The following is a team-by-team recap of Friday’s 11 games. For quick-hit injury updates, head directly to the end of the column.
Clippers vs. Lakers
Chris Paul had 30 points and 13 assists to lead the Clippers to a win vs. their in-house rivals, while Blake Griffin chipped in 24 points, five boards and one steal. Blake made 9-of-16 FGs, using his athleticism to dice up the Lakers' defense, and his efficient scoring was a great sight after he averaged 11.0 points on 27 percent shooting in the Clippers' previous two games, both losses. Off the bench, Lamar Odom didn't seem bothered by his sore ankle and strained foot, as he compiled nine points, one 3-pointer, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks. He's been returning late-round value for the past few weeks.
Kobe Bryant continues to amaze, scoring 38 points in a losing effort. He's scored at least 30 points in all but two games in December and he's comfortably holding the league lead in scoring at 30.5 ppg, ahead of Carmelo Anthony (28.9) and Kevin Durant (28.3). The surge has Kobe scoring more points than in any season since 2006-07, though Dirk Nowitzki won the MVP award that year (extra credit if you know who the NBA MVP trophy is named for). Pau Gasol struggled most of the night, finishing with a team-worst +/- rating of -20 in just 27 minutes, and he didn't leave the bench in the fourth quarter until there was one minute remaining. His value dove into an empty pool a few weeks ago, when he was battling knee tendinitis and was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, so you may have been able to get him for nothing, but I'm leery of his ability to manage these chronic injuries all season. He'll hold value while playing, but personally I'm selling him after he posts a few strong games -- consider that over the past month, in nine-cat leagues, he's returning late eighth-round value in 33 minutes per game. The Lakers continue to talk about improving Pau's role offensively, and talk is nice, but I don't view him as having much upside in his current situation.
In injury news...Jamal Crawford sat out Friday's game with a sore left foot and he's listed as day-to-day. Grant Hill (knee) is expected to make his season debut next week, while Chauncey Billups (foot) will begin working out this weekend, though his return date is still unclear. This infusion of veteran depth is great for the Clips in reality, but it does no favors for fantasy owners of Matt Barnes or J-Craw.
Jazz vs. Suns
Mo Williams had thumb surgery on Friday and will miss at least the next six weeks, which leaves Utah with the uninspiring PG duo of Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson. Tinsley continues to start but had just two points and five assists in 20 minutes vs. the Suns, while Watson went scoreless with eight assists in 19 reserve minutes. Either guy (particularly Tinsley) could post double-digit assists on a given night, but fantasy owners should be able to find better options on most waiver wires. The injury also gives Randy Foye a boost, though he remains little more than a specialist for points and 3-pointers. More encouragingly, Paul Millsap broke out after a series of quiet games, scoring 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting, with 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals in 33 minutes. Al Jefferson had 21 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes, while Derrick Favors added 10 points, nine rebounds, one steal and one block in 32 minutes. It's not an ideal situation, and Favors' emergence could cause random duds for Millsap and Big Al going forward, but they managed to co-exist on Friday. Gordon Hayward scored 14 points, but he handed out just one assist with no other stats to his credit -- a lack of auxiliary stats is threatening to ruin his fantasy value, but he's still clinging to late-round value in roto formats.
Shannon Brown was scoreless in 21 minutes off the bench in Friday's defeat. He wasn't doing much as a starter and I'd cut him without a second thought. P.J. Tucker also went scoreless in 24 minutes as the starting SF, but he's starting for his defense and overall energy. He attempted one shot all night and zero-point games won't shake Alvin Gentry's faith in him. In other news, Marcin Gortat rose the occasion vs. Utah's frontcourt, posting 18 points, 11 boards, one steal and three blocks in over 40 minutes. After a long stretch of rudderless performances, he's back on course. Luis Scola continued his hot streak with 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and three blocks. He wasn't very efficient, making 7-of-17 FGs, and the Suns could only scrape up 80 points in the home loss, but at least Scola has found a groove with his new team.
Rockets vs. Bucks
James Harden scored 29 points on 11-of-18 FGs in Houston's road win vs. the Bucks, while spicing up his evening with two 3-pointers, seven assists, four steals and one block. Jeremy Lin wasn't as compelling -- he matched Harden with seven assists and four steals, but shot 3-of-8 from the field with zero 3s, one rebound and six turnovers. He played under 29 minutes while Toney Douglas scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, though Lin's low playing time was due to a nasty cut which required five stitches and knocked him out of the third quarter (he returned to start the fourth). Douglas hit a few 3-pointers and handed out three assists. Lin been bobbing around all season and his sea-sick owners should just sit tight.
Meanwhile, Carlos Delfino drained 8-of-11 shots, including 6-of-7 from downtown, to score 22 points in 28 minutes vs. his former team. His 2.3 treys per game have given him late-round value, but as his shot goes, so goes his fantasy value. At the PF position, Marcus Morris missed all seven of his shots and was scoreless in 25 minutes, but Patrick Patterson scored 18 points in just 21 minutes. Houston's offense has been racking up huge numbers recently, and with a starting job within reach Patterson makes a nice fantasy stash, with the understanding that he's still being eased back into heavy minutes.
Any punters reading this? If you punt FT percentage, Omer Asik becomes a borderline sixth-round value. Include FTP, however, and he free-falls to the 18th round. In Friday's game, he scored 13 points with eight rebounds and a block, making 6-of-7 FGs but just 1-of-4 FTs. Pair him with Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith, and you have yourself a coherent strategy.
The Bucks don't require as extensive a treatment. Monta Ellis' shot was off (12 points on 5-of-19 FGs), Larry Sanders blocked four shots despite playing just 18 minutes due to crippling foul trouble, and both Mike Dunleavy (12 points) and Ersan Ilyasova (11 points) were quiet off the bench. John Henson stands out, however, as he racked up 11 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 27 minutes. Sanders' aforementioned foul trouble opened up the Bucks' frontcourt, but Henson was coming off a dominant game in which he made 10-of-11 shots to score 20 points in 23 minutes vs. the Spurs (with nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block, no less). Ekpe Udoh isn't wowing anyone with his minutes as a starter and Henson's tremendous upside makes him an interesting speculative pickup, with the usual caveat that Scott Skiles can't be trusted to increase his minutes simply because he's playing well.
Here are two interesting streaks from the official game notes: Brandon Jennings has made at least one 3-pointer in 18 straight games, while Larry Sanders has blocked at least one shot in 17 straight. Jennings averages 1.9 threes per game, while Sanders averages 3.0 blocks (second in the NBA).