AD looks healthy, latest on Gafford’s injury & Where is James Harden?
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NBA Wednesdays have become must-see TV through the years and this week was no different. With 10 games, we saw pretty much everything possible from record-breaking collapses, big injuries, buzzer beaters, and of course some huge offensive performance. And though it is still extremely early, we are starting to get a glimpse of what the identity of many of these teams will be this season. With all that being said, 10 things stood out to me on Wednesday evening, so let’s not waste any more time.
Lakers fans can exhale (for now) on Anthony Davis Injury
The Los Angeles Lakers held a 70-44 lead with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter on Wednesday evening. Over the next 14:40 seconds, they were outscored 53-25, and after a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Thunder a 97-95 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers would complete the biggest collapse the franchise had seen in more than 25 years.
The Thunder stormed back to defeat the Lakers 123-115, to pick up their first win of the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way for the Thunder with 27 points on 7-of-19 shooting (5-of-11 3-pointers) with nine rebounds, five assists, and two turnovers in 38 minutes.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s counterpart in purple and gold, Russell Westbrook, had quite the stat line on Wednesday, posting a rare quadruple-double in the most Westbrook manor possible. The former Thunder guard scored 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting (2-of-8 3-pointers) with 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 10 turnovers in 35 minutes. Given the fact that Westbrook spent so many years in OKC, maybe he felt the need to give them the ball a few extra times on Wednesday evening to make amends. But the real people that he needs to make amends with are managers who have him in a 9-cat league because unless you are punting turnovers, you are definitely punching air almost every time you stare at a Lakers box score. Westbrook has now racked up 30 turnovers through five games, bringing his per-game average to six giveaways per game.
The one silver lining for the Lakers is that not only did Anthony Davis play, but he looked really good in 37 minutes on Wednesday. Davis bumped knees during Tuesday’s loss at San Antonio, and he was listed as questionable all day on Wednesday. Given Davis’ injury history, and the fact that it was the second night of a back-to-back, no one would have been surprised if he sat this one out. Not to mention the fact that LeBron James was ruled out for the second straight game with a sore right ankle, Davis’ usage would be high for the second night in a row. But The Brow played, and he produced to the tune of 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting (6-of-7 free throws) with eight rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two turnovers. So Lakers fans can at least have that to smile about when they wake up on Thursday morning.
Wizards win, but lose Daniel Gafford in the process
The Wizards earned a hard-fought victory on Wednesday night, as they traveled to Boston and defeated the Celtics 116-107 to move to 3-1 on the season. In the process though, they lost their starting center, Daniel Gafford, who collided with Celtics forward Jaylen Brown during the second quarter of Wednesday’s game. Gafford fell to the floor, grabbed his right leg, and was eventually helped to the locker room, where he would not return to the game.
The good news is that Gafford was initially listed as questionable to return to the ballgame, and even though he did not return to the game, the hope is that the injury was not too serious. Gafford is scheduled to get an MRI on Thursday morning to assess the damages of what the Wizards are calling a right quadricep contusion for the time being.
The Wizards are already without Thomas Bryant, who is still recovering from an ACL injury, and Rui Hachimura has been away from the team for undisclosed personal reasons, and there is still no timetable on his return. If Gafford has to miss time, Washington will be extremely thin upfront with Montrezl Harrell being the only remaining center on the roster. His usage will surely be sky-high for as long as Gafford is out, so be sure he is active every single night if you have him.
D’Angelo Russell finally got his swagger back on offense
After Monday’s loss to New Orleans, where D’Angelo Russell again shot poorly from the floor, Timberwolves head coach Chis Finch stood by his starting point guard and insisted that Russell would figure out his shooting woes.
“Every player goes through a slump at some point in the season,” Finch said. “His just happens to be right now. He’s not the only one that’s not particularly shooting the ball well. He’ll be fine.”
Consider Finch a psychic, because Russell got back in his bag on Wednesday night, as he put together his best performance of the season thus far as the Timberwolves defeated the Bucks 113-108 to move to 3-1 on the season. Russell led the Wolves with 29 points on 12-of-25 shooting (3-of-11 3-pointers) with six assists, five rebounds, and three turnovers in 36 minutes. The 3-of-11 from distance certainly isn’t the best, but the 48% shooting from the floor, you will definitely take, seeing that Russell hadn’t shot better than 37.5% in a game this season. Now if you are Minnesota or Russell managers, you just have to hope that this continues.
Where is James Harden?
For the better part of nearly the last decade, James Harden has been one of the most electrifying players in the NBA. But over the first five games of this season, Harden has been far from electrifying. Wednesday was just the latest in a string of games that Harden has underperformed as The Beard put up just 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting (3-of-8 3-pointers) with seven rebounds, seven assists, one block, one steal, and four turnovers, and the Nets lost 106-93 to the Heat. Through five games, Harden is averaging just 16.6 points per game on 36.4% shooting from the floor (32.3% 3-pointers) and he has shot a total of 15 free throws all season. There were many single games last season, and through the years, where Harden shot north of 15 free throws in a single game. But, after a rule change this offseason, that emphasized eliminating “non-basketball” moves from being called fouls, Harden’s offensive repertoire has not been as extensive.
Nets head coach Steve Nash said that he believes Harden has become the “poster boy” for the rule change, and that he believes the officials are hyper-aware when Harden gets the ball, leading to an unfair whistle on the Nets lefty guard. Nash also pointed out that Harden has barely played any live basketball for the last eight months as he has been rehabbing from the hamstring injury that he suffered in April of last season. Nash noted that Harden would need some time to get his rhythm, timing, and confidence back, but he is confident that with time, he will get there.
The Year of Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes has been an NBA champion, a max-player on the free-agent market, an all-rookie selection, and the list goes on and on and on and on, but this season could very well be his best one yet. On Wednesday, Barnes played the hero in Phoenix as he drilled a three-pointer in Devin Booker’s grill as time expired to give the Kings a 110-107 win over the Suns. The offensive possession before he drilled the dagger three-pointer, the Kings drew up a play for Barnes on a sideline out-of-bounds to get an iso on the left elbow against Jae Crowder, and even though Crowder was able to come up with the stop, it was an extremely telling sign that Kings coach Luke Walton decided to go to Barnes, not De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, or any of the other guys on the roster that might get more attention regularly.
And for good reason, through four games, Barnes is leading the Kings in scoring at 26.75 points per game on 50.0% shooting from the floor (55.6% 3-pointers) with 10.0 rebounds per game. Now you are probably thinking ‘it’s only been four games, this isn’t sustainable’ but from the looks of it, this sure feels different than in past years.
The Kings are using Barnes all over the court as a small forward, a power forward, and even a small-ball center in some lineups. Barnes is the prototypical forward for today’s NBA as he can stretch the floor, defend multiple positions, and he can play multiple positions offensively, which allows Kings head coach Luke Walton the freedom to get creative with how he uses Barnes in different game situations. The bottom line is that Harrison Barnes has been on a mission, and fantasy managers who have him shouldn’t expect this to stop anytime soon.
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Miles Bridges continues on his tear
Bridges has looked like a whole new player entering this season, as he is arguably the main reason that the Hornets have gotten out to a 4-1 start this season. On Wednesday, Charlotte defeated Orlando 120-111 and Miles Bridges put up 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting (5-of-10 3-pointers) with six rebounds, one block, and three turnovers in 37 minutes. That is now three games in the last four that Bridges has scored at least 30 points, and the only game that he didn’t was a 25 point, 10 rebound performance in Monday’s overtime loss to Boston.
For the season, Bridges is currently 12th in the NBA in scoring at 26.2 points per game on 52.7% shooting from the floor and 39.5% shooting from deep with 3.0 triples, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.8 turnovers in 35.2 minutes. The Flint, Michigan native is exceeding all expectations for this season, and he hoped to exceed his own expectations at the negotiating table this summer, as Bridges will certainly be getting a nice payday from some team this offseason.
Trae Young nets second consecutive 30-ball in Hawks win
After two poor shooting games to start the season, Trae Young has bounced back with two consecutive 30-point performances, both in wins on Monday and Wednesday evening. On Wednesday, Young poured in 31 points on 13-of-17 shooting (2-of-6 3-pointers) with seven assists, five rebounds, and three turnovers as the Hawks beat the Pelicans 102-99.
In the first two games of the season, Young combined to shoot 14-of-38 for a 36.8% mark against the Mavericks and Cavaliers respectively. In the two games since, he has shot 26-of-48, for a 54.1% clip, and the Hawks have won two straight to get to 3-1 on the young season. The Hawks, who played 10 different players double-figure minutes on Wednesday are one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and though they still have not gotten consistent production from anyone on the roster, they have still found a way to win games. With Young seemingly beginning to get his feet under him, look out for Atlanta going forward, and don’t be surprised if Trae Young reels off a few of these big performances in a short amount of time.
The unsung rookie: Scottie Barnes
The 2021 draft class was one of the most highly regarded draft classes since the legendary 2003 draft class that yielded LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and many many others. The reason why this draft class drew those types of comparisons is that the players at the top, such as Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Cade Cunningham, who has still yet to suit up for an NBA game due to a lingering ankle injury, have the chance to be generational talents in the NBA.
But some other rookies are also off to solid starts such as Chris Duarte in Indiana, Josh Giddey in Oklahoma City, and of course Scottie Barnes in Toronto. On Wednesday, Barnes scored 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting and added seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and two turnovers in 36 minutes as the Raptors beat the Pacers 118-100 to move to 2-3 on the season. Barnes has been arguably the most consistent rookie as he has scored in double-figures in each game, and he has played thus far. He has also shown some impressive versatility with his ability to not only score, but to pass, rebound, defend, and be rather efficient while doing so. Barnes was a borderline fantasy prospect around draft day, but he is a must-have now, so if for some reason, he is still available in your league, be sure to grab him as soon as possible.
The Clippers went Cold against Cleveland
The biggest question mark entering the season in Clippers camp was who is going to step up in the absence of Kawhi Leonard? And up to date, we are still awaiting the answer to that question. Paul George has been Paul George through three games, as he is averaging 24.0 points per game on 46.4% shooting from the floor (30.8% 3-pointers) with 3.0 triples, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 4.0 steals, and 3.3 turnovers per game. The 4.0 steals per game lead the league thus far, and it has been a welcomed blessing for managers who have George, who has always been known as a stout defender.
But on Wednesday, George, and the rest of the Clippers went cold as they lost to the Cavaliers 92-79, scoring just 39 points in the entire second half. Los Angeles shot 35.6% from the floor as a team and 22.0% from the three-point line. Eric Bledsoe, who the team traded for in hopes that he could provide some production in the starting lineup, has been extremely inconsistent and has gotten progressively worse in each game since that 22-point performance in the Clippers’ season opener. On Wednesday, Bledsoe scored just six points on 2-of-7 shooting (0-of-3 3-pointers) with three rebounds, three assists, three steals, and five turnovers in 27 minutes.
If the Clippers don’t find some production somewhere in this lineup, it will be a long season in Los Angeles.
Damian Lillard Continues to Struggle
We are still yet to see that vintage Dame Time performance that we have grown accustomed to over the last few seasons. Lillard has not scored more than 20 points through four games now in the regular season. Thanks to some teammates picking up the slack, Portland sits at 2-2 after defeating the Grizzlies 116-96 on Wednesday evening.
Lillard shot 6-of-22 (4-of-11 from three) for 20 points to go with 10 assists, three rebounds, one steal, and two turnovers in 32 minutes. CJ McCollum poured in 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting (4-of-9 3-pointers) to go with six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block in 32 minutes. The added defensive punch has been key for McCollum as he has tallied at least three “slocks” in every game this season. Hopefully, this will start to rub off on Lillard, who has not only been shooting badly, but has not provided much value elsewhere either. Lillard is too great a player for the offensive woes to continue for much longer, so just stay patient, and hope that the day where the light comes on is sooner rather than later for Lillard.