Not a bad plan B in Chicago, eh? A swing and a miss on Carmelo Anthony in free agency has resulted in the rebirth of Pau Gasol, the full-blown emergence of Jimmy Butler, the arrival of Nikola Mirotic and a balanced team approach that the Bulls haven't seen in some time. You have to think the front office, which rolled out the red carpet for Melo, has to be feeling pretty good about how things worked out.
Gasol's career-night fueled the Bulls to a win once again on a night where the vibes were otherwise lukewarm with Derrick Rose (left knee soreness) being ruled out, and the rest of the Eastern Conference should continue to look up at a Bulls team that's been underrated since day one of the season.
Elsewhere, the Knicks are a downright embarrassment to basketball, James Harden's MVP case continues to grow by the day, and Stan Van Gundy continues to sip on Diet Pepsi like Kermit would sip tea as he watches his team continue to turn it around in the post-Josh Smith era.
Hornets 110, Knicks 82
The Knicks haven’t won a game since December 12th, and that was against a Boston Celtics team in the midst of a swift and decisive transition. Before that, it was against the Philadelphia 76ers, an “NBA team” that passes as a running joke both inside and out of league circles. In other words, this team has won two games in the last (near) two months, and both didn’t feature stuff competition across the other side. This team is not just getting unwatchable, rather New York has torpedoed past trainwreck and has done a complete nosedive into total and utter oblivion. The Knicks outscored the Hornets by 17 points in the fourth quarter and still lost by 28 points. Armed with a roster loaded with fill-ins and D-League talent, Derek Fisher is poised to age more in his first season as head coach than he seemingly did at any point during his NBA career.
There isn’t much to glean from a Knicks outing without Carmelo Anthony (knee), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) or Andrea Bargnani (calf) in the lineup, but Quincy Acy (18 points, two steals, 6-of-9 shooting) continued to produce for this undermanned squad despite getting just 22 minutes off the bench. Shane Larkin continues to show some things now that he has a stable role on this team with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals (three turnovers) in 27.5 minutes, and New York’s decision to decline his contract option for next season looks worse with each passing performance. The Knicks had just one other player, Tim Hardaway, Jr., in double-digits (15 points, three assists), but that’s to be expected in a near 30-point blowout when the team scores a whopping 82 points.
Despite not having Al Jefferson (groin) or Lance Stephenson (pelvis), Kemba Walker (28 points, seven rebounds, four triples, 8-of-13 shooting) continues to carry this team and play like a man on fire. The fact that he did his damage in just 28 minutes makes it that much more impressive, and Walker is building a fierce reputation for thriving inside Madison Square Garden. There was some nice garbage time production in this one with rookie PJ Hairston scoring 15 points while veteran Brian Roberts picked up 14 of his own, and you know it’s a bad day in New York when the Knicks let Bismack Biyombo go for 14 points, 12 rebounds and a double-double in just 21 minutes.
Clippers 120, Mavericks 100
In the pseudo-contender “all-offense showdown,” the Clippers & Mavs both lived up to their reputations on the individual and team levels.
Beginning with Los Angeles, the Clippers saw all five starters score in double-digits, with Jamal Crawford joining the festivities with 19 points off the pine. As is the usual case with this club, no one else from the reserve unit is even worth mentioning considering how underwhelming the group is. LA is going to need bolster this second unit if its serious about going deep into the postseason. Chris Paul (17 points, 13 assists, two triples) had his usual strut going on, and on an afternoon without a turnover, CP3’s ridiculous assist-to-turnover ratio hovers right around five-to-one for the season. While on the subject of assists, we need to recognize the evolution in Blake Griffin’s game. BG averaged six assists per game in December and has come out firing again in 2015. With 22 points, seven boards, six assists and two steals on 11-of-15 shooting, the Kia pitchman is making both the career-low rebounding numbers as well as the slow start to this season non-issues for his owners.
Although Dallas got a combined 60 points from Monta Ellis (23), Dirk Nowitzki (25) and Chandler Parsons (12), not a single other player managed to score 10-plus points. Rajon Rondo shot just 1-of-11 from the field for two points, three boards and eight assists, and while usually this team can find someone unexpected to contribute on any given night, the Mavs had a litany of ugly stat lines for the choosing despite scoring 100 points in this one.
Raptors 109, Celtics 96
A four-game losing streak was the longest the Raptors had seen in some time, but a matchup against the Celtics without Rajon Rondo—and now also without Jeff Green due to the pending trade with Memphis—will be a quick road to fixing that, even if DeMar DeRozan (groin) remains sidelined. Although no one topped 20 points for the winning team, the Raptors got six different double-digit efforts and saw a well-balanced effort get the club back on track.
James Johnson, who started for Landry Fields, saw a whopping 36 minutes and responded with 15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. DeRozan’s pending return will impact JJ’s time on the floor, but there’s no doubting his production when the window is open for him to make an impact, and he’s someone who can be a multi-cat contributor when the gettin’ is goin’ good. Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams combined for 38 points with 19 a piece, and Patrick Patterson busted out of a mini-funk in this one with 10 points, nine rebounds, a steal and two blocks.
For Boston, Jae Crowder started once again in Green’s place, but had just seven points, three rebounds and a block in 22 minutes. He’s not a must-add talent, and the Celtics have depth on the wing where he’s not about to be unleashed like if he suited up Philadelphia. Jared Sullinger (13 points, 10 rebounds, one steal, one triple) is solid if unspectacular, and his bargain ADP continues to drive his value this season. Kelly Olynyk once again flirted with the 30-minute mark and got hot with 23 points, five boards, two steals, a block and two triples on 8-of-11 shooting, but the sole thing about his value that will remain consistent is how inconsistent he is.
Spurs 108, Timberwolves 93
It was Daye Day in Minnesota as Gregg Popovich decided to unleash Austin into the starting lineup for this one. Playing a very generous 36 minutes, this, of course, after Daye had played fewer than 36 minutes combined since before Christmas, Daye responded in emphatic fashion with an unexpected 22 points, 10 rebounds and four triples on 8-of-13 shooting. Don’t chase the fluke of a stat line, as this is not the beginning of some new genius revelation under Popovich. I’ll believe in a Daye revival when we see Popovich start taking advice from Amar’e Stoudemire about how to use the extra vino from his collection to take the proper wine bath.
Despite Tony Parker (hamstring) starting and playing 25 minutes, Cory Joseph remained a big part of the Spurs’ attack with 12 points, five assists and three steals in 27 minutes off the bench. Patty Mills also saw plenty of action with 26 minutes (19 points, two triples), and the Spurs look like a team that’s in the midst of once again finding a balanced approach that should arrive just in time for Kawhi Leonard’s (hand) return.
Thaddeus Young has to be one of the biggest busts of the season for me. A disappointment through and through in terms of both his role and production, Young has not provided the return on investment I had hoped for this season. Minnesota is trending toward (and close to) a full-blown youth movement, and Andrew Wiggins continues to display a tremendous confidence in 2015 that he simply did not previously. With 18 points, three rebounds and two assists (8-of-8 FT’s), Wiggins continues to illustrate that he’s starting to settle in nicely.
Gorgui Dieng (18 points, 12 rebounds, a steal, four blocks, 7-of-11 shooting) is an absolute beast, and I’ve gone on record multiple times stating he’s outright better than Nikola Pekovic. Even with the big man nearing a return, Dieng will continue to have value with Pekovic’s limitations, and the fact he doesn’t get more love in basketball circles is one thing that consistently baffles me.
Rockets 97, Jazz 82
The big development in this one came not on the stat sheet, but in the starting lineup, where Rudy Gobert remained the lead man ahead of Enes Kanter (ankle) despite the latter returning to action from his injury. Despite Kanter being limited because it was his first night back, Quin Snyder made it sound like Gobert has a chance to stick in a larger role, and potentially as the starting center if everything breaks the right way. Not only should Gobert be owned in all leagues at this point, but I’d be making trade offers (reasonable ones, obviously) to make sure you land The Steiffel Tower before he explodes like a supernova.
There wasn’t much to write home about from Utah’s box score, but Kanter’s 16 points did co-lead his team. Trey Burke also had 16 points (five boards, three assists, four turnovers), but his efficiency (6-of-14) and the turnovers really limits the good that he did here. The good news for Burke’s owners is that he continues to have a large cushion on minutes ahead of rookie Dante Exum, and that’s not something likely to change at this point or any other in the foreseeable future.
What can we write about James Harden that hasn’t been said or authored heretofore? An MVP candidate in both fantasy and reality, his 30 points, five dimes and four triples help to make you forget about his six turnovers, especially when you factor in his 10-of-11 from the free throw line. The efficiency and frequency from the charity stripe are a regular (and welcomed) part of The Beard’s game. On a night where Dwight Howard managed just eight points and eight rebounds (and a minus-one rating) in 37 minutes, the Rockets needed their real MVP to show up like he has all season. Donatas Motiejunas also added a nice double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three steals, and he’s been a much better piece in the starting lineup than he was off the bench upon Josh Smith’s initial arrival.
Bulls 95, Bucks 87
Chicago has two of the best values in the game this season. We all know about Jimmy Butler’s MVP-worthy season (yes, that’s real), but Pau Gasol’s resurgence is an equally-important storyline for what’s gone right in the Windy City this year.
The talented Spaniard dropped a career-high 46 (!) points in the eight-point victory on a night where the Bulls were shorthanded (Derrick Rose-out, left knee soreness), and if you think that’s impressive, I haven’t even gotten to his to his 18 (!) rebounds or his better than 50 percent (17-of-30) shooting. It was an evening to remember for Gasol, and the win undoubtedly made it that much better. Speaking of Butler, he nearly triple-doubled in this one with nine points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and a block on what could be considered an “off” night, and the amount of versatility he’s added to his game in such a short amount of time has been as dramatic as it has been impressive. Both players will be critical if Rose, who’s going to see the doctor for his knee soreness, is going to miss any amount of time. At this point, even if it’s precautionary, that seems as if it’s a likely outcome.
Brandon Knight’s solid season continues, and he had 20 points to go along with five boards and five dimes in the loss. And although John Henson’s per-minute production remains ridiculous (six points, seven rebounds, four blocks), his minutes also remain ridiculous (18) for all of the wrong reasons. Both Khris Middleton and Jared Dudley are playing a sizable role for the Bucks right now, but they’ll cancel each other out more than they’ll help your team at this point with how Jason Kidd is deploying each.
Sixers 93, Pacers 92
The Sixers are on a winning streak! Thanks to Michael Carter-Williams’ game-winning layup with just under 10 seconds remaining, MCW finished with 15 points, five rebounds and nine dimes, but his counterpart Tony Wroten continues to impress with 20 points, four boards, nine assists, two steals and two triples in the win. Although MCW’s 35 minutes outpaced Wroten’s 29, both are going to play large roles in anything the Sixers are going to do right for the remainder of the campaign. Philadelphia also got some help from Robert Covington (16 points, four triples) and Nerlens Noel (six points, nine rebounds and five blocks).
Indiana took the loss home despite a dominant 28 points and nine rebounds (two steals, two blocks) from veteran David West, and his efforts of that caliber are few and far between at this stage of his career. This team can’t afford to waste them. Roy Hibbert was on pace for a monster game with seven points and 13 rebounds in under 20 minutes, but foul trouble kept him on the bench a lot longer than it otherwise would have. If we’re being completely honest, and we always are here, the Pacers are an absolutely terrible team to have any fantasy players on because it’s simply not an enjoyable product to watch. That’s especially the case with George Hill (groin) continuing to be out of the lineup.
Pistons 98, Nets 93
This is getting ridiculous.
Although the Pistons did (finally) lose to the Hawks in the Josh Smith bowl this weekend, Detroit bounced right back on Saturday evening with a win over Brooklyn. That makes eight in their last nine, and make sure you take this prediction to where you buy your lottery tickets: Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons are making the playoffs.
Greg Monroe continues to love life in the Motor City without Smith as he went off again with 16 points and 17 rebounds, and Brandon Jennings continues to look like a completely different player than he had at any point previously during his time in Detroit with 20 points, 11 assists two steals and three triples in the win. Andre Drummond also kicked in a near double-double with 14 points, nine boards, a steal and two blocks, but his dominant services weren’t required with The Moose getting loose against the Nets.
How can I summarize Brooklyn’s box score? In one word: Yuck. Disgusting. Gross. Nothing there. But let me try and paint a prettier picture for you than that. Brook Lopez did have a double-double off the bench with 11 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes, but his inconsistency is something another owner can not-so-happily deal with...I’ll pass. Jarrett Jack didn’t do a thing with Deron Williams sidelined, but his eight assists and two steals at least gave owners something, because his five points on 2-of-12 shooting surely did not.
Blazers 103, Magic 92
It’s amazing Orlando was even this close in Portland considering the team had just two players eclipse 10 points and were without the services of Tobias Harris (sprained ankle). Nikola Vucevic continues to validate Doc Rivers’ previous claim of being the best All-Star that no one knows about, but even his career-high 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting couldn’t save the Magic in this one. Victor Oladipo added 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal, but he did it on just 6-of-21 shooting, and anytime a player needs as many (or more) shots as he has points scored, it’s going to take a lot of the air out of their tire.
The Blazers rolled behind 25 points and six rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge, but it wasn’t one of his better games of the season as he added just six rebounds, a three, a steal and a block on 10-of-22 shooting. Nicolas Batum displayed his versatility with seven points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks, but his disappointing season continues overall. Damian Lillard had an off shooting night as he managed just 3-of-10 from the field, but he still contributed 16 points, five rebounds and five assists to go along with his two triples. Wes Matthews (knee) showed no signs of concern, pressing on for 18 points (four triples), eight rebounds and four big steals. His underrated campaign continues in a contract season, and he’s now over 47 percent overall, including over 40 percent from distance.