Damian Lillard is a bad man, and it’s all about how good he is on the basketball court. With two half dollars in less than a month, people are going to start asking Lillard what kind of hot sauce he keeps in his bag.
Hassan Whiteside is taking his game to a previously unforeseen level, tickets to The Giannis Antetokounmpo Point Guard Show are officially on sale and Rudy Gobert as The French Rejection is coming to theater near you.
Ready, set…Let’s Dose.
Phoenix @ Orlando: Suns 102, Magic 84
Alex Len is being fed like Big Bertha, and his career night of 31 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks (10-of-22 FG, 11-of-14 FT) is just the latest evidence of what a difference-maker he has the potential to be down the stretch. Now with four straight double-doubles while playing at least 34 minutes in each contest, Len is averaging an emphatic 20.8 points, 14.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He’s a must-own, must-start player going forward. Aside from Len, Devin Booker—who followed up his own career-high 34 points with 14 points, four boards and six assists (no 3PM)—is the sole Sun I’d want on my fantasy team.
Only Earl Watson knows why Ronnie Price played a team-high 45 minutes, but the veteran PG posted a nice line that included five steals. If you haven’t already dropped Archie Goodwin, the time has come with Brandon Knight’s return possibly just around the corner. Price is not worth chasing on the wire. If you recently picked up Mirza Teletovic, stick with him as the minutes are there, the shots are flying and he simply had an off night.
Elfrid Payton’s big night (19 pts, 11 reb, 3 stl) came with Victor Oladipo sidelined, but that’s now three games of 10-plus dimes in Payton’s last four, including two double-doubles during the miniature run. Averaging 12.8 points, 9.0 assists and 1.8 steals on 51.2% shooting over his last four games, Payton has made a mockery of the idea that Brandon Jennings (no points, 14 minutes) was acquired to take his role. EP can go cold as quickly as he can run hot, so Payton’s owners need to be prepared for some inconsistency as the fantasy postseason comes into focus. Evan Fournier’s (wrist) uneventful return didn’t knock Mario Hezonja from the starting five with Oladipo down, and it’s worth noting that Hezonja played 33.5 minutes compared to 26 for Fournier. Unless there is a need for immediate production, count me in on stashing Super Mario even with some role uncertainty for the remainder of the campaign. Early foul trouble put Aaron Gordon in Scott Skiles’ doghouse and limited his production in a major way, but AG’s ephemeral trip to the sin bin isn’t something fantasy GMs need to lose sleep over.
Miami @ Philadelphia: Heat 112, Sixers 102
An amazing fact to begin our recap: Elton Brand—who actually played 13 minutes—was the only former first-round pick the Sixers had dressed in Friday’s loss. It’s even more incredible when considering this is the same team that used their one-time amnesty clause on EB’s contract. It’s all coming full circle.
Say it with me, everyone: I’m never considering cutting Robert Covington again. Checking in with 21.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and 4.0 3PM over his last two games, RoCo is making it happen at the right time without Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor on the court. The same can be said for Ish Smith, who is running hot over his last four with averages of 20.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.0 steals and a surprising 1.8 treys on a tidy 48.4% from the field. Better suited for teams punting TOs and FG percentage, Smith is helping everybody right now. I feel like we’d be hearing a lot more about Richaun Holmes’ potential if he wasn't blocked at his position, and he’s someone those in dynasty and keeper formats should keep one eye on as the offseason progresses.
I view Hassan Whiteside as a top-eight player the rest of the way, and his domination continued in the win with another massive double-double: 19 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks on 6-of-11 shooting, including 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. A one-time liability at the line whose fantasy ceiling was limited by his free throw struggles, Whiteside has now connected on 31 of his last 34 attempts (91.2%) in his last seven games, averaging 17.6 points, 14.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocks during that span. Dwyane Wade looked good on the second night of a back-to-back set with a full line, and Goran Dragic’s upward trend continued with his second double-double in three games after previously notching just one all season prior.
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Indiana @ Charlotte: Hornets 108, Pacers 101
Like countless times this season prior, it was the Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum show in Charlotte on Friday night. Walker’s enormous double-double off 33 points, 10 assists and four triples was supported by Batum stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 31 points, seven boards, four dimes, two blocks and four triples. The duo combined to shoot 21-of-39 on a night where Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee failed to provide a lift, but while Williams is a firm hold, neither Lin nor Lee—who has not eclipsed nine points since joining Charlotte—is worth a roster spot in formats with 12 or fewer teams.
Myles Turner has been slowing down recently, and he came to a screeching halt in the loss with just four points, two boards and a block in 18 minutes off the bench. The sub role is temporary (he’s expected to start on Saturday), and although he’s been slumping of late and this was his first game without a field goal in two months, I still believe Turner will prove to be an asset to your fantasy roster, and the rookie deserves some wiggle room as the season moves toward its finish line. Wasting a great game from Paul George—who flirted with a 5x5 with 35 points, seven boards, seven dimes, five steals, four triples and looks primed for a big finish as Indiana scraps for a postseason berth—as well as Ian Mahinmi, the Pacers’ backcourt combined to shoot a brutal 10-of-31 en route to 27 total points.
Portland @ Toronto: Raptors 117, Blazers 115
Even those who work in the NBA office have to think it’s laughable that Damian Lillard was not an All-Star.
In the non-Steph Curry Division, Lillard is my runaway favorite for MVP and it’s not particularly close. In my best DJ Khaled voice: Dame dropped another one, scoring 50 points with six triples on a ridiculous 16-of-28 shooting, making 12-of-13 from the free throw line. It’s the second time in three weeks Lillard has scored at least 50, and although he’s been carrying his team beyond expectations all season long, Lillard is showing no signs of slowing down with every game carrying meaning the rest of the way. Enjoy the ride. On a not-so-high note, for anyone still clinging on for dear life with Al-Farouq Aminu or Meyers Leonard: Move on. You’ll be glad that you did.
To barely beat Dame’s 50-piece, DeMar DeRozan (38 points) and Kyle Lowry lived at the charity stripe, shooting 40 total free throws between them. DeRozan has been a difference-maker in that category all year and the story was the same on Friday with a 24-of-25 performance, and while Lowry wasn’t that efficient making just nine of his 15 attempts, his final line offered the kind of versatility that DeRozan’s failed to provide. Seventeen and 10 with a block on 7-of-8 shooting is about the best you could ask Jonas Valanciunas for if he’s only going to play 27 minutes, but JV has no chance of blowing off the ceiling if he continues to see less run than Patrick Patterson. Patterson, by the way, has done absolutely nothing with his minutes and is not someone to consider for standard formats.
New York @ Boston: Celtics 105, Knicks 104
Carmelo Anthony has to be dejected, but at least his disappointing team hasn’t come with disappointing play. Melo came in averaging 22.3 points, 9.1 boards and 4.6 dimes since the All-Star Break before Friday’s 30/7/4, and although his surgically-repaired knee remains a short and long-term concern, the Knicks are going to ride Anthony like his name was Secretariat. We now have four straight games of 25 minutes or fewer for Kristaps Porzingis, who is averaging 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during that stretch. It’s been almost a month since Porzingis had double-digit rebounds, and it doesn’t help that Kurt Rambis has kept the rookie on a relatively short leash. Unless something changes with KP’s minutes, it’s going to be very difficult for him to return the kind of value he was earlier this season.
I wrote about Boston demanding respect earlier this week, and I’m not sure what else Isaiah Thomas has to do to show that the Celtics already have a star—an All-Star—on the roster. With his second straight game of 30-plus points without a single turnover, IT finished with 32 points, eight dimes, two triples and two steals on 9-of-15 from the field, including 12-of-13 from the free throw line. With both Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart struggling, Jae Crowder and Evan Turner combined for 41 points and 16 boards on 19-of-38 (50%) shooting. Maybe ET phoned home in February given he has since cemented himself as a must-own player, but Crowder crowned himself as the steal of our virtual world a long time before that.
Washington @ Cleveland: Cavs 108, Wizards 83
Outside of John Wall again flirting with a triple-double (17/8/7) while shaking off yet another (ankle/foot) injury, there just wasn’t anything to take home from Washington’s disappointing effort. Markieff Morris was pushing out Jared Dudley even before officially grabbing the starting job, Otto Porter’s struggles remain real and unspectacular, and Marcin Gortat remains steady in even in lopsided losses. Bradley Beal—who had more shots (12) than points (11) to go along with a whopping five turnovers—started the second half, but there is no indication that his bench role is about to subside on a permanent basis. Because of his upside and ability to contribute in coveted categories, Beal is a must-start player regardless of how his minutes come. As for Porter, I just can’t believe that his hip is not an issue given his recent level of play. In 10 games since the All-Star Break, Porter has been steadily trending down, averaging 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, a steal and 1.3 triples on 44.3% from the field.
The Cavs didn’t need Kevin Love with LeBron James (19/13/7) and Kyrie Irving (21/5/8) each delivering big lines, but that’s where the fun stopped in Cleveland’s box score. And that really doesn’t require a lot of analysis, does it?
Minnesota @ Milwaukee: Bucks 116, Timberwolves 101
Injuries: Michael Carter-Williams (DNP, knee)
Michael Carter-Williams was an unattractive asset before the Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard era was bestowed upon us, and MCW’s role is now definitely up in the air with everything coming up Greek Freak. Finishing one rebound shy of his third triple-double in the last two weeks, Giannis stuffed the stat sheet like he was at an all you can eat buffet: 27 points, nine boards, 12 dimes, three steals and two blocks on 9-of-17 shooting, including 9-of-10 from the foul line. Averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.3 blocks over his last six games, Antetokounmpo is making the leap to fantasy superstardom right before our eyes.
Doing his best Steph Curry impression, Khris Middleton dropped 32 points on 8-of-9 from distance, while Jabari Parker hit his second triple of the season en route to a full line of his own: 16 points, six boards, four assists, two steals, a block and the triple. Despite Antetokounmpo and Middleton serving as key cogs in the offense, Parker has asserted himself emphatically since the All-Star Break, attempting fewer than 15 shots only once over his last eight games.
Despite racking up a season-high six turnovers, Friday marks the third time in four games that Zach LaVine has scored at least 20 points. Averaging 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.8 3PM while playing heavy minutes during that stretch, LaVine should have an entirely new floor and an elevated ceiling the rest of the way. How high has Karl-Anthony Towns raised the bar? The Big KAT’s line looks like a disappointment until you realize he scored 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting in just 22 minutes, an indication of how impressive the rookie has truly been. Playing time is not an issue for Towns or Gorgui Dieng, and although Shabazz Muhammad is moving firmly in the upward direction, his rise isn’t going to be coming at Dieng’s expense. GD should have no problem returning early-round value due to his ability to contribute key defensive stats without hurting you in any given area.
Utah @ Memphis: Grizzlies 94, Jazz 88
Rodney Hood’s minor head injury proved to be a nonissue, but unfortunately his play presented a major problem. The good news is that Hood’s minutes were only restricted by the foul trouble, not medical complications. Derrick Favors also struggled in a favorable matchup with 14 points—on 17 shots—and just three rebounds, but Rudy Gobert did not with a massive line of 13 points, 18 boards and five swats. Favors and Gobert go back-to-back against a banged-up New Orleans frontcourt on Saturday, so the path to production is paved Favors to rebound and Gobert to repeat. Shelvin Mack’s season-high eight assists aren’t going to draw me into his fantasy fan club, and the Jazz PG rotation could only get more complicated with Alec Burks nearing a return.
That’s now three straight games of 33 or more minutes for Zach Randolph, who is getting his Z-Bo on these days and scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Grizzlies to another win on Friday. His offense was critical given Mike Conley and Matt Barnes required a combined 21 shots to score 17 total points, and although Barnes has turned in back-to-back stinkers, those in standard leagues should continue to hold unless an Alex Len level player is (somehow) still available. With Barnes and P.J. Hairston struggling, the Grizzlies turned to Mario Chalmers for big minutes, and he responded with 11 points, six boards, five dimes, five steals, two blocks and a triple. Chalmers, who is averaging 14.0 points, 3.3 assists, 3.3 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 3PM over his last four games, deserves a longer look than he’s been getting if you’ve got someone to cut,
Brooklyn @ Denver: Nets 121, Nuggets 120 (OT)
Brook Lopez’s last second tip-in to win it might have been the most exciting play of his stat-stuffing night, but Denver was Markel Brown’s world and we were all just living in it. Enjoying the breakout game that we’ve been waiting for with a career-high 21 points, eight boards, seven assists, three triples and only one turnover on 8-of-12 shooting, taking a flier on Brown’s upside and rest of season makes sense after this outburst. Shane Larkin also played big minutes off the bench ahead of Donald Sloan and finished with 12 points and eight helpers, but unlike Brown, Larkin has already flopped in a larger opportunity and hasn’t shown anything—in fantasy or reality—to indicate he’s worthy of another chance.
If Jusuf Nurkic can’t get into an overtime game vs. Brooklyn that Axel Toupane—who is on a 10-day deal with Denver—saw run in, it’s not going to happen for the big fella this season. Nikola Jokic is playing too well, both Darrell Arthur and Joffrey Lauvergne are in the rotation and the Nuggets turn to a small-ball lineup for long stretches. Will Barton and Gary Harris have quickly emerged as the main beneficiaries of Danilo Gallinari’s absence, but Harris is the one running hot while Barton is not. Harris should have a furious finish ensuring he’s a household name heading into fantasy drafts next season, but Barton is much more of a wildcard, and it’s worth noting that the one time favorite for waiver wire pickup of the year has shot under 40% in seven straight games. It’s become clear that Kenneth Faried just isn’t going to play big minutes, but he’s at least making the most of them over his last five games, averaging 16.8 points and 9.4 rebounds on 67.9% from the floor.
Emmanuel Mudiay deserves credit for his last two games with averages of 23.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.5 3PM (2.5 TO) on 52.8% shooting, but with how inefficient he’s been all year prior to his two game outburst, we’re obligated to note that the rise in production came vs. the Nets and Lakers. Moving on…
Atlanta @ Los Angeles (L): Hawks 106, Lakers 77
Duds: Paul Millsap; D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young
No Kobe, no Clarkson, no Lou Will and apparently no Swag, either. Nick Young needed nine shots to score five points in a rarer than steak tar tare start, Marcelo Huertas was forced to play 32 minutes and after really coming on over his last handful of games, D’Angelo Russell struggled mightily without any support around him, finishing with seven points, five assists and five turnovers on a lousy 3-of-16 shooting. He’ll be much better going forward, and D-Lo promises to reward patient owners over the final 19 games. Kobe (shoulder) is really limping toward the finish line, and Russell needs to get as much exposure as possible before the offseason arrives. The only Lakers player to put forth a strong effort in the blowout was Julius Randle, who picked up yet another double-double to add to his growing collection.
The Lakers can’t guard the three-point line, so Kyle Korver picked a good night to get back on track with 15 points and four triples on 5-of-6 from the field. In the category of most annoying players to roster along with Danny Green and a few select others, Korver can’t be let go of no matter how tempted you may get. After a brutal slump in which he was doing nothing, Kent Bazemore has come back to life over his last four games, averaging 14.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 3PM over his last four games. Paul Millsap (11/4/3) and Al Horford (8/5/5, 3 blk) were each limited in their contributions, but rest won’t be a regular thing as the Hawks jockey for playoff positioning in a suddenly crowded Eastern Conference. Both Millsap and Horford are absolute fantasy studs.