An eight-game Saturday slate included Curry proving he’s not from this Earth as the Warriors won arguably the best game of the NBA season, a matinee in which Hassan Whiteside (13/15/8) nearly triple-doubled with blocks off the bench again, Anthony Davis serving as a surprise scratch, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gobert both going off and The Return of Eric Gordon: Volume 232.
It’s also now officially buyout season, which means Joe Johnson is headed to Miami, and Andre Miller is on his way to San Antonio. David Lee is closing the gap on Zaza Pachulia in Dallas, and J.J. Hickson has arrived as Nene insurance in Washington. Kris Humphries looks like he’s flying from the sun en route to Atlanta and Kevin Martin will soon be joining a contender of his choosing. I know what Cedric Ceballos is probably thinking: That motley crew could beat the Warriors.
Miami @ Boston: Celtics 101, Heat 89
Coming into the loss, Hassan Whiteside was averaging better numbers off the bench than as a starter, and that theme continued on Sunday. Whiteside is now averaging a ridiculous 19.5 points, 17.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks on 61.5% shooting. Seeing as how he’s played starter’s minutes in each of them while continuing to come off the bench, the focus on that issue is obviously overblown.
Luol Deng—who has a double-double in five straight games—and Justise Winslow have each stepped up in Chris Bosh’s absence, but Goran Dragic has really come alive, breathing hot Dragon fire with averages of 19.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.2 steals over his last five games. After a glacial beginning, Dragic is poised to finish strong.
Evan Turner has been a far more useful player—in fantasy and reality—than he’s received credit for this season, and on a night where Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley both struggled, the Celtics don’t win this game without ET’s outer space 14/6/9 performance. Like Turner, Marcus Smart has established himself as a critical cog in Boston’s rotation, but his breakout potential is capped while sharing minutes with Turner, Thomas and Bradley.
Jared Sullinger has made the most of Kelly Olynyk’s (shoulder) absence, averaging 12.6 points, 10.2 points, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks since the All-Star Break. Playing with plenty of motivation in a contract year, Sully has all of the incentive to finish the season strongly.
Minnesota @ New Orleans: Timberwolves 112, Pelicans 110
Anthony Davis hurt himself in pregame warmups, leading to a surprise DNP while adding yet another injury to AD’s growing list. Although a toe sprain sounds minor in nature, we really won’t have additional clarity until he undergoes an MRI. The Pelicans are off until Wednesday, but then play three games over the next four days that follow. If AD is forced to miss additional time, Ryan Anderson will slide into the starting five with Jrue Holiday (20 pts, 8 dimes) and Eric Gordon—who exploded for 31 points, three steals and four triples in his first game back—tasked to do more, as well. Ryno, who had 31 points of his own to pair with 14 boards, three triples, a steal and two blocks (no TO), is a must-start player whenever Davis isn’t available, and with Gordon back on the floor, a (theoretically) healthy Davis would further limit Norris Cole’s chance to contribute. Holiday and EJ should play as many minutes as their health can handle for a desperate Pelicans team down the stretch.
New Orleans had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who went off for 30 points, 15 boards, two steals and a block on 13-of-20 shooting. There’s no need for further analysis: The Big KAT is an absolute stud at 20 years old, and it’s scary to think about what his game is likely to look like as his rapid ascent through the NBA continues. Minnesota’s future is going to be just fine with 21-year-old Andrew Wiggins also in the fold, and Towns’ quicker than expected evolution may indirectly benefit Wiggins, who is not going to be the focal point of his opposition’s scouting report on any given night. In five games since the All-Star Break, Wiggins is averaging 21.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers while shooting 39-of-49 (79.6%) from the charity stripe.
Zach LaVine's confidence is on the rise, and whether starting or inexplicably coming off the bench behind Tayshaun Prince, expect LaVine’s minutes to consistently flirt with the low-to-mid-30s. Including Saturday’s hot shooting night, the UCLA product is averaging 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.8 triples over his last four contests. It is worth noting that Shabazz Muhammad began the second half over LaVine, but if Muhammad is going to start getting consistent run—which he should—it’s going to come at Prince’s expense.
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Portland @ Chicago: Blazers 103, Bulls 95
Injuries: Derrick Rose (DNP, hamstring)
Without Derrick Rose for the third straight game, Pau Gasol continued to show why he was anything but a consolation prize when the Bulls had to “settle” for him instead of Carmelo Anthony in free agency. Racking up an enormous triple-double while filling the stat sheet with 22 points, 16 boards, 14 assists, a steal and three blocks, Gasol now has at least nine dimes in three of his last five games. He’s been a fantasy superstar all season, and everything is going to keep going the original PG so long as his own health holds up with Rose and Jimmy Butler (knee) hurting. Bobby Portis finally took advantage of extended minutes with a double-double (10 pts, 16 reb) of his own, but he’s really only a stash unless Gasol or Taj Gibson misses time. E’Twaun Moore has a longer shelf life than Doug McDermott, but both deserve more attention than they’ve been receiving in the majority of fantasy leagues. Moore led the Bulls on Saturday with 22 field goal attempts, while McDermott’s 14 hoists were third behind Moore and Gasol. Dougie is doin’ it of late, averaging 19.6 points and 2.0 3-pointers on 57.8% shooting over his last five.
How good is Portland’s surprise season going? On a night where C.J. McCollum had twice as many shots (12) as points scored (six), the “rebuilding” Blazers still pulled out a win behind Damian Lillard’s 31 points. Lillard has now scored at least 30 in six of his last seven, and what he’s been able to do this season while playing alongside four new starters has been nothing short of remarkable. Mason Plumlee got loose for 16&9, but that’s because he spent an irregular amount of time at the foul line, connecting on 10-of-13 freebies. The big man worth talking about was Ed Davis, who finished with a sterling nine points, nine boards, three steals and five blocks in his 25 minutes. Unfortunately for Boss and his sustainable fantasy value, that was the first time he’s flirted with a double-double since his last one—which came over a month ago.
San Antonio @ Houston: Spurs 104, Rockets 94
There really wasn’t much going on in Houston’s box score, and it took a 37-point fourth quarter to even make this a game. James Harden led the way with 27 points, three triples and virtually nothing else, while Dwight Howard’s inefficient double-double saw the big man shoot just 4-of-11 from the field and 3-of-8 from the charity stripe. Trevor Ariza salvaged a disappointing scoring night with a final line of eight points, five dimes, two triples, two steals and two blocks without a turnover, and on a night without Clint Capela available but with Donatas Motiejunas magically cleared to play, it was Josh Smith who got the call, stinking it up with four times as many shots (eight) as points scored (two). Given the alternatives, Ariza should continue to see plenty of minutes as a small-ball power forward.
It was the Kawhi and LaMarcus show as the Spurs took their latest show on the road, with the duo combining for a ridiculous 53 points and 24 rebounds. Since returning from his calf issue, Leonard is averaging 24.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.7 3-pointers on 52.3% shooting. In case you were wondering, the Kawhian Islands are a beautiful place to visit at this time of year. Even peak Danny Green wasn’t the sexiest player to own, but what looks like a decent night translates to a productive effort when a player is capable of contributing across the stat sheet like Green does. On a night where Patty Mills and the rest of the bench struggled, Kyle Slo-Mo Anderson did not. He’s forced his way into San Antonio’s rotation with 20-plus minutes in five of his last six, averaging 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals during that stretch.
Detroit @ Milwaukee: Pistons 102, Bucks 91
Andre Drummond nearly had a double-double in the first quarter, finishing with 15&17 to pair with four steals and two blocks. The other AD has been doing his usual thing since the All-Star Break, averaging 15.0 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.6 blocks over his last five games. Reggie Jackson’s eight assists were the most he’s had in over a month, so it’s a good thing he’s been hot with his shot over his last four games. Jackson has also been getting to the foul line regularly over that stretch with 26 total attempts, a good sign for a player who is at his best when he’s penetrating toward the basket. There will be plenty of minutes to go around for Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope without Stanley Johnson (shoulder) available, so it’s not a surprise all three saw at least 35 on Saturday.
Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams brought a whole lot of nothing to Milwaukee’s second unit on an evening where the first five didn’t fare much better in the box score. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo flirted with a triple-double (8/12/7), he failed to hit a single three or do anything on defense while shooting just 3-of-11 from the floor. The one bright spot was Khris Middleton, who has now connected on at least half of his attempts in two straight (19-of-34) after really struggling with his shot. With big minutes guaranteed, versatile production locked down and a clear path to takeoff toward production, K-Midz should have no issue finishing the year as a top-40 player. That’s quite the conclusion for a player who many were considering dropping following a slower than expected start to his season.
Memphis @ Phoenix: Suns 111, Grizzlies 106
Duds: Archie Goodwin
Hey, the Suns won a game!
Like Frankenstein, the Alex Len power forward experiment is alive. Kris Humphries is going to be bought out, the Suns don’t have an answer at the four and Len’s development is a priority moving forward. That’s a potentially powerful fantasy formula, especially when factoring in Tyson Chandler’s shaky health history, and Len again showcased what he’s capable of on Saturday with an enormous double-double of 22 points, 16 boards, a steal and two blocks on 7-of-11 shooting, including 8-of-12 from the free throw line. If Len is somehow still floating on your waiver wire, run—don’t walk—to grab him.
P.J. Tucker was more productive in Saturday’s win (17 points, 11 boards and seven assists, no TO) than he was in his previous five games combined, and although his role is bigger in Phoenix than it would have been elsewhere if he would have been traded, Tucker’s upside just isn’t there. In other words: he is what he is. Mirza Teletovic is the definition of a 3-point specialist with at least three triples in five straight games, and he’s going to get plenty of playing time in a paper-thin Suns frontcourt.
I’m still holding Archie Goodwin (by a thread) and Devin Booker where I have them, but there is no getting around the fact that each has really struggled of late and we shouldn’t be that surprised given their age and (in)experience. Goodwin is averaging just 11.2 points on 31% shooting over his last five games, while Booker checks in with 10.4 points and 1.4 triples on 29.3% shooting. Of the two, Booker is the one with the considerably longer leash, and Goodwin is a drop candidate in the right situation.
After back-to-back blowout wins over the Lakers, it’s fair to wonder if the Grizzlies simply overlooked this game. Matt Barnes bounced back from his scoreless dud with 16 points, six boards and three triples, while Zach Randolph and Mike Conley were up to their usual tricks despite combining to shoot just 12-of-31 from the floor. Of concern for Memphis moving forward is Brandan Wright, who left the loss with an injury to his surgically-repaired right knee. It seems likely that he’ll miss at least some time, meaning Z-Bo and JaMychal Green will have to step up in Wright’s place.
Brooklyn @ Utah: Nets 98, Jazz 96
This was a crust-filled fantasy matchup, and we’re not going to spend much time recapping it as a result.
Thaddeus Young was Brooklyn’s bright spot with 21 points, eight boards and three steals, and he and Brook Lopez are going to eat as much as they can slam down with Joe Johnson officially out of the picture. Bojan Bogdanovic has done a whole lot of nothing with his opportunity this season, and Markel Brown (4 pts, 5 reb, 3 stl) is going to get more run sooner instead of later. If there is a Nets wing to roster, it’s undoubtedly Brown.
Gordon Hayward has proven me wrong throughout his NBA career, and he’s stepped it up a notch again this season…G-Money has scored 20-plus points in four of five since the All-Star Break. It’s hard not to like what you see with a core of Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert—who had his best Hassan Whiteside impression with 12 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks—as well as the blossoming Rodney Hood, and it’s going to get a lot more fun once Dante Exum (torn ACL) returns to the court next season. For now, if there is a point guard to own in Utah it’s the newly-acquired Shelvin Mack, but I think Saturday’s dud is a lot more reminiscent of what we’ll see from the career backup than what we saw upon his initial arrival. Translation: Aim higher.
Golden State @ Oklahoma City: Warriors 121, Thunder 118 (OT)
Injuries: Stephen Curry (ankle)
First thing first: What. A. Game.
After briefly going to the locker room with an ankle injury in the third quarter, Stephen Curry turned into the Unstoppable Force mixed with the Hulk mixed with the Bionic Man for the remainder of the game. A man on fire isn’t a strong enough description to articulate what Curry did on Saturday, and to say Chef Curry is cooking in the kitchen would be an understatement of epic proportions. Surpassing his own record for number of 3-point makes in a season, Curry tied the NBA record with 12 triples, including a game-winning shot that was closer to half court than it was the actual 3-point line. Over his last four games, Curry is averaging a ridiculous 43.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 8.3 treys (!) on an incendiary 60.8% from the floor. He’s obliterating our already absurd expectations, taking his game to new heights that nobody could have projected.
In a game that was all about Curry, Klay Thompson eclipsed 30 points for the third time since the All-Star Break, while Draymond Green may be the first player to ever appear on the ‘studs’ list without making a single shot. When you fail to score but still go ham, salami and pepperoni on the opposition with 14 boards, 14 assists, six steals and four blocks, that’s what happens.
When Kevin Durant (37/12/5), Serge Ibaka (15/20) and Russell Westbrook (26/7/13) all pop off and the Thunder still lose, there is nothing to be ashamed of but everything to be frustrated by. Durant fouling out in the early stages of overtime set the tone for Curry to steal the show, but fantasy teams can’t be complaining about the game’s No. 2 player. It’s just too bad that Steph is No. 1.