight points) and Dragan Bender (three points) are excellent stashes in deeper leagues or dynasty formats, but it may be another or month or so before the Suns really set them loose. T.J. Warren burned his owners with a four-point dud in 27 minutes, but he scored 23 points against the Spurs the night before and fatigue was likely a factor — he missed nearly a month of action with his head injury.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 48 points in the loss, but their owners know they can expect elite production from them every time out. Jonas Valanciunas flopped in a cupcake matchup and had eight points, 10 rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes, while DeMarre Carroll played in his first back-to-back set and it showed, as he finished with two points in 19 minutes. He’s just not very good and I’ll leave it at that. Patrick Patterson picked up a knee injury and he said he felt a sharp pain, so he’s likely looking at some time on the shelf. The Raptors could go small with Carroll at the four which opens up more minutes for Terrence Ross and Norman Powell, but fantasy owners can take a wait-and-see approach here. Ross did play 30 minutes, so he’s likely going to benefit the most.
Jazz 100, 76ers 83
George Hill returned from a 13-game absence after dealing with the world’s worst toe sprain apparently, hitting 8-of-10 shots for 21 points, with eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and one block. If you ignore the games missed, this has easily been the best he’s ever played, but now he just needs to stay heathy as he makes his case for a massive contract this summer. Shelvin Mack can now be dropped with Hill back, but Gordon Hayward (20 points) should still be a monster as his usage rate only drops from 28.9 to 26.8 when he shares the floor with Hill. Rodney Hood finally showed a pulse on Thursday with 20 points and four triples, and he should actually get a bump in value with Hill back — Hood has a 57.3 true shooting percentage next to Hill compared to 51.2 percent without him. Now is the time to pick Hood back up if he was dropped.
Rudy Gobert added nine points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocks and steals, but took a step back from the free throw line and only hit 3-of-11 attempts. Derrick Favors played 24 minutes (his most since Nov. 11) and finished with four points, 12 rebounds and a block on 1-of-7 shooting, so at least the playing time and rebounding were encouraging. His owners will have to be patient for a while and I’m not expecting much until the All-Star break if I’m being honest.
Joel Embiid was rested Thursday, so we got our first extended look at Nerlens Noel. I thought he looked great and he put up a solid line of 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting with six rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes, so this solidifies his case as an elite stash with the hope that he’s traded before the deadline. Jahlil Okafor played through a minor hamstring tweak and scored 13 points with four rebounds, while Ersan Ilyasova was their MVP tonight with 16 points, 12 rebounds and two triples. The 76ers love Ilyasova and I’d be surprised if they didn’t try to re-sign him this summer. Sergio Rodriguez sprained his ankle and has already been ruled out for Friday against Denver, so T.J. McConnell (six points, three assists) will be a solid punt option in DFS. The last time Rodriguez missed a game, McConnell had 12 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three steals.
Mavericks 101, Lakers 89
Dirk Nowitzki (illness) was out, while Andrew Bogut played 22 minutes and scored two points with seven rebounds and a block. The Mavs play again on Friday vs. the Warriors and Bogut previously said he won’t play in both games of the back-to-back set, so both Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri should get some extra run vs. the Warriors. Powell had 14 points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes and he’s going to be an intriguing player to own down the stretch if Bogut is moved before the deadline. Dorian Finney-Smith scored 12 points with three triples and a steal in 32 minutes and has shown flashes of upside, but he’s just someone to keep an eye on because he’s been very inconsistent. Wesley Matthews scored 20 points with four triples and Deron Williams scored eight points with 11 dimes.
The Lakers were awful on Thursday so I won’t focus on them too much, but I do want to mention D’Angelo Russell. He was coming off a four-point dud against the Jazz, but bounced back tonight with 15 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and one triple on 5-of-15 shooting. He’s capable of posting lines like this more often than not, but he will need to keep his FG percentage up and his turnovers down to really break out. He’s my favorite buy-low target right now.