Thursday was a tough day around the NBA, as we learned that TNT legend Craig Sager passed away after battling leukemia for the past couple years. To me and many others, he will always be the greatest sideline reporter to ever do it and I encourage you to keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
There were five games on Thursday and injuries dominated the headlines once again with Carmelo Anthony (shoulder), Derrick Rose (back) and Alex Len (hip) out just to name a few, but we also got to see the return of Gary Harris (foot) and the season debut of Tyreke Evans (knee). Before we go any further, stop what you’re doing and make sure both players are owned in your leagues. Let’s get right to the action. For NBA news and fantasy advice, follow me on Twitter by clicking here!
Bucks 108, Bulls 97
Giannis Antetokounmpo was probable to face the Bulls due to a right ankle sprain that he suffered earlier in the week, but he dominated with 30 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block in 39 minutes, shooting 13-of-27 from the field and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process. He didn’t look limited at all, but verifying his status for Friday’s rematch with the Bulls makes sense. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Giannis is the best player to own in dynasty leagues and should be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy next season.
Jabari Parker’s line was pretty remarkable as well, as he scored 28 points with five boards, three assists, two steals and three triples. He’s now hit at least one 3-pointer in six straight games and is returning top-60 value in standard leagues. His ceiling in fantasy is growing by the day. John Henson has cooled off a bit lately, but he had a nice game with four points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes, but he only hit 2-of-9 shots. He hasn’t been consistent, but he’s averaging 2.0 blocks per game over his last five and I think he’s a lot more fun to own right now than Greg Monroe, who finished with seven points in 22 minutes with five boards, three assists, two steals and a block. Monroe really needs a trade to rescue his season, but that does seem likely.
Jimmy Butler’s 21 points weren’t enough, as the Bulls dropped their second straight game. Butler wasn’t at his best and hit just 6-of-16 shots, but he’s been a monster and has scored 20+ points in all but three games this season. Dwayne Wade scored 20 points with six assists, but also logged 33 minutes and could be rested for Friday’s rematch with the Bucks — he already has two maintenance days on the season. Rajon Rondo (ankle) returned from a one-game absence and didn’t play well with five points (2-of-6 FGs) and eight assists, but at least he’s healthy again and he should be much better on Friday at home. Taj Gibson scored 19 on 7-of-11 shooting and has been the most consistent big in Chicago, while Robin Lopez posted a dud with a 6-6-1 line.
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Pelicans 102, Pacers 95
The Pelicans learned on Thursday that Tim Frazier will miss the next 7-10 days with a wrist contusion, but luckily Tyreke Evans (knee) made his long-awaited return to the court after an 11-month absence. Evans only played 11 minutes, but I thought he looked great with seven points, three rebounds, two assists, two turnovers and one 3-pointer. He will have minute restrictions for a while and won’t play in both games of back-to-back sets for the foreseeable future (including on Friday), but he should be picked up in all leagues. He was a top-65 play in standard leagues last season with 15.2 points, 6.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.3 treys and 2.9 turnovers on 43.3 percent shooting in 30 minutes per game, so he might be able to flirt with those numbers again by the time the All-Star break rolls around.
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 35 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks, and the return of Evans should make the team more competitive in the West and should reduce the risk of a possible shut down for Davis if the Pelicans start to tank in a couple months. Jrue Holiday’s floor should be a little higher with Frazier out and he proved my point with 16 points, 14 dimes and seven rebounds Thursday. He played 36 minutes despite drawing the probable tag for his toe injury that cost him three games last week, so make sure he’s active for Friday’s game vs. Houston. Terrence Jones double-doubled with a couple blocks and should still be owned despite some inconsistency, while Langston Galloway predictably cooled off with five points on 2-of-10 shooting. His recent outburst always seemed too fluky to me.
Indiana is already going to be without Monta Ellis (groin) for a couple more games, so it was a tough blow for the team when they learned that Rodney Stuckey (hamstring) would not be able to play Thursday. Glenn Robinson III drew another start at SG, but he was quiet once again with two points despite a sizable workload (33 minutes). He had a nice run earlier in the season when Paul George (18 points, four rebounds, four assists) was banged up, but his floor is way too low while PG-13 is active. Jeff Teague looks like the biggest winner with Ellis out and he had another great game Thursday, scoring 21 with 10 assists and six rebounds, but sadly he missed all six of his triples. Myles Turner held his own against Anthony Davis and scored 26 points with eight rebounds, hitting a ridiculous 11-of-14 shots. He’s on the verge of returning top-20 value in standard leagues and I wouldn’t bet against him.
Spurs 107, Suns 92
The Spurs took care of business against the Suns on the second night of a back-to-back set for their third straight win. Kawhi Leonard needed just 27 minutes to finish with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and one 3-pointer, and while he hasn’t missed a game this season, you have to think that a maintenance day is in the near future with the rest plague spreading across the league. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from a day of rest and had 14 points and seven rebounds, but he’s been a huge letdown. The Spurs play the Pelicans on Sunday and they have been terrorized by opposing power forwards all season, so I’ll be even more concerned if Aldridge doesn’t have a big game. Pau Gasol has been working with Tim Duncan in practice lately, so maybe that explains his recent success. He had 18 points with nine rebounds and three assists in just 24 minutes Thursday and has now scored in double digits in seven straight games after a four-game stretch in late November when he was held to single digits.
Alex Len (hip) missed another game for the Suns and T.J. Warren (head) isn’t quite ready yet, but their returns will dampen the fantasy appeal of Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker (five points). Chandler was coming off a monster 13-point, 23-rebound game against the Knicks, but struggled with foul trouble against the Spurs and finished with four points and eight rebounds. He’s been a monster for a couple weeks now, so selling the veteran now is the right call since his value should trend down later in the season on the tanking Suns. Marquese Chriss was coming off his first career double-double and played 31 minutes for the second straight game, finishing with 10 points, two rebounds, two triples, one block and one steal. Suns coach Earl Watson said before the game that Chriss "has to become our Draymond Green,” so it sounds like he’s going to get plenty of run. He’s very raw, but his upside in boards, steals, blocks and triples are so intriguing — he has per-36 minute averages of 14.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals and 1.2 triples.
Eric Bledsoe had an off night with 14 points and five dimes on 5-of-14 shooting, but his owners can blame that on the matchup with the Spurs. He scored 30+ points in each of his previous three games and gets a nice matchup with the Thunder on Friday — both teams rank inside the top five for pace. Devin Booker added 17 points, five assists and a pair of steals and triples, while Brandon Knight’s nightmare of a season continued with 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting. He’s doing more harm than good for his owners.
Nuggets 132, Blazers 120
The Nuggets switched things up on Thursday with Nikola Jokic and Wilson Chandler (17 points) replacing Jusuf Nurkic and Darrell Arthur in the starting lineup. I won’t lie to you, I was one of Nurkic’s biggest supporters during the offseason, but this move was long overdue. Nurkic was basically the third-string center behind Kenneth Faried (11 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) Thursday and his owners should be ready to move on. I’m hanging onto Nurk in some leagues because I’m stubborn and I think the move to the second unit will benefit him in the long run (playing next to arguably the worst starting PG in the league in Emmanuel Mudiay didn’t help him), but he’s just a stash for now.
Jokic got into some foul trouble in the win, but he looked great when he was out there with 13 points, five assists, four rebounds and one triple in just 19 minutes. He’s a per-minute monster and the Nuggets are ready to unleash him, so he should be an early-round value the rest of the way. Danilo Gallinari had a big night with 27 points and three triples, so now would be a good time to trade him before he gets hurt. Apart from Jokic starting, the biggest story of the night for Denver was the return of Gary Harris (foot). He didn’t miss a beat and finished with 18 points, six assists, three triples, two steals and one block in 32 minutes despite being on a 24-28 minutes limit. Coach Mike Malone couldn’t be more excited to have him back and fantasy owners should be running to the wire to grab Harris and his mid-round upside. Will Barton (15 points in 23 minutes) should still be relevant as a low-end asset, but the return of Harris really hurts him.
Damian Lillard did his best to keep this game close with 40 points, 10 assists and four triples, and only two of his teammates in C.J. McCollum (23 points) and Mason Plumlee (19 points, seven rebounds, four assists) had a pulse in the loss. Moe Harkless was a little quiet with nine points, but added one triple, one steal and one block in a full nine-cat line. His ability to rack up the money stats has him returning top-55 value on the season.
Warriors 103, Knicks 90
There wasn’t much to see here, as the Warriors easily took care of business against a Knicks team that was missing Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Kevin Durant (15 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists) and Klay Thompson (25 points, four triples, four assists) had solid performances, but Stephen Curry (eight points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and Draymond Green (five points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) were quiet for the most part.
Brandon Jennings grabbed the start in place of Rose and had a respectable line of 10 points (4-of-13 FGs), six assists and six rebounds, and he does have averages of 14.5 points and 5.0 assists in two previous starts. Rose is likely to miss more time because he’s Derrick Rose, so Jennings is a nice pickup in all leagues. Lance Thomas started for Melo and had five points, but Anthony already said he’s expected to be back for Saturday — this confirms that he was simply resting some "bumps and bruises.” Kristaps Porzingis was shut down by Green tonight and finished with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, while Kyle O’Quinn finally slowed down with five points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes. The Warriors played a lot of small ball, so that hurt KOQ. I’d still rather own him than Joakim Noah (six points, 10 rebounds, one block).