Maybe it’s sadistic symbolism that Steve Kerr made his much-anticipated season debut on the same night David Blatt was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers considering the result of the 2015 NBA Finals, but the marriage between Blatt and LeBron’s team was always destined to wind up in divorce. As Charles Barkley said during a Friday segment on NBATV, you don’t see a team hire its second choice for head coach as a lead assistant/associate head coach all too often. After GM David Griffin openly said the locker room he assembled hasn’t been “connected,” the pendulum of pressure is now swinging in his direction. And if you believe that Griffin didn’t consult LeBron James about this decision before it was made, I have a group of bridges to sell you at a discounted price.
In addition to coaching news, we had Stephen Curry ballin’, DeMar DeRozan making his All-Star bid, Kemba Walker doing the same and Manu Ginobili hopping in the hot tub time machine on a fire nine-game Friday.
Charlotte @ Orlando: Hornets 120, Magic 116
Playing without Nicolas Batum (toe), Kemba Walker again took over the game with an absolutely huge performance: 40 points, seven boards, nine dimes and four steals on 14-of-28 shooting, including 10-of-12 from the foul line…it’s just the latest enormous effort in what has been a truly spectacular breakout season, and Walker has now scored an unbelievable 113 points over his last three games. As good as the point guard was, he got help in the form of two unlikely double-doubles in Marvin Williams (11 pts, 14 reb, 2 stl, 1 blk) and Spencer Hawes, who came out of nowhere for 16 points, 10 boards and a block in a spot start at center for Cody Zeller (shoulder). Despite his recent downward trend, Williams just keeps on going for a team that needs his versatility in the frontcourt and is a recommended hold since you’re not going to trade him for anything of value, but Hawes is not a recommended pickup because like teammates Frank Kaminsky, his upside just isn’t there with Zeller and Al Jefferson (knee) set to re-enter the picture. Jeremy Lamb (toe) returned to action, but he failed to make an impact and was benched after picking up three fouls in four first half minutes.
In a move that was long overdue, Aaron Gordon was finally put in the starting lineup and responded by picking up three fouls in his first four minutes on the floor. After settling down, Gordon finished with a decent line (10 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast) in 24.5 foul-plagued minutes…The upside is obviously there, but Gordon’s athleticism is not going to translate to sustainable fantasy production immediately. My advice: Navigate the ups and downs and don’t get impatient. Victor Oladipo (knee) returned to the first five with a bang with 29 points, five triples, four boards and three assists, and that’s especially noteworthy with Elfrid Payton starting alongside him and also turning in a good game with 11 points, nine rebounds and 10 dimes (two 3PM). If Nikola Vucevic (15 pts, 12 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl, 6 blk) doesn’t make the All-Star team, the coaches will have missed what should be one of the more obvious selections.
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Chicago @ Boston: Celtics 110, Bulls 101
Derrick Rose has averaged 25.3 points in his last three games, and while it’s good to see D-Rose scoring 20 or more in three straight like was once a regular theme, it’s still hard to get too excited about his fantasy potential when he’s got nine assists compared to seven turnovers during that same span of time. Also without a steal or block during this run, Rose’s name has more value than his current game. The same can’t be said for Jimmy Butler, who played through an illness and is averaging 24.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.8 steals over his last five games. The best part: Butler is a smooth 43-of-51 (83%) from the charity stripe during that run. Pau Gasol bounced back from his Wednesday dud with 18 points and 11 boards (five TO), and he’s going to get all of the run he can handle with Joakim Noah out and Bobby Portis on the outside looking in. Nikola Mirotic’s 25.5 minutes were his most in five games, but his confidence just isn’t there right now. That could change in a hurry if Taj Gibson’s right eye injury forces him to miss time and Mirotic again finds himself in the starting four spot.
Jae Crowder’s (illness) understandable dud didn’t prevent the Celtics from rolling, and a large part of that is because the starting backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley—which has been rolling—combined for 43 points on just 29 shot attempts. Thomas deserves a spot on the All-Star team, and if Thomas is not selected for the roster, it will be hard to disagree with his assessment as to why he’s not there. The Celtics also got a big game from Jared Sullinger (18 pts, 12 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk) on a night where Amir Johnson (personal) was out of the lineup, which also opened the door for Kelly Olynyk to again tease those who have flirted with rostering him all season. Johnson is only expected to miss a single game, but rookie Jordan Mickey (ankle) is expected to miss at least two weeks, meaning his hype train will continue to stay parked at the station.
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Utah @ Brooklyn: Jazz 108, Nets 86
The only bad news for Utah from this one was that Derrick Favors (back) spent another game on the sidelines, but this was otherwise a game that the Jazz had won before the fourth quarter began. Gordon Hayward had another good showing with 21 points, four boards and nine dimes, putting together a nice three-game run with averages of 28.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.3 triples on 50.9% shooting. Trevor Booker finally had the double-double (13 pts, 10 reb) that everyone had been waiting for with Favors sidelined, but he’s really failed to do anything of note with The Party Man sidelined. Rudy Gobert is now averaging a familiar 3.0 blocks over his last four games after three more swats on Friday, turning the ball over just three times total during that run.
It’s all bad in Brooklyn right now, and this Nets team has the bleakest outlook in fantasy or reality of any team in basketball. Shane Larkin is now an afterthought even when Donald Sloan falls flat on his face, Brook Lopez failed to crack 10 points for the first time since December 10 and Joe Johnson—who had eight points, five boards and four dimes—delivered Brooklyn’s best fantasy line of the night. The Nets are 11-33 in the season and trending in the worst kind of direction.
Los Angeles (C) @ New York: Clippers 116, Knicks 88
It was a forgettable night for the Knicks, and with the exception of rookie Jerian Grant (13 pts, 8 ast), this was an effort the team would like to drop off at the Port Authority bus station and see ride out of town. Carmelo Anthony’s new and improved all-around game (16 pts, 4 reb, 6 ast) is paying dividends in reality and fantasy, but when he and Kristaps Porzingis combine to shoot 8-of-25, it’s going to be a long night against a team as talented as Los Angeles. Robin Lopez didn’t help matters by getting ejected (two technical fouls) after playing just 17.5 minutes, and although Derrick Williams—who has been playing better than expected—saw increased run off the bench with nearly 30 minutes of action, his fantasy ceiling remains low and Lance Thomas (knee) wasn’t active to challenge him for playing time.
The Josh Smith trade clearly wasn’t a distraction of any kind to a Clippers team that has been rolling since Blake Griffin (quad) went down. Chris Paul, who again looks primed to deliver in the second half, flirted with a triple-double scoring 16 points, grabbing six boards and handing out 13 helpers to go along with two triples, while DeAndre Jordan shifted the focus away from the free throw line for a night with 20 points and eight boards on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. I can’t advocate J.J. Redick as a sell-high candidate enough with Griffin on the verge of a return, and you should have plenty of room to negotiate a two-for-one deal in which you land the best player in the trade using J.J. as the secondary bait considering the season he’s enjoyed.
Milwaukee @ Houston: Rockets 102, Bucks 98
Dwight Howard (L ankle) is expected to miss at least the next three to four days, meaning we could see more of the small-ball Rockets lineup—Jason Terry (knee), James Harden, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela—over the next handful of contests. Harden’s (30 pts, 5 reb, 8 ast, 2 stl, 5 3PM, 2 TO, 9-of-15 FG) beard was clearly styled with ICE considering how cold his game was on Friday, and although Ariza failed to record a steal, his 19 points, five boards and five triples will certainly get the job done. Capela has been trending in the wrong direction, and despite the Rockets’ frontcourt depth, he’s only going to be able to be counted on when Howard is out of the lineup. Terrence Jones (14 pts, 8 reb, 4 blk) has been playing much better, and Josh Smith is going to be an immediate contributor for a team that needs him with Donatas Motiejunas (back) not in playing shape and without a timetable to return.
Despite having no 3-point shot to speak of, Jabari Parker has put himself onto the fantasy radar in the month of January. Before dropping one of his most versatile lines of the season in Friday’s loss (11 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk), Parker was averaging 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals on 51.8% shooting since 2016 began. Parker is locked into big minutes, is finding his feel for the NBA game and has plenty of room to grow. That being said, Parker isn’t going to suddenly start jacking up shots on a team that has Khris Middleton (21 pts, 7 ast), Greg Monroe (21 pts, 9 reb, 4 blk) and Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of him in the pecking order. Every once in a while, Michael Carter-Williams drops a line like Friday’s (11 pts, 12 reb, 5 ast) that makes you raise an eyebrow, but MCW came in averaging just 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists (3.0 TO) on 38.2% shooting over his previous four games.
Miami @ Toronto: Raptors 101, Heat 81
On the night of another return to Toronto, Chris Bosh, and surprisingly Dwyane Wade (shoulders), were the only regular Miami starters in the Heat’s first five with Goran Dragic (calf), Luol Deng (eye) and Hassan Whiteside (hip) all on the shelf. Wade wasn’t expected to play, but he gave it a go and finished with 22 points, three rebounds and four assists (four TO) on 10-of-20 from the floor. Wade and Bosh combined for 48 of Miami’s 81 points, and it’s going to be tough sledding for this group until they get bodies back on the floor. Tyler Johnson has been a complete bust in his fill-in stint as the starting point guard, and Gerald Green (0 pts, 0-of-7 FG)—who was moved to a bench role in favor of rookie Justise Winslow on Friday—has gone ice cold as quickly as he caught fire earlier in the season. Both the Heat and fantasy owners need The Dragon back to breathing his hot fire, but Dragic expects to miss at least another week in what is quickly becoming a lost season.
Kyle Lowry was already voted in as a starter in the All-Star game, and it would be shocking not to see his partner in crime DeMar DeRozan standing alongside him in Toronto. DeRozan has now scored 30 or more points in three straight, averaging 32.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists 1.3 steals and 1.3 triples on 49.3% shooting during his hot streak. DD has taken his game to a place that extends beyond just scoring this season, elevating his fantasy ceiling in a big way in the process. Although Jonas Valanciunas has exceed 30 minutes just once in his last five games, the big man is playing well right now, averaging 12.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over that stretch. Toronto has now won seven straight games.
Oklahoma City @ Dallas: Thunder 109, Mavs 106
The Thunder needed everything they got from Kevin Durant (24 pts, 7 ast, 2 blk) and Russell Westbrook (16 pts, 8 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl) in a three-point win over Dallas. There is no reason Durant and Westbrook can’t sustain their pace as top-10 players as the season progresses into the second half, and they’re going to be leaned upon heavily with the Thunder struggling to get consistent offense from other sources. Despite Steven Adams (elbow) missing his first game of the season, Serge Ibaka (14 pts, 3 reb) was again underwhelming in a very favorable matchup vs. the Mavs and simply has not been the player so many were expecting to see this season. If Adams has to miss extended time, Enes Kanter—who had 16 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes—will see the biggest boost in value.
Is Chandler Parsons now ready to turn the corner? Averaging 24.0 points, 6.0 rebounds a steal and 3.7 3-pointers on 57.4% shooting over his last three games, the Parsons Patience Project is finally displaying some positive results. Dirk Nowitzki returned from his right knee effusion with 14 points on 15 shots, and the Mavericks are going to need Parsons to hold up and play well with the team unlikely to get the same contributions from Dirk, Zaza Pachulia and Deron Williams (22 pts, 5 ast, 2 stl) as they did in the season’s first half. The buy low window on Parsons is closed for now, and you don’t want to purchase at an inflated rate anyway…Wesley Matthews (13 pts, 5 stl) salvaged a 5-of-14 shooting night with his other activity, but we’re now officially halfway through the season and Matthews is still connecting on fewer than 40% of his shots from the floor. Despite his poor shooting, Matthews could have a legitimate chance to finish the season as a top-50-60 player the year after tearing his Achilles tendon. Raymond Felton (eye) also returned in this one, but he played just nine minutes and his run of relevance earlier this season seems like just a distant memory.
Indiana @ Golden State: Warriors 122, Pacers 110
How good is Stephen Curry when Draymond Green’s 22 points, 11 rebounds and four steals on 10-of-15 shooting is the second most impressive line of the night? Chef Curry chopped it up in his kitchen to the tune of 39 points (eight 3PM), 10 rebounds and 12 assists on 11-of-19 shooting, and his place at the top of the fantasy totem pole cannot currently be debated. It A big night in and outside of the box score, the Warriors brought home yet another W to celebrate Steve Kerr’s return to the sidelines.
The Pacers were down two starters in George Hill (personal) and Ian Mahinmi (L ankle), and the game could have been a lot more interesting if Paul George (12 pts, 5-of-15 FG) hadn’t failed to show up. Both PG Joe Young (16 pts, 8 ast) and C Myles Turner (31 pts, 8 reb, 2 blk) established new career-high scoring marks on Friday and have shown intriguing potential over the last few games where the Pacers have been shorthanded, but it’s Turner with the clearer path to a long-term role and the one prepared for an earlier takeoff. As useful as Mahinmi’s been, Turner has already shown he’s the best big off Indiana’s bench and could soon show that he’s the best option on the roster…Perhaps he starts as soon as Saturday vs. the Kings with Mahinmi already ruled out. Outside of the young guns, only Monta Ellis (18 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk) had a game worth talking about with C.J. Miles going MIA off the bench.
San Antonio @ Los Angeles (L): Spurs 108, Lakers 95
The Lakers actually played the Spurs to a draw in the second half of the contest, but unfortunately for Los Angeles the first 24 minutes told a different story. Again starting for Larry Nance Jr. (knee), Julius Randle (12 pts, 14 reb) had his second double-double in three games. Although he’s recently cut down on turnovers, Randle’s fantasy ceiling isn’t going to be much different from the unexciting Enes Kanter until if/when the young Laker can diversify his game. Kobe Bryant again had more assists (six) than points scored (five), and the Black Mamba has recently been doing a Garden Snake impression with single-digit scoring in five of his last six games. It’s basically impossible to project a trajectory that trends upward for Bryant, and it’s going to get increasingly difficult to roster my generation’s Michael Jordan on your fantasy roster. What a weird sentence to write. As Kobe moves closer to the end, more will be asked of Jordan Clarkson (16 pts) and D’Angelo Russell (18 pts, 8-of-10 FG), both of whom are improving and promise to play larger roles in the season’s second half.
LaMarcus Aldridge (back spasms) was held out, but the Spurs could’ve started Boban Marjanovic and a team of clones and still come out with the win. Kawhi Leonard did it all in under 30 minutes with 18 points, four boards, two steals and three blocks without a single turnover, while Manu Ginobili turned back the clock with 20 points, four rebounds, four assists, five steals and two blocks on a ridiculous 9-of-10 shooting in just 19 minutes. On a night where both Tony Parker (hip) and Tim Duncan (old) returned to the lineup, it was Danny Green who actually showed some signs of life with 12 points, five boards, four blocks and four 3-pointers. Don’t expect it to become a regular thing.