Thursday was one of the lighter days on the NBA schedule this season, as there were only two games on the slate. Indiana managed to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo in check for about three quarters, but the MVP candidate did what he’s capable of doing as Milwaukee went on to win by a comfortable margin. The nightcap matched Northwest Division rivals, with Oklahoma City going into Portland and beating the Trail Blazers in overtime to take a one-game lead in the Western Conference standings (the Thunder also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker). Below is a look at both games, followed by a few early injury notes for Friday.
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Thunder 129, Trail Blazers 121 (OT)
With three All-Stars playing in this game, it makes sense that an extra five minutes was required to determine the outcome. And despite Damian Lillard scoring 50 points in a game for the fifth time in his career — and first time this season — Portland was unable to pick up its first win over the Thunder this season. Russell Westbrook scored 37 points (14-of-28 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) with seven rebounds, three assists and five 3-pointers, with Paul George adding 32 with 14 rebounds, six assists, three steals and one three-pointer. In total five Oklahoma City players scored in double figures, with Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder adding 14 apiece and Steven Adams 12.
Westbrook did rack up a game-high eight turnovers on the night. But for the second straight game he shot 50% or better form the field, helping to make up for George’s off night. Playing in his second game back after being sidelined due to right shoulder soreness, George shot just 7-of-23 from the field and 1-of-9 from three. But he took full advantage of the foul line, making 17 of his 20 attempts (the Thunder attempted a total of 32 free throws). Over the last month only one player in the NBA has been better than George in nine-category leagues, Washington’s Bradley Beal.
Also, Markieff Morris played 23 minutes and grabbed a team-high ten rebounds. Morris essentially moved into Patrick Patterson’s spot in the rotation immediately after being signed by Oklahoma City, with Patterson having played a total of five minutes in the last eight games. The ninth-year pro has received the dreaded DNP-CD stat line in seven of the last eight games. Morris and Nerlens Noel, who accounted for six points, three rebounds and one blocked shot in 14 minutes, are Billy Donovan’s clear front court options off the bench. Abdel Nader played 22 minutes off the bench, and he’s played 20 minutes or more in three of Oklahoma City’s last four games.
Lillard led Portland with 51 points, shooting 15-of-28 from the field and 18-of-20 from the foul line, while also accounting for nine assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots, one steal and three 3-pointers. The All-Star guard did what he could to put Portland in a position to beat the Thunder for the first time this season, but the game changed when Jusuf Nurkic (13 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot) received his second technical foul with 4.4 seconds remaining in regulation after getting into a brief confrontation with George.
With the starting center in the locker room Portland had to call upon Enes Kanter for more minutes, and there’s a clear difference between the two defensively. Playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since his signing, Kanter finished with three points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 18 minutes. Even with the defensive issues he’s the clear backup center, with Meyers Leonard playing one minute in overtime and Zach Collins getting a DNP-CD for the second straight game.
The shooting guard position offers more intrigue when it comes to how Terry Stotts distributes minutes and the impact this has on players’ fantasy values. Moe Harkless (two points, three rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot) remains the starter, but both Rodney Hood and Jake Layman have played well enough to earn quality minutes. Hood, who was on the floor late in regulation and in overtime, played 32 minutes and finished with ten points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers. Layman played 16 minutes but did not have much of an impact, missing all three of his shot attempts and finishing the night with one rebound and one assist.
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Bucks 117, Pacers 98
Four Bucks starters finished the game in double figures, with Antetokounmpo (29 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the foul line, 12 rebounds, five assists, one blocked shot and one three-pointer) and Khris Middleton (27 points, four assists, three steals, two rebounds and four 3-pointers) leading the way. Indiana called upon Thaddeus Young to defend Antetokounmpo for much of the night, and the approach worked for much of the first three quarters as the MVP candidate struggled to get much going outside of his trips to the foul line. Antetokounmpo flipped the switch with just under six minutes remaining in the third, with he and Middleton doing much of the heavy lifting offensively.
Brook Lopez added 13 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots, one steal and three 3-pointers, and Eric Bledsoe tallied 12 points with five rebounds, four assists and one steal. The biggest change to the Bucks rotation Thursday was the return of Donte DiVincenzo, who had not played in a game since January 1 due to a heel injury. The rookie out of Villanova played six minutes in the first half and another three after the outcome was essentially decided, finishing the night with five points, two rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer. He isn’t in a position where he’ll replace a Pat Connaughton (three points, seven rebounds, four assists and one three-pointer) or Tony Snell (nine points, one rebound, one three-pointer) in the pecking order, with those two playing 18 and 19 minutes, respectively.
Also Pau Gasol made his home debut, accounting for one point, five rebounds and one blocked shot in 11 minutes of action. Nikola Mirotic (two points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot) and Ersan Ilyasova (nine points, two rebounds, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers) remain the top options for front court minutes off the bench.
As for Indiana, Myles Turner led the way with 22 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots, one steal and four 3-pointers. Over the last month he’s been a top-10 player in nine-category leagues, and his production is one reason Indiana has kept its position among the East’s best despite losing Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury. Like the Bucks, Indiana had four starters reach double figures with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 17 to go along with five rebounds, two steals, one assist and three 3-pointers, and the aforementioned Young and Wesley Matthews scored ten apiece.
With Domantas Sabonis (ankle) still out of the lineup some of the backup center minutes have been given to Kyle O’Quinn in recent games. O’Quinn, who has played 11 minutes or more in seven of Indiana’s last eight games after falling out of the rotation, accounted for 11 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal in 13 minutes Thursday night. Over his last five O’Quinn is averaging 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 13.4 minutes per game, so there has not been much of an impact fantasy-wise. With Doug McDermott and T.J. Leaf not providing much in the way of consistent production, outside of the starting trio of Bogdanovic, Turner and Young the Pacers front court should be avoided if possible.
Early Friday Injury Notes
- No Delly for Cleveland: Cavs backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova is listed as out for Friday’s game against Miami due to a concussion. While that will mean even more minutes on the ball for Jordan Clarkson, who’s one of the best bench scorers in the NBA, it also opens up a few more minutes for David Nwaba and Nik Stauskas. Nwaba was quite productive in Wednesday’s loss to the Nets, as he scored 22 points (9-of-13 FGs) with three 3-pointers in 20 minutes of action. Also worth keeping an eye on is the status of Ante Zizic, who’s listed as questionable due to a concussion. If he can’t go Larry Nance Jr. would remain in the starting lineup, and reserve forward Marquese Chriss could play more than he did in Brooklyn (11 minutes).
- Philadelphia still down two centers: Joel Embiid (left knee soreness) and Boban Marjanovic (right knee bone bruise/mild sprain) are both listed as out for Friday’s game against the Rockets. Amir Johnson, who tallied nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in Wednesday’s loss in Chicago, will likely remain in the starting lineup with Mike Scott and Jonah Bolden supplying the depth off the bench. Justin Patton, who was a DNP-CD Wednesday after playing nine minutes against the Magic, may be able to get off the pine but even if that is the case he isn’t going to be a player worthy of being taken off the waiver wire.
- Pelicans will be shorthanded on the perimeter: Both Jrue Holiday (lower abdominal strain) and E’Twaun Moore (left quad contusion) are listed as out for New Orleans’ game against the Raptors in Toronto. That will place even more responsibility upon the shoulders of Elfrid Payton, Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson, especially when it comes to accounting for the loss of Holiday. Ian Clark, who’s played a total of 12 minutes in New Orleans’ last five games (three DNP-CD’s), is another player available to Alvin Gentry but he’s unlikely to have as much of an impact fantasy-wise as Payton, Williams or Jackson.
- Ricky Rubio doubtful vs. Memphis: Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is listed as doubtful for Utah’s game in Memphis due to left hip tightness. Should he not be able to play that sets up a scenario in which Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles handle the playmaking responsibilities. In the last game Rubio missed, a February 28 win over the Nuggets in Denver, Mitchell and Ingles dished out five and ten assists, respectively.
- Klay Thompson expected back Friday: Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who has missed the last two games due to right knee soreness, is listed as probable for the team’s game against Denver. Also listed as probably is Shaun Livingston, who did not play in Tuesday’s blowout loss to Boston due to neck spasms. If both return that would move Alfonzo McKinnie back to the bench, and some of the reserves who played decent minutes (Damion Lee played 27 minutes Tuesday, but there was a lot of “garbage time”) won’t get as much action.