The NBA returned Thursday night, with six games on the schedule including Boston’s trip to Milwaukee and Golden State hosting a Sacramento team that’s been a pleasant surprise this season. With the league making its on-court “comeback” some injured players did the same, and there were a couple familiar faces playing their first games in new places as well. Among the standouts on Thursday were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry and Jusuf Nurkic, but the recap will begin with the return of Clint Capela and the impact it has on the Houston Rockets.
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Having missed the prior 15 games due to a thumb injury, Rockets starting center Clint Capela made his return to the lineup Thursday as Houston visited the Los Angeles Lakers. The fifth-year center has been a key contributor for Mike D’Antoni’s team, with his averages of 17.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game both being career-highs. Capela’s athleticism and synergy with James Harden in the pick-and-roll have a significant impact on the way in which the Rockets operate, and his absence was one reason why Harden had to shoulder so much of the load offensively.
Capela played 33 minutes in the Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Lakers, finishing the night with 12 points (6-of-19 FGs), 11 rebounds and one blocked shot. His return to action obviously has an impact on Houston’s interior rotation, with Kenneth Faried having his minutes cut as a result. Faried, who was signed after Capela went down last month and played 30 minutes or more in nine of his first 12 games with the team, played just 18 minutes Thursday night. But the “Manimal” still managed to contribute off the bench, as he finished the night with 13 points (5-of-6 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), six rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer.
Faried saw action at both the center and power forward positions Thursday, with veteran Nene playing five minutes (two points) due to the fact that the Lakers use two true centers in JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler. Faried will obviously not play as much as he did before Capela returned to the lineup, but Thursday’s performance showed that he’s still an impact player. The upside to having him on a fantasy roster isn’t as high, but he’s still worth keeping as Houston won’t run into too many teams that have multiple 7-footers to use.
Capela’s return was one of the few positives on what would be a highly frustrating night for Houston, which lost despite leading by as much as 19 in the third quarter. James Harden barely kept his streak of 30-point games alive, scoring points 29 and 30 with just under two minutes remaining and fouling out shortly thereafter. The reigning MVP finished the night with 30 points (11-of-24 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs), six assists, five rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers, but he also had eight turnovers. Backcourt sidekick Chris Paul had his best game since he returned from injury in late January, as he tallied 23 points (9-of-15 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), ten rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one blocked shot with just one turnover in 35 minutes.
But he, like Harden, fouled out late in the fourth quarter. And after the game both expressed frustration with lead official Scott Foster.
"Scott Foster man, I never really talk about officiating, but just rude and arrogant,” Harden said of Foster after the loss. “I mean, you aren't able to talk to him throughout the game. It's not even that call. It's who he is on that floor. It's pretty frustrating. You can't have a conversation. You get a tech."
This won’t have an impact on Houston from a fantasy standpoint, but it does make for an interesting subplot to keep an eye on as the season winds down.
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On the other side of this game was the comeback staged by the Lakers, who took full advantage of the foul line down the stretch. Luke Walton’s team attempted the final 17 free throws in Thursday’s game, and LeBron James and Brandon Ingram combined to attempt 24 of the Lakers’ 33 free throws on the night. James finished with 29 points (11-of-23 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), 11 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot, with Ingram adding 27 points (8-of-16 FGs, 11-of-14 FTs), 13 rebounds and one assists. Those two were also the only Lakers to play at least 40 minutes, with Kyle Kuzma (18 points, six rebounds, five assists, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes) falling just short of that mark.
While James and Kuzma have consistently been keys for the Lakers of late the same cannot be said of Ingram, who over the last two weeks is the 157th-ranked player in nine-category leagues according to Basketball Monster. While the fantasy and “real” values of a player can be different, there’s no denying the fact that if the Lakers are to make up their current deficit (2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West) more will be needed from Ingram. Over his last five the slender forward is averaging 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 46.0% from the field and 76.3% from the foul line. If he can get his scoring into the twenties, as was the case Thursday with Ingram taking full advantage of the foul line, he won’t be ranked outside of the top-100 for much longer.
Stephen Curry knocks down ten threes as Warriors hang on
The Sacramento Kings have made noticeable strides this season, and that includes playing well against the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors. But Dave Joerger’s team was unable to get over the hump in any of the four meetings, the last of which being Thursday’s 125-123 loss in Oakland. Buddy Hield’s challenged turnaround in the final seconds fell short of the mark, land all four of the Kings’ losses to the Warriors have been by five points or less. Stephen Curry led the way for Golden State with 36 points, which included a 10-of-16 night from beyond the arc, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals, with Kevin Durant adding 28 points, nine rebounds, a career-high seven blocked shots, four assists, one steal and one three-pointer. The majority of Durant’s blocks, which some believed should have been labeled as steals, came against Kings rookie Marvin Bagley III.
Over the last two weeks Curry has been a top-five player in nine-category leagues, with Durant just outside of the top ten. Klay Thompson added 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers, with DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, ten rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot and one three-pointer) and Draymond Green (12 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three 3-pointers) also scoring in double figures. And Andre Iguodala scored nine of the team’s 14 bench points, with Shaun Livingston unavailable due to his wife being set to give birth.
As noted above, a lot of Durant’s defensive handiwork came at the expense of the rookie forward out of Duke. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Bagley had a terrible night, either. The rookie played 34 minutes Thursday night, and he finished with a team-high 28 points (8-of-19 FGs, 11-of-14 FTs) to go along with 14 rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer. The double-double was Bagley’s first since February 6 and fourth of the month, the most he’s had in any month this season. In total Sacramento had seven double-digit scorers on the night, including the aforementioned Hield (19/7/2 with two 3-pointers) and De’Aaron Fox (18/3/8/3/1 with two 3-pointers), and recent addition Corey Brewer added 11 points and three 3-pointers in 13 minutes off the bench. Sacramento has the look of a team that isn’t going to fade from the playoff race, and if Bagley can play as he did for much of Thursday’s loss in Oakland that makes the task of getting to the postseason a bit more manageable for this team of underdogs.
Nikola Mirotic scores eight points in Bucks debut
Two of the East’s best met in Milwaukee Thursday, as the Celtics visited the Bucks in a game that went down to the wire. Milwaukee picked up the 98-97 win as Kyrie Irving’s left-handed floater missed the mark, with Giannis Antetokounmpo once again leading the way. The MVP candidate had an impact on both ends of the floor, finishing the game with 30 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots, one steal and one three-pointer. Antetokounmpo was one of two Bucks to finish the win with a double-double, as Khris Middleton tallied 15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers, and Malcolm Brogdon posted a 15/6/4/1 stat line with three 3-pointers. Thursday’s game also included the Bucks debut of forward Nikola Mirotic, who played 14 minutes and finished with eight points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers.
Milwaukee’s offense has changed drastically from last season to this, with Mike Budenholzer installing a system that places a greater emphasis on spacing and perimeter shooting. That’s given Antetokounmpo more room to work his magic, and when it comes to Mirotic the newest Buck gives the team another capable perimeter shooter. He’s shooting nearly 37% from deep on the season, and in seven games last month Mirotic shot 44.0% from three with an average of 7.1 attempts per game. It may take some time for Mirotic’s full impact to be realized given the fact that he had not played in a month prior to Thursday, but his presence gives the Bucks second unit a solid perimeter shooter in the front court.
Boston fell short, but Al Horford was once again excellent
The aforementioned Irving scored his team-high 22 points on 9-of-27 shooting from the field while also accounting for five assists, two steals, two blocked shots, one rebound and four 3-pointers. He was one of two Celtics to score at least 20 points, with Al Horford being the other. The veteran center scored 21 points (8-of-21 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs) with 17 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots, two steals and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes, posting his second double-double in as many games. Two of Boston’s last three games have been against Eastern Conference contenders, and while he wasn’t able to have the impact on the action that he did in the February 12 win over Philadelphia Horford put forth another quality effort. Over the last two weeks, Horford has been a top-10 player in nine-category leagues and a top-15 player in eight-category leagues.
Enes Kanter makes his Portland debut
One of the more noteworthy moves on the post-trade deadline waiver wire was the Portland Trail Blazers’ signing of Enes Kanter, whose time with the Knicks came to an end as the struggling franchise placed a high priority on playing its young big men. Kanter went from riding the bench to joining a team in the thick of a playoff race, and Thursday night he made his debut in Brooklyn. And he was quite effective, playing 20 minutes off the bench and finishing with 18 points (8-of-9 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), nine rebounds (five offensive), one steal and one turnover in Portland’s 113-99 victory. The 20 minutes are the most that Kanter has played in a game since January 8, and his presence gives Portland an effective (offensively, at least) backup center to call upon when starter Jusuf Nurkic needs a break.
Nurkic led the way Thursday night with 27 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and one assist in 28 minutes, with CJ McCollum adding 21 with six rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and one three-pointer. Kanter isn’t the kind of player who will provide fantasy value on the defensive end (blocks and steals), but he will produce on the boards and can score as well. So who does his arrival impact the most? The obvious answers to this question are Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard, who both picked up the dreaded “DNP-CD” label in Brooklyn.
Boban outstanding in first start as a 76er
With Joel Embiid (knee) due to miss at least the next week, Philadelphia has a hole to fill at the center position. Thursday night Boban Marjanovic, who was acquired from the Clippers in the deal that was headlined by Tobias Harris, made his first start as a member of the 76ers and it’s fair to say that he had a good night. The big man played 27 minutes, tallying 19 points (6-of-7 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), 12 rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in Philadelphia’s 106-102 win over Miami. If there was a negative for Boban it was the turnover count, as he racked up five, but that should not take away from the fact that he matched his season-high in both points and rebounds. And the double-double is Marjanovic’s first since a ten-point, ten-rebound effort in a February 2 win over the Pistons as a member of the LA Clippers.
While he’s certainly effective while on the court, Marjanovic’s comparative (to Embiid) lack of mobility means that more will be asked of Philadelphia’s other options on the boards. Harris grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with his 23 points Thursday night, and Ben Simmons (21/7/4/1/1), Jimmy Butler (18/6/6/1) and JJ Redick (13/6/3/1 block and three 3-pointers) all finished with at least six boards. Philadelphia’s work on the offensive boards (12) and a 25-6 edge in points from the foul line proved to be the difference against Miami, with Boban being a factor in both areas.
Cedi Osman sinks five three-pointers in win over Phoenix
In his return to action February 13, Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman played 25 minutes and accounted for two points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. He had no such restrictions to worry about Thursday night, and in Cleveland’s 111-98 win over Phoenix he accounted for 19 points (7-of-12 FGs), five rebounds, five assists and five 3-pointers in 34 minutes. Cleveland’s in a position where it will give its young players every opportunity down the stretch, as the team is going to finish well out of the playoff picture. Osman certainly falls into that category, and the question now is whether or not he can pick up where he left off at the end of January. During that month he averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game with shooting splits of 48.2/38.2/71.1.
Kevin Love added 16 points and ten rebounds in 22 minutes, with Jordan Clarkson and Ante Zizic (12 rebounds) scoring 15 apiece. Larry Nance Jr. put up a 14/7/3/4 stat line and Matthew Dellavedova dished out a game-high 11 assists for the Cavaliers.
Derrick Jones Jr. plays 17 minutes in return to lineup
While one Heat player who has been out of the lineup due to injury (Goran Dragic) was unable to return Thursday, another saw action in the loss to Philadelphia. Derrick Jones Jr., who had not played since January 27 due to a knee injury, played 17 minutes and accounted for nine points and two rebounds. The third-year forward’s minutes were also impacted by the shoulder injury suffered by James Johnson during the second quarter, with the veteran unable to return to the game. Should Johnson miss an extended period of time due to this issue Jones is one player whose minutes/role will be impacted. Something else to keep an eye on regarding the Heat is the status of Dragic, as his return will have an impact on Justise Winslow. Winslow, who’s served as Miami’s de facto point guard since Dragic went down, played 29 minutes and posted a stat line of 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one three-pointer before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Allen Crabbe scores 17 points in 29 bench minutes
Since returning to action February 6, Nets guard Allen Crabbe has shot the ball well. In the four games he appeared in prior to the All-Star break, the veteran two-guard averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 3.5 three-pointers per while shooting 54.1% from the field, 51.9% from three and 66.7% from the foul line. In Thursday’s loss to Portland Crabbe was once again productive, as he scored a team-best 17 points (7-of-12 FGs) while also accounting for four rebounds, one assist and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes of play. Despite not being the most productive player in non-scoring categories he’s been solid of late, with this being a big reason why Crabbe has been a top-75 player in nine-category leagues over the last two weeks. Crabbe and Ed Davis (15 points, ten rebounds) were Brooklyn’s most productive reserves in the loss, with Jarrett Allen tallying a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) as well.
Kelly Oubre Jr. solid in first start as a Sun
Phoenix guard Devin Booker led the way in the loss to Cleveland with 30 points and seven assists, with this being the 14th games this season in which he’s scored at least 30 points. Also performing well in the loss was Kelly Oubre Jr., who made his first start since being acquired from Washington and finished with 23 points, four rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots, one assist and four 3-pointers in 41 minutes. Oubre, who’s been productive as a reserve for the Suns since his arrival in Phoenix, replaced the ineffective Mikal Bridges in the starting lineup. And while head coach Igor Kokoskov said after the game that “nothing is set in stone” when it comes to the Suns’ lineup moving forward Oubre’s made a good case to remain with the starters. That being said, the fact that his move into the starting lineup robs the second unit of a consistent scorer could be what keeps this change from becoming a permanent one.