Clippers at Nets
The Nets made a statement with Thursday's win vs. Doc Rivers and the visiting Clippers, finally looking like a $102 million team laden with veteran All-Stars and former All-Stars as they racked up their third straight victory. With an 8-14 record, Brooklyn is now one game out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and just two games out of the No. 4 seed.
Even this rainbow had a storm cloud, however, as Brook Lopez sprained his left ankle and didn't return after the third quarter (UPDATE: Brook has been listed as 'questionable' to play on Friday). He was able to return to the Nets' bench, he wanted to re-enter the game, and he did travel with the team for Friday's matchup vs. Detroit. That said, I'd be surprised if he's in uniform vs. the Pistons. He has a history of foot injuries and just recovered from a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss seven games in November (after two DNPs last month he said he felt "good enough to play," a vivid reminder that player's self-diagnosis doesn't always mean much).
Assuming Lopez does miss at least Friday's game, Andray Blatche (21 points, nine rebounds on Thursday) should move into the starting lineup and match his current splits in five starts -- 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks with solid percentages from the field and at the line. Kevin Garnett will also get a boost but he finished with just two points and six rebounds on Thursday and hasn't played more than 28 minutes in a game all season, so his upside is rather limited. Rookie Mason Plumlee, who has been a pleasant surprise, fouled out of Thursday's game in 15 minutes, will also get a temporary boost if Lopez sits.
Jason Kidd kept Alan Anderson in the starting lineup and played him a team-high 36 minutes, but Anderson finished with a paltry three points on 1-of-9 shooting, two rebounds and one assist. He remains a 3-point specialist even if he keeps the SF job over Paul Pierce, who looked sharper in his second game back from a hand fracture. The Truth scored 10 points with two 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists and one steal, and with Andrei Kirilenko (back) out indefinitely it makes sense to pick up Pierce wherever he's available. He's never been worse than a top-50 fantasy value during his 16-year career but he's mired in the late 100s at the moment, so I'm anticipating an upward correction in the coming weeks and months.
One fantasy stalwart I'd happily quit on is Joe Johnson, who is clinging to value with 15.4 points, 1.9 threes, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.4 steals per game. Those numbers came for the most part without Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in the lineup, and they're likely headed south for the winter. He scored 21 points on Thursday, including 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, and if I owned him in any leagues I'd be routinely packaging him as a trade chip.
Chris Paul led the Clippers with 20 points on Thursday, joining Jamal Crawford (19) and Blake Griffin (12) as the only Clippers with double-digit scoring in a loss at Brooklyn. CP3's 11.4 assists per game easily lead the NBA but he was held to a season-low two assists in 28 minutes as the game quickly slid away from the Clippers' control -- he played only 43 seconds in the fourth quarter and exited for good with his team down by 18 points. The low assists were a product of both the score and the Clips' inability to knock down shots. That will happen when a team’s starting SG is Willie Green, shooting 31.9 percent this season, and its most recent acquisition is 35-year-old Stephen Jackson, himself a career 41.5 percent shooter.
Jamal Crawford made 5-of-11 field goals but he's always been more adept at getting his own shots off the dribble, and even spot-up specialist Jared Dudley shot 1-of-7 to lower his season FG mark to 42.1 percent. L.A. currently ranks seventh in the league in team FG percentage (46.1 percent), thanks almost entirely to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, and I imagine teams will continue to pack the paint and dare the Redick-less Clippers to beat them from the perimeter.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $50,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $7,500. Starts at 7pm ET on Friday. Here's the FanDuel link.
Rockets at Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers also won their third straight game on Thursday, knocking off the visiting Rockets 111-104 behind another massive, MVP-worthy game from LaMarcus Aldridge. He scored 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, grabbed 25 rebounds, and chipped in two assists, two steals and two blocks with a single turnover in 41 minutes. He played with the same 'you-can't-stop-me' ease that he had while scoring 38 points vs. the Thunder on Dec. 4, and the Rockets simply had no answer for his mid-range arsenal. He shot 12-of-22 from mid-range and continues to make incredibly difficult shots look routine. And unlike Dwight Howard, who also blew up on Thursday, Aldridge prevents intentional fouling by shooting 80 percent at the FT line. He is the only player in Trail Blazers history to finish with 30+ points and 25+ rebounds, surpassing even the great Bill Walton.
The fun wasn't limited to Aldridge, as Robin Lopez piled up a 16 & 10 double-double with two blocks, Nicolas Batum had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, Wes Matthews scored 18 points (albeit without his usual efficiency), and Mo Williams led all reserves with 13 points and four dimes. The only letdown was Damian Lillard, who handed out six assists but only scored eight points on 1-of-10 shooting (the Patrick Beverley effect), while getting his shot blocked five times (the Dwight Howard effect, as the entire Blazers' team has only been blocked an average of 3.6 times per game this season).
I'd like to highlight Lopez's double-double for the very fact that it doesn't stand out. Through seven December games he has quietly averaged 12.1 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and he's even made a combined 17-of-18 free throws. Lopez deserves tons of credit for developing his game over the years. He rarely picks up silly fouls any longer, averaging 3.1 personals per 36 minutes, and as the Blazers' announcers point out every single game he's a model big man when it comes to the rule of 'verticality', sticking his long arms straight up in the air and daring players to shoot a field goal through the uprights. He is also averaging his best-ever rebounding rate, which had been a frequent criticism during his years with the Suns. Portland has resisted any talks about trading Lopez, according to the rumor-mill, and it's easy to see why the team with the best record in the West wouldn't mess with their chemistry.
For the Rockets, Thursday was another disappointing loss (their second in a row) which falls squarely on their lackluster team defense. Individually, they got big games from James Harden (25 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and Dwight Howard (32 points, 17 rebounds, two steals, three blocks). Patrick Beverley also played hell-hound defense, as usual, to finish with nine points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block in 39 minutes.
Jeremy Lin (knee) was quiet in his return, scoring five points with two assists in 15 minutes off the bench, but that's to be expected after a six-game absence. He may not match his lofty splits from November (15.3 points, 1.4 triples, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals) but I still expect him to hold value as a key reserve on a fast-paced team. Another guy with a sub-par line was Chandler Parsons, who logged 38 minutes but only shot 6-of-18 from the field for 14 points. His back spasms have cost him two games in December and we may hear about them again, but for now he's safe to keep active as Houston finishes their road trip with games on Friday and Sunday.
For breaking news, injury updates and statistical curiosities, follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW