The most delectable sub-plot of Thursday's three-game slate was Dwight Howard facing the Lakers, who have basically shrugged about Dwight scorning them in free agency, as though it was the inevitable outcome of his injury-plagued, chemistry-free, ego-laden debacle in L.A. last year. The incredible athlete we used to call Superman scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked one shot. He also turned the ball over four times.
It wasn't Dwight's finest hour, but the real problem was his 5-of-16 FT shooting. The Lakers intentionally fouled Dwight down the stretch and he missed six of his seven freebies, leading to some delicious post-game quotes from Mike D'Antoni, who has admitted that intentional fouling is "not entertaining for anybody."
"That doesn't mean you're not gonna use [intentional fouls]," said D'Antoni. "I'm not crazy. But if I were to change it, I'd probably change the rule ... I mean down there somewhere, yeah, I'm human, and it's great." The Lakers without Kobe Bryant are overachieving with a 3-3 record which includes wins vs. the Clippers, Hawks and Rockets, and it's hard to blame him for not-so-subtly smirking in the face of Dwight's crunch-time failures. D'Antoni's strategy heaped pressure on Dwight's broad shoulders at the FT line, but just as importantly it took the ball out of James Harden's hands -- Harden was single-handedly crushing L.A. with 35 points, three 3-pointers, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks, and it's safe to say that his myriad bumps and bruises aren't a concern for Saturday's game vs. the Clippers.
I stumbled across a throwaway line at the end of a game preview in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Thursday, which read, "[Paul] Millsap has been suffering from a sore right elbow injury but [it] has not prevented him from playing." He put any potential concerns to rest with a season-best 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting in a road loss to Denver, adding 10 rebounds, five dimes, two steals and one block without any turnovers in 34 minutes of action. He even drained two 3-pointers, something he hadn't done in his past 79 games but has now done twice in a row. He's shooting a ridiculous 59.1 percent from the field and the best is yet to come, as he's still on the upward slope of a learning curve inherent to joining a new NBA team after seven years in Utah. In other words, Millsap's big night isn't a sell-high opportunity -- it's a sign of things to come.
Dennis Shröder was suspended for Thursday's game for delivering a full-on forearm to DeMarcus Cousins' groin on Tuesday. If you haven't seen the rookie's brazen nut-punch, check out this link. Now try to match up those images with this quote from Shröder: "I didn't try to do it but when the NBA decided [to suspend me], I have to live with that." In any case, he's served his suspension and is averaging 6.3 points on 39.3 percent shooting this year, with an admirable 4.3 assists vs. 1.3 turnovers. His fantasy upside is tempered by Lou Williams' eventual return from knee surgery, as well as the Hawks' playoff hopes (i.e. lack of desire to develop young players at the cost of winning games), so he can be left on the wire in average leagues.
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Random Thought #1: Through five games, Monta Ellis is averaging 24 points on would-be career-best 51.9 percent shooting from the field. He's chipping in 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game, though his 4.4 turnovers put him in the NBA's top-seven in that dubious category (he trails league-leader Derrick Rose, as well as Eric Bledsoe, Stephen Curry, Josh Smith, James Harden and Victor Oladipo). Most importantly, Ellis is attempting 7.2 free throws per game, far better than his previous career-high (6.1) which he set in 2009-10. Whether he can keep up such a furious pace and remain healthy is another question, but Ellis didn't have a single DNP while playing 38 minutes per game in Milwaukee last year. He's averaging just 35 per game thus far under coach Rick Carlisle.
Random Thought #2: I'm fascinated by the NBA's new publicly-available SportsVU data which tracks player movement and spits out detailed information the likes of which basketball fans have never seen before. Check back in future weeks for some discussions about the newly-available data and what it means for fantasy owners. Just 10 days into the 2013-14 season, however, the sample size is too miniscule to draw meaningful conclusions. Follow this link to browse through the numbers.
And finally, here's a quick-hit injury list for Friday. For the full rundown, read our player news page and browse the comprehensive Injury Report.
Out: Wilson Chandler (hamstring), Ryan Anderson (toe) Update: Anderson has been upgraded to day-to-day but remains unlikely to play on Friday, J.R. Smith (final game of suspension), Tyson Chandler (leg), Tobias Harris (ankle), C.J. McCollum (foot), Vince Carter (suspended one game)
Doubtful: Al Jefferson (ankle), Steve Nash (rest)
Questionable: Stephen Curry (bone bruise in ankle) Update: Curry missed shootaround and Toney Douglas is expected to start in his place, George Hill (hip), Reggie Jackson (hip), Goran Dragic (ankle), Matt Bonner (calf), Trevor Booker (finger)
Probable: Paul Pierce (flu), Anthony Randolph (ankle), Kyle Lowry (chest)