Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant was the talk of the town on Friday night in what is one of the strangest and most incomprehensible stories of the NBA season thus far.
Just moments before tip-off, it was reported by ESPN’s Malika Andrews that Durant would not be available to start the game vs the Raptors due to health and safety protocols. Andrews later added that he had been held out because of contact tracing.
But after receiving clearance, Durant returned to the team bench and checked into the game at the 4:13 mark in the first quarter. By not having started, it was the first time in KD’s career that he came off the bench, ending an 866-game streak with consecutive starts. It’s an incredible stat but this story got crazier as the night went on.
In the third quarter, Durant was approached by either a staff member or league official and proceeded to the locker room, and he didn’t step foot on the court again. Multiple reports suggested that someone whom Durant had come into close proximity with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA wanted to be cautious despite three previous negative tests by the Nets forward in the past 24 hours.
KD took to Twitter and voice his frustration.
The Nets lost to the Raptors, in case anyone was wondering, and after the game, James Harden shared his thoughts on the situation.
"I don't understand the whole thing where he couldn't play, then he came on the court, then they took him back," Harden told ESPN. “[Durant] feels the same way. Especially with him already having it and we get tested every single day. He's been negative. So, I don't understand what the problem is. The game should've been postponed, I feel like. If we're talking about contact tracing. He was around all of us. So I don't understand why he wasn't allowed to play, then allowed to play, then taken back off the court. If that was the case, we should've postponed the game."
Durant will miss Saturday’s game vs the Sixers and possibly longer. But aside from that whole ordeal, here are some of the best and worst performances some Friday night in the association including LaMelo Ball’s season-high scoring game and Bradley Beal’s lowest.
Nikola Vucevic - After combining for 46 points in his previous three games, Vucevic hung a career-high 43 points with 19 rebounds, four assists and a block vs the Bulls on Friday night. He hit 17-of-29 field goals, 4-of-10 3-pointers and 5-of-6 free throws and thankfully, his historic effort didn’t go wasted because the Magic won the game 123-119. And I say historic because Vuc became just the third player in franchise history to record 43/19 in a game, joining Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard in that category. That’s elite center company, but if you’ve paid attention to the Magic this year, you’re probably not surprised Vucevic put up such a monster stat line. He’s averaging 22.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 48/43/84 shooting splits and ranks 12th in 9-cat and eighth in Yahoo leagues this season. That’s pretty damn good and it doesn’t get talked about enough because Orlando (9-14) is having a losing campaign. If you’re in need of depth, now is a good time to flip Vuc in a 2-for-1 deal.
Al Horford - I know Al Horford’s contract is terrible (3yrs/$81 million remaining, including this season) but at least he’s producing for the Thunder. On Friday night, he posted season-highs in points and assists with 26 and eight, adding seven boards, two steals and three blocks in just 29 minutes. He knocked down 10-of-19 shots and made three 3-pointers as well, putting up nearly 60 fantasy points in Yahoo leagues. He’s notched double figures in scoring in eight straight games including three 20-point games with a total of 22 triples in the stretch. So, if he’s sitting on waivers in your league, no matter the size, pick up him because he’s consistently been putting up impressive numbers at the age of 34.
LaMelo Ball - The most talented rookie in this year’s draft class added to his Rookie of the Year crusade with a career-high 34 points on Friday vs the Jazz. He made 14-of-27 field goals and four 3-pointers, adding four rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block. And guess what? No turnovers. *lets out sigh of relief* It was great to see LaMelo take care of the ball after committing nine turnovers in his previous two starts and more importantly, it was just great to see him remain in the starting lineup despite Terry Rozier returning from an ankle injury. After the game, James Borrego acknowledged Ball’s performance but wouldn’t say whether he’d be in the first five moving forward. But Borrego can’t ignore the fact that his prized first-year point guard has played well over the past week in which he’s averaged 22.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.8 steals with 11 made 3-pointers. The decision can’t be that difficult, right?
Bobby Portis - Rostered in just 53% of Yahoo leagues, Bobby Portis is having himself a nice first season with the Bucks. Through 22 games, he’s posting 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in just under 22 minutes a night. He’s been a quality sixth man for Milwaukee as a backup big man and small-ball center, and vs the Cavs on Friday, he scored 14 points on 50% shooting with boards, a steal and a block. It wasn’t a breakout performance, but Portis has tallied 14, 18, 21 and 11 over his last four games on 62% shooting with eight 3-pointers. I was able to grab him off waivers in a 14-team league earlier in the week and recommend giving him a look in deep leagues, whenever Giannis Antetokounmpo sits games or if the Bucks have the potential to blow a team out which results in extra playing time for Portis.
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Domantas Sabonis - The Pacers forward had gone 27-of-40 from the floor with 65 points and 25 rebounds in a back-to-back on Tuesday on Wednesday. On Friday, however, he was dreadful, managing just eight points and six boards on 3-of-13 shooting. It was his second-worst shooting performance of the year as he struggled against the like of Steven Adams and Zion Williamson whose individuals strengths outmatch that of Sabonis. But fantasy managers who have Sabonis need not be worried. He’s been a double-double machine and a top-60 player in 9-cat till this point.
Bradley Beal - Friday night marked not only the first time this season that Beal failed to score at least 10 points, but it was also the first time in 18 games that he’s scored less than 26 points. The NBA’s leading bucket-getter tallied a season-low seven points on a hideous 1-of-14 showing, adding three rebounds, three assists and three steals in the blowout loss to the Heat. He went 0-of-12 in the first half and per ESPN Stats and Info, that is tied for the most attempts in a half without a make in the last 25 seasons. O.J. Mayo went 0-12 in the second half of a game in 2008. The forgettable performance by Beal also snapped a streak of 17 consecutive games with at least 25 points to start a season, a record that put him in the same category as Michael Jordan. The Wizards star will look to bounce back on Sunday vs the Hornets, and despite The Athletic’s report that he doesn’t want out of D.C., it’s still #freeBradleyBeal.
Mikal Bridges - The third-year wing out of Villanova tied a season-low scoring output with just six points on Friday vs Pistons. He shot of 2-of-5 from the floor and didn’t register and 3-pointers for the third straight game. His two made goals were the second-lowest of the season, but he salvaged his fantasy night with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Since Sunday, he has just 24 points and is 0-14 from beyond the arc, easily his worst stretch of the season and one that hopefully for him and his fantasy managers, doesn’t last long. Bridges is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player, having upped his points, rebounds, assists and more since last year. And if you thought about dropping him, don’t, because as soon as you do, you know he’s going to break out of this slump. That’s just how it works.