There were six games on the schedule Sunday, which included nail-biting finishes for Portland vs. Boston, San Antonio vs. Memphis, Milwaukee vs. Houston and Dallas vs. Phoenix. Unfortunately, the headline was written when Jonathan Isaac went down with a non-contact left knee injury. He was taken off the court in a wheelchair and tests revealed that he tore his left ACL. That will assuredly require surgery and casts doubt on his status for the 2020-21 season. There's a lot to cover, so let's Dose.
Wizards vs. Nets
If the Wizards were going to pick up a win in Orlando, this was their opportunity. Against an incredibly short-handed Nets squad, they fell short again in a 118-110 loss, squandering a 30-point effort from Thomas Bryant. Their eight-game schedule concludes with games vs. the Pacers, Sixers, Pelicans, Thunder, Bucks and Celtics. It's basically just an opportunity for Washington to develop players and take a long look at young guys like Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Isaac Bonga, Jerome Robinson, etc.
Troy Brown Jr. has been given a perfect opportunity to expand his repertoire sans Bradley Beal, and he finished this game with 22 points, 10 boards and eight assists. He was a true letdown for me in season-long leagues this year, failing to distinguish himself and fading into the Wizards' bench unit more often than not. He just turned 21 years old, though, and plays a position of need for his team, so it would surprise me if he isn't promoted to the starting unit on opening night 2020-21. My optimism about him as a flier pick didn't pan out this year, but I'm not giving up hope.
The same can be said for Thomas Bryant, who scored 18 of his 30 points in the first half alone, going on to finish with 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal and one turnover in 37 minutes. The most eye-opening facet of his game was 3-point shooting -- he was 4-of-5 from deep in the first half and 4-of-6 overall. He did attempt seven 3-pointers back on Oct. 25, and was effective this year at 39.7%, but the volume wasn't there most nights. Without Bradley Beal in the lineup, coach Scott Brooks has apparently cleared Bryant to bomb away from downtown. "We don’t have the knockdown 3-point shooter,” Brooks said prior to Sunday's game. “We just gotta get in with good spacing, great shots ... continue to create some ball movement, quick decisions." Bryant has had an up-and-down season marred by injury, but a late burst could push him back into the conversation as a top-60 fantasy pick next season.
Jarrett Allen took advantage of a cushy matchup vs. the Wizards to notch 22 points, 15 rebounds and two assists. It was a welcome sight after he struggled in Friday's opener with 14 points, five boards and four fouls in just 27 minutes, and this can be chalked up to the level of competition. The Wizards literally look like a G-League team and starting center Thomas Bryant still looks a step slow on most defensive rotations. I'm not optimistic that Allen will repeat today's strong performance in upcoming games vs. the Bucks (Tuesday) and Celtics (Wednesday). One wrinkle that does catch my eye, and will hopefully prove sustainable, is that Allen got to the line 10 times and made all 10 of his attempts. He's 69.2% from the line for his career but has proven that he can shoot better for long stretches, so more attempts would be a welcome development.
Caris LeVert also got going on Sunday with a game-high 34 points, seven rebounds and three assists, making 11-of-25 shots and 10-of-13 free throws. That's the fourth 30+ point game of his career, all of which occurred this season. I'll keep playing him heavily in DFS until his price spikes, and it feels like there will be a few more monster games on the horizon. Lest we forget, the Nets are playing without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Nicolas Claxton, Michael Beasley and Jamal Crawford. They simply need LeVert to take the reins and dominate the ball offensively -- he had a ton of usage tonight and that's going to be a trend.
Chris Chiozza set career highs with 14 points and six assists, making 6-of-8 shots with one steal and a pair of 3-pointers. Tyler Johnson took Chiozza's spot in the starting lineup and the fact that Brooklyn won this game could be enough justification for coach Jacque Vaughn to stick with TJ. Joe Harris was also terrific today with a season-high 27 points, and in the process, he passed Vince Carter and Kerry Kittles for sixth place on the Nets' all-time list of made 3-pointers (he was 6-of-7 from deep). Harris also grabbed seven boards, which is key for his DFS value since he typically struggles to contribute more than scoring.
Blazers vs. Celtics
Portland notched a win on Friday and benefited from losses by the Kings and Pelicans. After Sunday's loss, though, they remain 2.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Grizzlies, and need to overtake the Spurs for the No. 9 seed to force a play-in. They're legitimately in the mix for a playoff seed, which bodes well for fantasy owners looking to Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and other key Blazers for value. Lillard in particular has been adamant that he wouldn't have played in Orlando if his team didn't have a shot at the postseason, so he could sit out if his team gets mathematically eliminated -- right now, that seems unlikely. He erupted in the second half of this game and finished with 30 points (8-of-20 FGs, 9-of-9 FTs), plus a season-high 16 assists in 44 minutes. Portland will ride him until the wheels fall off.
Hassan Whiteside came off the bench again and played 16 minutes, which remains a situation to watch. Jusuf Nurkic continues to ball out, finishing this game with 30 points (12-of-20 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), nine boards, five assists, two steals and one block against a solid Celtics defense. The starting center job isn't even up for debate. Now the question becomes, how will Whiteside react to a demotion? He's coming off the bench and playing fewer minutes, two circumstances that led him to clash (repeatedly) with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra in the past. He was lackadaisical on multiple possessions today, giving up some easy buckets in the one area he's supposed to be a stopper -- at the rim. I struggle to find a positive angle here, and will be avoiding him until further notice.
Adding to the intrigue, Zach Collins got into early foul trouble in this game (two fouls in four minutes) and it was Mario Hezonja who subbed in, rather than Whiteside. That's partly due to the opponent, since neither Nurkic nor Whiteside would stand a chance defensively vs. Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward. Still, it's the latest sign that the Blazers' jumbo frontcourt with both Nurk and Whiteside will rarely be feasible. For Collins, fouls are clearly a problem. He fouled out of Friday's game (albeit in 37 minutes), and it's not exactly a new issue -- he's averaged 4.6 fouls per 36 minutes for his career. Take that into account before relying on him in a high percentage of your DFS lineups.
Boston came into this game having made some waves after losing their Orlando opener to the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo controversially had a foul rescinded, preventing him from fouling out, and the Celtics weren't pleased. Jaylen Brown posted a photoshopped image of Giannis holding hands with referee Ken Mauer, and Marcus Smart was fined $15k for stating plainly that the refs only reversed the call to protect the league's marketable reigning MVP. They put that drama behind them to escape with a 128-124 win tonight, but it will be an interesting subplot if Boston and Milwaukee clash in the postseason.
The Celtics announced before Sunday's game that Kemba Walker's playing-time restriction had been raised to 17-23 minutes. All signs point to Boston keeping him on a limit throughout the seeding-game period, which makes perfect sense. After all, they're locked into a playoff spot (currently No. 3 in the East) and there's no meaningful 'homecourt advantage' in the bubble. When asked if/when the team might ease up on the restrictions, coach Brad Stevens explicitly said that "Kemba's knee is the most important thing." That's bad news if you're trying to squeeze value out of Walker for DFS purposes, though he could soon be a value play if his minutes spike and his salary doesn't immediately follow suit. It's a situation to monitor and exploit if you can.
In addition to Kemba looking spry, the biggest takeaway for Boston was Jayson Tatum's eruption with 34 points on 11-of-22 shooting, plus five 3-pointers, 7-of-9 free throws, eight assists, four boards, two steals and one block. He looked out of sorts on Friday but was devastatingly efficient in this game, and the Blazers just didn't have the personnel to defend him. Zach Collins was probably the best option, with sufficient length to bother Tatum, but as mentioned he was in foul trouble. Enes Kanter played a strong game with 11 points, eight rebounds and two assists off the bench, and (other than a third-quarter defensive slump) the Celtics have to be pleased with their performance. I might have spoken too soon about the "biggest takeaway," because Jaylen Brown was also fantastic...and clutch. He scored 22 of his 30 points in the second half and seemingly couldn't miss down the stretch, helping Boston fend off a spirited comeback attempt for their first win in the bubble. The pairing of Brown and Tatum is going to be a beast for years to come, at both ends of the court.
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Spurs vs. Grizzlies
The Spurs are limping to the finish line with five rotation players out of the lineup -- LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder), Trey Lyles (appendicitis), Bryn Forbes (quad), Marco Belinelli (ankle) and Patty Mills (rest). As a result, they're trying to play small and run a faster offense than usual, vs. relying on Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan to generate halfcourt buckets. "I loved [the up-tempo offense] and it’s necessary," Gregg Popovich said this weekend. "We don’t have 1-on-1 players. We’ve got to do it as a group.”
That mentality carried into this game as the Spurs scored 108 points, though they somehow had zero fastbreak points. If a starting lineup with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and DeMar DeRozan can't generate points in transition, it may not be viable long-term. Either way, it looks likely to stick for the Orlando re-start, especially since they pulled out the victory today. That bodes well for each of the players mentioned above, particularly Walker. He had 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting, two triples, two assists and one rebound in 25 minutes on Sunday, and is now averaging 30.5 minutes in two games in Orlando. For context, he'd played more than 26 minutes just once all season prior to the re-start.
The Spurs also did a decent job containing Ja Morant, preventing his disruptive penetration about as well as could be expected. Morant still racked up 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Voting for awards will be based on production prior to the NBA's shutdown on March 11, but Morant is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. The bad news for Memphis is that they scored 64 points in the paint vs. 24 for the Spurs, yet they still lost. The second unit's struggles were particularly evident Sunday with Tyus Jones (sore knee) out of commission. Jones won't be re-evaluated until Wednesday at the earliest, so Memphis needs to figure out where the secondary ball-handling will come from. Grayson Allen had 15 points and two dimes in 28 minutes off the bench, but De'Anthony Melton was scoreless with zero dimes in 14 minutes. Neither guy looks ready to be a primary playmaker without Ja on the court.
Kings vs. Magic
Fresh off a career-high 39-point performance on Friday, De'Aaron Fox was stymied vs. Orlando with 13 points, two boards and three assists in 25 minutes. It was a blowout loss, so fantasy GMs shouldn't read too much into this game. After Friday's eruption, coach Luke Walton suggested it's just a sign of things to come for Fox. “That’s why we talk about De’Aaron the way that we do,” Walton said. “We put a lot on him, but he showed in games like [Friday] what he’s capable of." Fox's DFS salary has spiked as a result of his supernova vs. the Spurs, but I'm more interested in his play from a season-long perspective. He didn't take the leap I'd expected this season, with modest increases in points (20.8) and rebounds (4.0) but decreases in assists (6.7), steals (1.4) and three-pointers (1.0). He's also shooting just 70.4% from the line this year, the worst mark of his career. None of that will stop me from betting on him again as a 2020-21 breakout player, even if it costs a top-40 pick to acquire him.
Alex Len was out again on Sunday for conditioning reasons, and it's fair to question if he'll play at all during the re-start. The Kings are 4.0 games out of the No. 8 seed, and to force a play-in tournament they'd at least need to overtake the Blazers and Spurs for the No. 9 seed. The absence of Len and Marvin Bagley (foot) is good news for Harry Giles, who is picking up all the center minutes Richaun Holmes can't handle. Holmes finished this game with 12 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes, while Giles added a career-high 23 points in 20 minutes off the bench. The Kings said recently that Holmes isn't on any minute restriction, so he should only get better as this eight-game slate continues. As for Giles, he shot 9-of-11 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line in a hyper-efficient performance he's unlikely do duplicate any time soon. Plus, he had zero defensive stats. If you were smart/lucky enough to play him in your DFS lineups on Sunday, count your blessings.
The Magic scored 78 points in the first half of Sunday's game, resulting in a 24-point lead after two quarters. They've now scored at least 70 points in the first half of consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. The quality of the opposing defenses (Nets and Kings) is a big part of that equation, but clearly the Magic are dialed in and they're likely locked into the No. 7 seed. Tonight's impressive blowout was less about their defense and more about incredibly efficient offense -- they shot 61.9% in the first half (11-of-19 from deep) and finished the game 47.4% from downtown.
Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz were both on minute limits (more on Isaac in a minute), though Fultz was bumped up to the 20-22 range on Sunday. He was on fire early and scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench. His mid-range shot has been on-point and he went 2-of-2 from deep, which is exactly what the Magic wanted to see -- Fultz lacked confidence in his jumper while dealing with a shoulder injury, but he's steadily improved since being acquired by the Magic. Head coach Steve Clifford suggested it will be a while before Fultz plays enough to resume starting at PG. "It'll be a while [before Fultz's limitations are lifted," Clifford said. "We're playing so many games in a row, so that's why we're being careful, and he's not going to be able to jump from 18 minutes to 28 in like two days." Regardless, he's a higher-upside DFS target than D.J. Augustin (10 points, eight assists in 20 minutes).
Jonathan Isaac was playing well in 15 minutes prior to his left knee injury, which will end his impressive return in the Orlando bubble. He finished with four points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, but Adrian Wojnarowski reports that he tore his left ACL. His previously injured knee immediately gave out, he went down writhing in pain, and he was taken off the court in a wheelchair. Even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to envision him playing before the All-Star break of 2020-21. The Magic were cautious with him before his recent return, and now they'll be borderline-paranoid about playing him at less than 100%. Wesley Iwundu (concussion) and Gary Clark should soak up the bulk of Isaac's minutes, but neither guy is appealing for fantasy purposes. There's really no silver lining here, even from a fantasy perspective.
Isaac's devastating injury casts a long shadow over this game, but the Magic had to be happy with their play prior to his exit. Nikola Vucevic casually double-doubled with 23 points (9-of-14 FGs), 11 boards, two assists and two steals, Aaron Gordon was more assertive on offense and finished with 22 points, five rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers, and Terrence Ross rounded out the onslaught with 25 points off the bench (6-of-10 FGs, 8-of-10 FTs). Basically, the Magic were firing on all cylinders against a sub-par defense -- there's no actual 'homecourt advantage' in the bubble, but the Magic sure look comfortable playing in their backyard. They got Iwundu back today after a recent concussion, though he was quiet with two points and three boards in eight minutes. He'll need to step up with Isaac out indefinitely.
Bucks vs. Rockets
Giannis Antetokounmpo racked up 36 points (14-of-25 FGs, 6-of-9 FTs), 18 rebounds and eight assists in his team's 120-116 loss vs. the Rockets, a game that took on a bit more meaning since it pitted the reigning MVP vs. the runner-up, James Harden. Giannis battled foul trouble during the Bucks' first game in the re-start, and issued a mea culpa afterward. "Whenever I get excited and whenever I come back from the offseason or whenever I come back from a long break, I’m just excited," he said. "I’m just reaching all the time. I try to go for steals. I’m just aggressive. Sometimes, I get out of control, but that’s how I learn." He said he'd "learned from [his] mistakes," and indeed he finished this game with just three personal fouls in 33 minutes. He's simply a DFS dynamo, and draws a terrific matchup vs. the Nets on Tuesday. The biggest threat is that it'll become a blowout and he sits out during garbage time.
Khris Middleton added 27 points, 12 boards, four assists, three 3-pointers and one steal in 34 minutes. He's locked in as the Bucks cruise through the 'seeding' stage toward the playoffs, and the layoff didn't appear to slow him down whatsoever. He recently got a vote of confidence from Giannis, who said, "[Khris] is just such a great basketball player, and he always makes the right read down the stretch. So, you know, personally, I’ve been with him seven years, and I always trust him down the stretch.” The Bucks came up short tonight in a game with a playoff atmosphere, but at least the key guys are playing at a ridiculously high level -- Brook Lopez added 23 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
Houston pulled out a victory on Friday despite allowing 149 points to the Mavericks, but their defense (or lack thereof) was still a point of emphasis. “We didn’t do what we talked about [defensively] for three straight weeks,” coach Mike D’Antoni said afterward. “[Dallas] hit some hard shots to start with, and we kind of abandoned all our principles and started flailing. It’s like being in quicksand, we [sank]." Houston has been mediocre on defense this season, ranking 16th in Defensive Rating, though most of that sample was prior to the Clint Capela trade.
The Rockets trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and were in danger of digging a huge hole for themselves, but they locked down to finish the quarter with a three-point lead. It remains to be seen whether the new small-ball approach helps or hurts defensively, but on Sunday they effectively locked down against the Bucks late in the game. Quick hands and fluid defensive switches were a recipe for success.
Houston also tied an NBA record with 61 three-point attempts in a non-overtime game. They attempted 91 shots total, so that's over 67% of the team's shots from deep (not including attempts that led to free throws). The bench was a big reason for the success. Mike D'Antoni used three bench players -- Jeff Green, Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers -- who attempted just three shots inside the arc combined. It's a system that plays to the strengths of Rivers and McLemore, in particular, though neither guy contributes enough across-the-board stats to typically be worth using in DFS.
Mavericks vs. Suns
The Mavs were coming of a historic performance on Friday, posting an offensive rating of 141.7 in the first half -- the previous record was 115.9. They threatened to notch the second-best record tonight with a 116.8 offensive rating until the midway point of the second quarter, but settled for a still-elite 109.2. Nearly half of their points came in the paint and they went 33-of-37 at the free-throw line, which highlights their elite offensive efficiency -- and makes this 117-115 loss to the Suns that much more painful.
Kristaps Porzingis turned 25 years old on Sunday, and he celebrated in style with 30 points (10-of-20 FGs, 8-of-11 FTs), eight boards, four blocks, two triples, one assist and one steal. Luka Doncic feasted, as usual, with 40 points, 11 dimes and eight rebounds in 38 minutes, going 11-of-20 from the field and 18-of-19 from the line. He's simply ridiculous and if he didn't necessarily sharpen his game during the league's four-month hiatus (he had eight turnovers and was 5-of-9 at the line on Friday), his conditioning certainly didn't suffer. Seth Curry added 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (three triples), but that was the extent of the Mavs' double-digit scoring. They're pretty much entrenched in the No. 7 seed, but could overtake the Rockets, Thunder and/or Jazz if they get hot over the next six games and any of those teams slip up.
The Suns' odds to win Sunday's game seemed to fade when Devin Booker committed his fourth personal foul just before halftime. He then picked up a fifth foul less than five minutes into the third quarter, at which point the story of this game was basically written -- until it wasn't. Booker fouled out with 30 points, four dimes and three rebounds, and Phoenix held on for a 117-115 win vs. the "visiting" Mavs.
Booker's efforts were supported by Cameron Johnson, who notched his first career double-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes as a starter. Phoenix was pilloried for taking him No. 11 in the draft, but he looks like a ready-made contributor who can shoot the ball and rebound his position. It remains to be seen whether he can improve defensively, but Johnson already appears to have leap-frogged Dario Saric for the starting PF job and he's averaging 32.5 minutes through two games in Orlando, putting him squarely on the map for DFS owners. It helps that he's contributing more than just points and threes.
It wasn't a great night for Deandre Ayton, who also battled foul trouble and managed just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, eight rebounds and zero assists or defensive stats. The Suns go up against the Clippers on Tuesday, which promises to be a tough draw -- L.A. has the fourth-best Defensive Rating in the league, so it might be a matchup to avoid for DFS purposes.
Finally, Mikal Bridges had three blocks, two steals, one rebound and one assist, but scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting. The minutes are there and he played 39 on Sunday, so the production should follow. This is a reminder that Bridges' offensive role isn't robust enough to guarantee he'll hit 5x DFS value on an off night.