We may be approaching a conclusion to the current Carmelo Anthony-related drama, as he missed his second consecutive game due to "illness" on Sunday. The Houston Rockets, losers of two straight entering Sunday's game against Indiana, finally picked up their first home win of the season thanks in large part to the efforts of James Harden and Chris Paul. Harden scored 40 points and Paul added 26 as the Rockets knocked off the Pacers by a 115-103 final score, with the team's 44-point second quarter providing a large enough cushion to survive a 13-point fourth quarter.
Even with the win the conversation following the game was focused on Anthony, with it being reported by multiple outlets that his time in Houston could be coming to an end. Rockets GM Daryl Morey met with the media prior to Sunday's game to refute the rumors that the partnership between player and franchise may be ending soon, saying that he "would expect Carmelo to be playing when he's healthy."
Anthony wasn't considered to be a viable fantasy option before the season began, and that's been the case during the 10 games in which he's been active. The 16-year pro is averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season, posting shooting percentages of 40.5 FG/32.8 3PT/68.2 FT. Anthony, a starter throughout his career, started just two of the ten games he's played in for the Rockets this season, and based upon the reports his role within the rotation is something that's being discussed.
Is he a top-level starter at this point in his career, especially when taking into consideration the team (Golden State) that the Rockets and every other NBA team with title hopes will need to get past? Many would answer "no" to that question, but Anthony himself may not feel that way. It's quite clear that, whether it's in Houston or somewhere else, that Anthony's role needs to be clearly defined.
Which player (or players) stands to gain opportunities in Anthony's absence? As mentioned in Sunday's Daily Dose, P.J. Tucker should gain even more value from a fantasy standpoint. Tucker played 40 minutes against the Pacers, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds. Rookie Gary Clark, who after four good seasons at Cincinnati was not selected in June's NBA draft, has seen an increase in minutes over the last two games. One day after playing just over 23 minutes in Houston's loss in San Antonio, finishing with eight points and two rebounds, Clark chipped in with six points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes off the bench against Indiana.
While the 6-foot-8 rookie has the ability to help space the floor with his perimeter shooting, he's only shooting 30.6 percent from three on 3.6 attempts per game. Currently on a two-way contract Clark could be a beneficiary contract-wise if Houston were to move on from Anthony, but don't expect the rookie to immediately turn into a credible fantasy roster option.
Eric Gordon, who scored 23 points in the loss to San Antonio in his first game back after missing the prior three, is one of the league's best sixth men when healthy. He struggled against Indiana, scoring nine points on 3-for-14 shooting, so it may take a little time for the vet to get into a rhythm after his short stint out of the lineup. But given Houston's numbers and need for shooting, Gordon will have every opportunity to produce off the bench as the Rockets look to figure things out with Anthony.
Houston's roster is a bit thin due to injuries, and the team survived a bit of a scare in the first quarter of Sunday's win as Clint Capela left after banging knees with a Pacers player. Capela would return later in the quarter, and he finished the game with 18 points, seven rebound and one block in 29 minutes of action. With Nene Hilario out indefinitely after reaggravating a calf injury in late October, Houston doesn't have much depth in the post. The aforementioned Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein saw action against Indiana, but the latter played just 13 minutes, and Marquese Chriss received the dreaded DNP-CD (his fourth in the last five games) despite Houston's lack of depth.
Carmelo Anthony's status may be receiving the headlines, but Houston has more to address as it looks to make the climb up the Western Conference standings. And for the time being that likely means even more "heavy lifting" for Harden and Paul as Morey and Mike D'Antoni work together to figure things out.
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James Harden scores 40 for first time this season
Having scored at least 40 points in seven regular season games during his 2017-18 MVP campaign, Harden had yet to reach that mark in a game this season. That changed Sunday afternoon, as "The Beard" dropped 40 points on the Pacers. While Harden made just nine of his 20 field goal attempts, he went 14-for-15 from the foul line and also tallied nine assists and seven rebounds (nine turnovers as well). Harden and Chris Paul, who snapped out of his own slump by scoring 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, did much of the heavy lifting offensively for the shorthanded Rockets, with the latter playing through tendonitis in his right (shooting) elbow. Houston went only eight players deep Sunday, and if that's the case moving forward the Rockets will need more MVP-like performances from Harden in order to rebound from a slow start to the season.
Blake Griffin struggles for second straight game
Griffin's performed quite well through the Pistons' first 11 games of the season, averaging 25.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while posting shooting splits of 46.8/39.1/72.9. But he hasn't performed to that level in Detroit's last two games, most recently scoring ten points on 4-for-16 shooting in Sunday's 113-103 loss to Charlotte. While Griffin did manage to reach his assist average (five) in the loss, he accounted for six rebounds and his plus/minus of minus-19 was the second-worst number put up by a Pistons player (Glenn Robinson Jr. finished with a minus-20). Blake's frustrating afternoon came to a premature end as well, as he was ejected early in the fourth quarter. A positive for Detroit in the loss was the play of Andre Drummond, who finished with 23 points, 22 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
Over the last two games, Griffin's averaging 8.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game on 6-for-26 shooting from the field (1-for-10 3PT). For fantasy owners in weekly lineup leagues Griffin is a player to avoid this week, not because of his numbers but rather the fact that Detroit plays just once (Wednesday vs. Toronto).
Brook Lopez sets new career high in win
After ranking in the bottom five of the NBA last season in three-pointers made (27th) and attempted (25th), Milwaukee's offensive approach has changed significantly under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. Entering Sunday's game in Denver, the Bucks ranked first in the NBA in both three-pointers made and attempted. In their 121-114 win Milwaukee shot 17-for-34 from beyond the arc, with center Brook Lopez stealing the show. Lopez, brought in as a free agent due in large part to his ability to knock down perimeter shots, established a new career high with eight three-pointers (on 13 attempts). Lopez finished the game with a game-high 28 points, leading four Bucks starters that managed to score at least 20 points on the day. This is the fourth time this season that Lopez has made at least five three-pointers in a game, and over his last four the 7-footer is shooting 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) from distance.
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Jayson Tatum scores season-high 27 in loss
Prior to Sunday's 100-94 loss to Portland, Tatum's high point total for the season was 24 (done twice). The second-year wing accounted for 27 points, shooting 9-for-18 from the field while also accounting for eight rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes of play. Tatum's now shot 50 percent from the field in each of his last two games (7-for-13 from three), something worth keeping an eye on given the fact that he entered Sunday with shooting percentage splits of 40.3/35.4/89.1 for the season. Tatum was one of two Celtics to score at least 21 points on the night, with Kyrie Irving tallying 21 on 9-for-24 shooting, and with Gordon Hayward (seven points, nine rebounds, five assists) still shaking off the rust from a shooting standpoint the Duke product may be in line for even more opportunities to make plays within the Celtics offense.
Jusuf Nurkic tallies fifth double-double of the season
While Portland did not have a player score at least 20 points in Sunday's win over Boston, it did have four starters finish the game in double figures. Jusuf Nurkic was one of those four, as he accounted for 18 points, 17 rebounds and three assists on 8-for-14 shooting from the field. The double-double is Nurkic's fifth of the season and his first since a 19-point, 12-rebound outing in Portland's November 4 beating of Minnesota. Portland begins a six-game road trip Wednesday night against the Lakers, a team Nurkic averaged 15.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game against in the first two meetings this season. Nurkic and the Trail Blazers will play three games this week, with games against Minnesota (Friday) and Washington (Sunday) to follow Wednesday's game against Los Angeles.
Mitchell Robinson blocks nine shots in blowout defeat
There weren't many positives for the homestanding Knicks to take from Sunday's 115-89 home loss to Orlando, with the Magic scoring the game's first ten points in a matchup that was not competitive at all. Rookie big man Mitchell Robinson was one of the few bright spots, as he set a new franchise rookie record with nine blocked shots. Robinson hasn't made much of an impact offensively, which was to be expected given his lack of experience, but he has the athleticism needed to be a factor defensively. Enes Kanter added 16 points and 15 rebounds off the bench, his fifth consecutive double-double.
Nikola Vucevic posts third double-double in four games
Orlando was without Aaron Gordon (ankle), but that was no issue thanks in large part to the play of Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic racked up 21 points on 10-for-17 shooting while also grabbing 14 rebounds in the 115-89 win over the Knicks, his fifth straight double-double. Over the last four games Vucevic is averaging 17.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Vucevic doesn't get to the foul line all that often, shooting 57.1 percent on 1.4 attempts per game, but that hasn't kept him from being a factor within the Orlando offense.
Taurean Prince rebounds from quiet effort, scores 23 in L.A.
The Hawks forward led four double-digit scorers in Atlanta's 107-106 loss to the Lakers Sunday night, scoring 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and two steals. While Prince did turn the ball over five times, the fact that he was aggressive offensively is a good sign when considering the fact that he scored six points on 2-for-5 shooting in Atlanta's home loss to Detroit Friday night. Prince wasn't the only Hawks player to have a solid night in Los Angeles, as Trae Young added 20 points (8-for-18 FG) and 12 assists and Kent Bazemore 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting. However those performances weren't enough to get Atlanta its second road win of the season, as Tyson Chandler's block of a Young shot just before time expired preserved the win for the Lakers.
Tyson Chandler closes things out for the Lakers
As noted above the 7-footer made the game's deciding play on the defensive end of the floor. Making his second home appearance in a Laker uniform, Chandler contributed four points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench. JaVale McGee, who finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks, remains the starter but it is worth noting that Chandler was the center in crunch time. LeBron James, whose dunk seconds after he missed a pair of free throws gave the Lakers the lead for good, finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists.