Perhaps Usher was onto something. The Hawks are the hottest team in basketball, and San Antonio East has something beautiful brewing in an Eastern Conference that has left us all wanting more. The current standing in first place is no mistake or accident, and it’s time some folks stopped treating it as some kind of fluke.
Andrew Wiggins continues to look like he might be turning a corner, the Rudy Gobert show was out in full-force without Enes Kanter in the lineup, and on the night the Rockets decided to bench Josh Smith, Houston won by a near 40-point margin. Coincidence? Perhaps.
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Hornets 98, Magic 90
The Hornets were able to snap a five-game skid behind Kemba Walker’s huge line, and he was able to break out of a two-game mini-funk with 30 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, a block and four triples. He’s going to continue to have a sky-high usage rate without Al Jefferson (groin) and Lance Stephenson (pelvis) in the lineup. Walker got help from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s big double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds, one block on 7-of-13 shooting), and he’s now put together a solid but unspectacular three-game stretch with averages of 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds on 16-of-36 shooting. He’s going to have to do more to get a look even without Jefferson and Stephenson in the lineup.
On Orlando’s side, Channing Frye (elbow strain) departed early in this one and did not return, meaning Kyle O’Quinn should be in line for more minutes, but he’s been terrible of late and needs a real opportunity from Jacque Vaughn to showcase what he can really do. With extended playing time, he can be a weapon for owners, and we’ve already seen flashes of that this season. Nikola Vucevic’s double-double was the biggest line for the Magic with 20 points, 10 rebounds a steal and two blocks, but it wasn’t enough to be at a shorthanded (and disappointing) Charlotte team. Tobias Harris (18 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, one block) also logged a double-double in the loss, and Victor Oladipo added 21 points, four rebounds and five assists to go along with four steals. Oladipo now has 11 steals over his last four games (2.75 per game) and is averaging 19 points over that same stretch. Oladipo is also shooting well above 40 percent from distance this season, and he’s really emerging as a player who is rostered on a lot of successful teams.
Jazz 101, Timberwolves 89
After following up his 28-point breakout with a 2-for-19 stinker, Trey Burke was back in business again for Utah in the win with 28 points, six rebounds, six assists, a steal and four triples on 10-of-16 shooting. With 38.5 minutes of action on Saturday, and five straight games above the 30-minute plateau, Burke seems to be taking advantage of the season-ending shoulder injury to Alec Burks. I’m a season-long Burke supporter, and while there might not be a better time than to sell high in the next few weeks, I like the point guard as a second-half breakout candidate if he continues to play with confidence.
Rudy Gobert got the start for Enes Kanter (ankle), and owners weren’t disappointed. The Steiffel Tower was true to his nickname: 31 minutes, 13 points, 11 rebounds, a steal and six blocks on 5-of-7 shooting. If (when) Kanter leaves as a restricted free-agent, Gobert is going to feast alongside Derrick Favors (15 points, eight rebounds, one steal) on a regular basis.
The best thing about the Timberwolves continues to be Andrew Wiggins’ development. The 19-year-old delivered his third straight game of at least 20 points scoring, and although he had just four rebounds, his one steal, one block and one triple will certainly leave owners who gambled on his upside with plenty to work with going forward. Mo Williams went off for 20 points off the bench, but Minnesota turned in a bunch of underwhelming lines, illustrated by the starting frontcourt of Thaddeus Young & Shabazz Muhammad combining for 15 points on 17 shots.
Rockets 115, Heat 79
Let’s start with the bad. Dwyane Wade “led the way” with 15 points, but he may be nursing some concerns minor injuries to his knee and calf. Wade only played 20 minutes in the blowout, and the entire starting five clocked in at under 24 minutes. Chris Bosh also had 15 points and four rebounds, while Luol Deng had 10 points, six boards and a steal. It was an embarrassing performance by a team (albeit a very, very different one) that’s been in the NBA Finals in four straight seasons prior to this one.
Houston finally decided to pull the plug on the Josh Smith experiment (at least as the starting power forward), and Donatas Motiejunas logged 33.5 minutes (13 points, three assists, two steals) in the win. Smith, meanwhile, played 22 minutes off the bench, and to his credit, he was much more efficient than he had been (6-of-9 shooting, 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal), but his playing time is a situation to monitor. James Harden played 34 minutes and went off for 28 points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and three triples, and it says everything about the expectations he’s set when that line is considered a disappointing one. Dwight Howard also kicked in a double-double with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but he failed to record a single steal or block.
Spurs 101, Wizards 92
On a night Gregg Popovich revealed Kawhi Leonard is still “weeks” away from returning, old beat young as the Spurs took down Washington in San Antonio. Despite just four points in 31.5 minutes from Tim Duncan (nine rebounds, four assists, one steal, two blocks), the Spurs were able to get by on the efforts of unlikely suspects: Cory Joseph (19 points), Boris Diaw (14 points), Patty Mills (15 points), and Tiago Splitter (16 points). The real takeaway is the news on Leonard, and there really is no clear fantasy beneficiary on a consistent basis in his absence. The Spurs are going to need the Finals MVP at full strength in order to even have a prayer of attempting a repeat as champions.
The Wizards got 15 points each from John Wall (eight assists) and Bradley Beal (two triples), and although the team had six different players in double-digit scoring, they weren’t able to come out as winners on the road. This was not a fantasy-friendly box score on either side, but better days should be ahead for both squads as 2015 gets rolling.
Bulls 109, Celtics 104 (OT)
Evan Turner once again started at point guard for the Celtics, and at this point, he needs to be owned in every league regardless of the format. Yes, I realize I just endorsed Evan Turner as a must-own player, but he’s going to get extended run as the team’s starting point guard (he’s their best option), and I think he’s going to fare well with a club willing to let him have the ball in his hands. Jared Sullinger’s monstrous double-double (16 points, 16 rebounds, one steal, one block) wasn’t enough, but it’s nice to see that the big fella is back on track after a short hiatus. Jeff Green had 11 points and nine rebounds on 4-of-18 shooting, and he continues to be one of the most overrated players in both fantasy basketball and reality.
Chicago started Nikola Mirotic at small forward (!) in this one without Mike Dunleavy (ankle) and Jimmy Butler (personal), and although shot just 2-of-10 from the floor, he had 10 points, eight rebounds and two steals, the most encouraging thing about this performance was the 38 minutes he logged. The darkhorse Rookie of the Year is going to make it hard for Tom Thibodeau to keep him off the floor going forward. Pau Gasol complemented the ‘rookie’ in emphatic form with another throwback line: 29 points, 16 rebounds, a steal and five blocks on 9-of-16 shooting. He even added a three for good measure, and Gasol has been reborn on the title-contending Bulls. Although Joakim Noah had just 8 points, his 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks show why he’s such a valued commodity.
Nuggets 114, Grizzlies 85
After a wire-to-wire win against the Los Angeles the Lakers the previous night, a short turnaround against the Nuggets in Denver set up as a trap game for Memphis, and the Grizzlies fell right into it.
Marc Gasol had 18 points and five rebounds, but the only other player who joined him in double-digits was Jon Leuer, and he had just 10 points. The Grizz are still without Zach Randolph (knee), and he remains without a timetable to return.
Denver got yet another double-double from Kenneth Faried (13 points, 13 boards) and Ty Lawson (25 points, 11 assists), while rookie Jusuf Nurkic rounded out the trifecta with 11 points and 10 rebounds (two steals, five blocks) in just 23 minutes off the bench. With two straight double-double’s and a 16-point, eight-rebound game prior to that, Nurkic’s stock is soaring right now. He’s seen more than 20 minutes in all three of those contests, and it’s not out of the realm of consideration to think he could supplant Timofey Mozgov in Denver’s starting lineup. He needs to be owned in all formats at this point because of his massive upside.
Hawks 115, Blazers 107
Anyone still doubting the first-place team in the Eastern Conference should probably start watching Atlanta play basketball. The San Antonio Hawks are flying high under Coach of the Year candidate in Mike Budenholzer, and they handed the Trail Blazers just their third home loss of the season on Saturday evening. Paul Millsap continues to push for an All-Star bid, and his favorite side at Thanksgiving has gotta be the stuffing with how well he does it on the stat sheet: 27 points, six rebounds, a steal and a block in this one. Millsap is now averaging 0.9 triples, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks, which is just one example of what makes him a very under-appreciated fantasy asset.
The Hawks saw seven guys score in double figures, and like most wins for Atlanta under this regime, it was a true group effort that saw everyone play a role. The biggest oddity may have been Al Horford checking in at -14 in an eight-point win despite playing 33 minutes, but nobody is going to care (or notice) that if the Hawks keep rolling. Now winners of four straight, it looks like Atlanta wants to try and go streaking again. No word on if green hats will be involved.
The Blazers got a huge double-double from LaMarcus Aldridge (30 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, a steal, two blocks), and despite a near triple-double from Damian Lillard (16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists), the Blazers weren’t able to overcome a night where their bench didn’t give them anything. Most notably for Portland, the team lost Joel Freeland to a shoulder injury for at least a couple weeks in this one, and with Robin Lopez (hand) already out, it’s going to mean the Blazers are going to have to get creative. The options include Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard, and Terry Stotts has shown an inclination to rotate through several options since Lopez went down with the hand injury. Kaman (15 minutes), Robinson (10 minutes) and Leonard (DNP-Coach’s Decision) didn’t do much to inspire confidence following Freeland’s injury.
Clippers 127, Sixers 91
I’d rather watch the Sixers than the Knicks on most nights considering the product and expectations with each team, but this was not one of those occasions.
The Clippers didn’t really get on with the real blowout until outscoring the Sixers by a whopping 22 points in the final quarter, but this game was never as close or competitive as the score suggested at any point with the exception of its final. Case in point: the Clippers’ bench is the unit that outscored the Sixers in the final frame, because all five starters sat for the entire 12 minutes.
Chris Paul’s near triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists (in three quarters) highlighted the night for the Clippers, but it was Los Angeles’ bench that finally came to play with three double-digit scorers (Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock and Jamal Crawford) and more than 40 points combined that sealed the deal for the Clippers. This “title contender” has needed an improved bench in desperate fashion, and their hope is that this can be a building block for the future.
Philadelphia was without Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder), so Tony Wroten took advantage with 27 points, four rebounds, seven assists and two triples. The 8-of-21 performance from the field and his six turnovers are not going to sit well with some owners, but Wroten is an automatic start in my lineup (non-DFS) anytime MCW sits out. Robert Covington (23 points, three rebounds, four triples) continues to show why he’s a sustainable asset in any format for owners in need of help from distance.