It’s hard not to feel bad for Joakim Noah, and it’s even tougher not to wonder if he’s played his last game in a Bulls jersey. Although Noah doesn’t have an official timetable after sustaining a dislocated left shoulder, this is going to be an absence measured in weeks - not days.
With how well he’s played since resting his plantar fasciitis, Damian Lillard should be pointing at his wrist all 24 hours in the day right now to let everybody know exactly what time it is.
Washington @ Indiana: Wizards 118, Pacers 104
John Wall is banged up, but you wouldn’t know it from how good he’s been since a bad November. With 28 points, seven boards, eight dimes and a steal on 12-of-21 shooting, he’s the latest opposing point guard to shred Indiana’s defense. Bradley Beal (22 points, 9-of-15 FG) had his best game since returning, and it should only be a matter of games until Beal replaces Garrett Temple—who left and then returned to this game with a right shoulder injury—in the starting five. It won’t happen on Saturday, because Beal (rest) is not expected to play vs. Boston. Marcin Gortat (knee) is improving, but his status is very much up in the air for Saturday, meaning Nene and DeJuan Blair would hold onto short-term relevance if The Polish Hammer misses more time. The lumbering twosome combined for 20 points, 14 rebounds and three steals in Gortat’s absence on Friday, while Kelly Oubre (seven points, four boards, two steals, 18 minutes) did a whole lot of nothing in his spot start for Otto Porter (hip).
It looked like Paul George was on his way to a big game after a monster first quarter, but he couldn’t find the range after that, finishing just 6-of-19 from the field for 21 points, five boards, seven dimes, three steals, a block and five turnovers. Maybe it’s because he was dealing with tightness behind his right knee, and it’s a situation that needs to be monitored closely with PG-13 reporting discomfort in between the calf and hamstring area of his right leg. It’s the same leg that he injured during the now infamous Team USA scrimmage.
Ian Mahinmi had come in on a nice little roll over his last six games, but he cooled off with just seven points and four boards in 20.5 minutes…Mahinmi is worth a roster spot in standard formats. Monta Ellis (17 points, three boards, three assists, one steal, one block, 7-of-14 FG) and George Hill (19 points, eight boards, two 3PM, 8-of-14 FG) were efficient, but the Pacers—like fantasy owners—can’t afford to have C.J. Miles (four points, 26.5 minutes) go cold.
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Minnesota @ Oklahoma City: Thunder 113, Timberwolves 93
In a game that was over before the fourth quarter began, both Kevin Durant (21 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and Russell Westbrook (12 points, 11 boards, 10 assists, two steals) were able to stuff the stat sheet in less than 30 minutes on the floor. Coming into Friday’s contest, Durant was the No. 2 player in standard 9-cat leagues over the last 30 days, and he’s a serious candidate to overtake Stephen Curry for the top spot way before the season concludes. Cameron Payne is an intriguing young rookie capable of producing across the stat sheet as his last two games (12.0 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 steals, 1.5 3PM) suggest, but he’s only on the radar in deep formats when it comes to the re-draft circuit.
Friday’s game marked the fifth straight in which Andrew Wiggins has scored at least 20-plus points. During that stretch, the still 20-year-old Wiggins has averaged 26.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.0 3PM and 2.6 turnovers. When Wiggins can begin to connect on his 3-point shot consistently, it will elevate his fantasy appeal to an entirely new level…You can clearly see the potential. Despite Kevin Martin (illness) sitting this one out, Zach LaVine (13 points, six boards) didn’t make an impact in 24.5 minutes…Feel free to let someone else in your league wait for LaVine to “blossom.” Shabazz Muhammad has dropped 15 or more in four of his last five games, but he’s doing nothing else and is really only a points-league option. It’s not a good sign that Gorgui Dieng (two points, five boards, 15.5 minutes) puts up a dud when Karl-Anthony Towns (nine points, 12 rebounds, 4-of-13 FG) was ineffective from the field, and Dieng has now scored 15 total points in his last six games. If someone with Aaron Gordon-type upside is on your league’s waiver wire, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the switch.
Phoenix @ Boston: Celtics 117, Suns 103
Isaiah Thomas’ revenge game was limited to just 24 minutes because Marcus Smart went off for his first career triple-double with 10 points, 11 boards and 11 dimes to go along with two steals, two blocks and three turnovers. Smart is still struggling with his shot, but he has the ability to positively impact the box score in every other way. It’s hard to get too excited about Friday’s results because Boston had the game put away early, but Kelly Olynyk (21 points, nine boards, three steals, one block, four triples) showed why he is a VIP member of the All-Fantasy Frustration Team. As for Jae Crowder (17 points, six boards, five assists, three steals, two blocks, two triples), the Celtics should start calling him AU6 since he’s been pure gold.
To say the Suns are in flux would be an understatement, and Markieff Morris’ return to the starting lineup—given what has transpired between he and the franchise since the offseason—is all of the proof we need. Jon Leuer played just 13 minutes, and he doesn’t belong on rosters with Mirza Teletovic (22 points, four 3PM) ballin’ since 2016 arrived. Brandon Knight needed 15 shots to score 16 points and had as many assists as he did turnovers (four), while Devin Booker required nine shots for nine points as the Suns shot 39.3% as a team. More changes are going to be coming, and I’d expect T.J. Warren to get a lot more run in the season’s second half. As an aside, Ronnie Price (toe surgery) will be out for at least the next few weeks, meaning the door has swung wide open for Booker while the window has barely cracked open for Archie Goodwin.
Portland @ Brooklyn: Blazers 116, Nets 104
Damian Lillard’s mixtape isn’t the only thing that’s on fire, because his last five games have been straight flames: Averaging 29.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 5.4 3-pointers, it’s been Lillard Time all of the time. It’s been a different story for C.J. McCollum during that same stretch, checking in with averages of 16.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.0 3PM on just 33% (33-of-99) shooting. McCollum is producing statistically, but his recent inefficiency shows the downside some were rightfully concerned about before the season began. Allen Crabbe (19 points, six boards, five 3PM) had another nice game, and he’s done enough to be worth sticking with in standard formats until further notice. Even when Mason Plumlee can’t get it going, Meyers Leonard remains an afterthought and that’s how you know the struggle is real.
The Nets got good but not great games from Thaddeus Young (11 points, eight rebounds, two steals, one block) and Brook Lopez (25 points, seven boards), but it was Donald Sloan (15 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) who turned in the best effort. The journeyman veteran continues to reduce Shane Larkin’s (two points, two blocks, three turnovers, 16 minutes) role, and it’s been a disappointing showing for Barry’s son and a validating moment for Phil Jackson’s ego. Larkin is worth holding if you’re in real need of point guard help, but his leash can only be so long.
Charlotte @ New Orleans: Pelicans 109, Hornets 107
After a huge game vs. Atlanta’s Al Horford, Cody Zeller (five points, eight boards, 23 minutes) was predictably bullied inside in a bad matchup vs. a sizable starting Pelicans frontline tandem. Rookie Frank Kaminsky (18 points, six boards, two 3-pointers) has now averaged 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, a steal and two triples over his last three games while playing at least 25 minutes in each contest. Without Jeremy Lamb (R toe sprain) in the lineup, it was the Kemba Walker (25 points, four boards, four dimes, five 3PM) and Nicolas Batum (25 points, four rebounds, eight assists, 11-of-22 FG) show with Jeremy Lin—who tweaked his ankle—struggling to seven points on 10 shot attempts.
It wasn’t a downright dominant game from Anthony Davis, but 22 points, five boards, four assists, a steal and two blocks on 57.1% shooting definitely gets the job done. A gimpy Tyreke Evans played 27 forgettable minutes, and you have to wonder how long he can keep playing as his surgically-repaired right knee—which required a draining on Thursday—continues to give him problems. Jrue Holiday (13 points, six boards, 10 assists) now has 10 dimes in back-to-back games, and he’s trending in the right direction with Evans going the opposite way. Ryan Anderson’s 32 points were a season-high while his six triples tied his best mark of the year, and the Ryno is now shooting a blistering 19-of-31 (61.3%) after connecting on just 33.8% of his attempts to begin the new year.
Dallas @ Chicago: Mavericks 83, Bulls 77
What a terrible development for Joakim Noah, who sustained a dislocated left shoulder and is expected to have an MRI on Saturday. It’s possible his (contract) season could be over, and his absence will have a ripple effect across the board on a Bulls team where Noah has often played the role of heart and soul. Pau Gasol (Achilles, shoulder)—who returned with a fat line of 17 points, eight boards, four dimes, a steal and two blocks—is going to have to play more, while Taj Gibson’s minutes will go nowhere. Fred Hoiberg has at least temporarily decided to demote Nikola Mirotic back to the bench and utilize him as more of a power forward, meaning Bobby Portis’ path to minutes is still blocked despite Noah hitting the sidelines. Portis is a high-end, luxury stash for a fantasy team with a comfortable cushion. Tony Snell—who started at SF—Doug McDermott and Mirotic combined for five points on 1-of-14 shooting, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bulls went shopping in the small forward market…Veteran P.J. Tucker could be a nice fit.
Anytime an NBA player scores 50-plus in a single game, he get a pass for his next dud. Jimmy Butler (four points, five boards, six assists, two steals) looked tired, and nobody can blame him considering the effort he put forward on Thursday vs. Philadelphia. The 77 points scored represent a season-low mark for the Bulls, so Butler wasn’t the only one dragging his feet in the mud. Kirk Hinrich (L quad contusion) left this game without returning, but his absence has no real fantasy impact with Derrick Rose (knee) in the lineup.
Despite the Mavs recently resting starters, only Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, seven boards, two 3PM) and Deron Williams (18 points, six dimes, two blocks, four 3PM) responded. Chandler Parsons (eight points, three rebounds, four assists), Zaza Pachulia (nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Wesley Matthews (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) all failed to eclipse 10 points, and the Mavs barely scraped by a Bulls team that shot 36% from the field. Devin Harris (left foot) played just 14 minutes, but his role is limited regardless of health with D-Will, Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea all healthy.
Atlanta @ Milwaukee: Bucks 108, Hawks 101 (OT)
Paul Millsap’s versatility has been his greatest asset all season, and it was again on display Friday night with 23 points, 10 boards, six assists, two steals, four blocks and a triple with just two turnovers on 10-of-19 shooting. Kyle Korver suddenly looked like the player he was last year with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists, a steal, a block and three triples on 70% shooting, but there has been nothing this season to suggest Korver is suddenly going to catch fire. Al Horford rebounded from a two-point, two-rebound effort with 18 points, eight boards and two blocks, but he shot just 9-of-23 from the field in the process. Jeff Teague (nine points, 10 assists) got double the minutes of Dennis Schroder (16 points, five rebounds, two 3PM), and Schroder’s fantasy value will be synonymous with Schrodinger’s Cat until he gets a legitimate opportunity at real minutes.
To say Giannis Antetokounmpo has been making it happen over his last three games would be a disservice to his work. The Greek Freak has been absolutely marvelous, averaging 25.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks on a fiery 60.5% shooting. As a frightening reminder, Giannis just turned 21 in December. Jabari Parker is now locked into big minutes, but without a 3-point shot to speak of, it’s hard to get too excited about his current appeal…Parker’s Friday double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, one steal, one block) was only his first of the season. Michael Carter-Williams’ big line (15 points, nine boards, seven assists, three steals, two blocks, two 3PM, six turnovers) is a good illustration of what he can do without competition for playing time since Jerryd Bayless (ankle) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) are out, while Khris Middleton has nothing but open lane to keep surging into the top 30-40 fantasy players before the season concludes. John Henson's season-high 31 minutes translated to 10 points, seven boards and six blocks, and he was worth a pickup for those in need of rim protection before this mini-breakout. Henson is now playing alongside Greg Monroe in small stretches, and that will get him more time on the court.
Miami @ Denver: Heat 98, Nuggets 95
Hassan Whiteside has done more than get his 2K rating up, and he notched his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocks in a performance that was a week-changer for anyone with Whiteside on their roster. It’s safe to say his temporary benching motivated him, and Whiteside is the kind of player who has learned to respond well when his capabilities are questioned. Playing without a clearly hampered Dwyane Wade (shoulders) and without Goran Dragic (calf) until further notice, Beno Udrih (11 points, 11 assists) and Tyler Johnson (15 points, four rebounds, four dimes) will carry short-term appeal.
With Jusuf Nurkic (L ankle, L knee) out of the lineup and requiring a reevaluation, Mike Malone is going to have to get creative, and that’s exactly what he did in starting Kenneth Faried alongside Darrell Arthur. Arthur is clearly a Malone favorite, and despite 18 points, eight boards and two steals on 8-of-12 shooting, his checkered health history makes it very difficult to rely upon him for sustainable production. Although Nikola Jokic was out of the starting five in favor of Arthur, the soon to be 21-year-old big man remained productive in limited run with nine points, six boards, five assists and a block in just 17.5 minutes. He’s worth holding as he has been all season, and Joffrey Lauvergne (DNP-CD) is out of the rotation entirely. Emmanuel Mudiay (16 points, four assists, two 3PM, 5-of-11 FG) outplayed Jameer Nelson (seven points, four assists), but Mudiay is waiver wire fodder in standard leagues right now.
Cleveland @ Houston: Cavs 91, Rockets 77
Kyrie Irving (23 points) was the only member of Cleveland’s roster to break the 20-point plateau, but it was again LeBron James (19 points, seven boards, seven dimes, two blocks) who delivered the strongest effort. James came into Friday’s win averaging 26.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.3 triples on an absurd 57.1% from the field since January began, and The King has been doing more than just watching the throne since we moved into 2016. Kevin Love’s empty double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds, 4-of-13 FG) is especially hollow with five turnovers to his name, but three triples and three steals do add some balance to an otherwise unspectacular line. Over his last four games, J.R. Smith has attempted 53 shots to score 54 points. It was only a matter of time until his hot streak ran cold. Timofey Mozgov started at center ahead of Tristan Thompson, but that could have been due to a matchup vs. Dwight Howard and temporary in nature. Regardless of Mozgov’s role, he’s not worth a roster spot in standard leagues.
Houston has been playing well, but Howard’s double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two blocks) was really the only thing worth mentioning from a Rockets box score that saw the team shoot 35.1%, including a meager 24% from behind the 3-point line. James Harden had one of his worst games of the season with 11 points, five boards, five dimes, three steals and eight turnovers on 2-of-10 shooting, while the surging Terrence Jones disappointed in a favorable matchup with just three points, four rebounds and a block in his 22.5 minutes on the floor. Despite the inconsistency, Jones is worth sticking with due to his recent performance, obvious fantasy upside and praise from interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Patrick Beverley (ankle) limped off in this one, but the Rockets are calling it just a minor sprain.