The 76ers are shady, Kristaps Porzingis was a major letdown and Damian Lillard could be out a while. I break all that down and discuss some fantasy pickups from Thursday’s games in tonight’s dose! For NBA news and fantasy advice, find me on Twitter here!
Joel Embiid (back) out yet again
You would be hard-pressed to find a team as shady as the 76ers when it comes to injuries. After missing two games earlier in the week in order to rest his ailing back after he played a career-high 49 minutes, the 76ers were planning to sit Joel Embiid for Thursday and Saturday’s games as well, but they upgraded him to questionable after he went through the morning shootaround. A few hours later, the 76ers upgraded him to probable and coach Brett Brown said he was expecting The Process to play.
Richaun Holmes said Embiid looked “good” in warmups and the big man looked comfortable getting up shots and he was even dancing around, yet the 76ers ruled him about a half hour before tip-off. I’m writing this about five hours after the Philly game ended and we still don’t have the slightest clue why Embiid was held out. Maybe he suffered a setback or maybe the front office made the decision to hold him out, but I wouldn’t count on getting an honest answer from a franchise that hid Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury for weeks.
At this point, Embiid’s status for Saturday’s rematch for Toronto is completely up in the air, but the 76ers need him in the worst way. They have lost eight out of their last nine games and have a 13-9 record with him compared to 1-8 without him. If Philly’s goal is to make the playoffs, then they need The Process to start playing through these minor injuries (if they are actually minor like the 76ers want us to believe). I only own Embiid in one of 10 fantasy leagues so I hope I’m not coming across as a salty fantasy owner, as I really just want to see one of the best young bigs in recent memory light up the scoreboard as much as possible.
My colleagues and I were very high on Richaun Holmes during the offseason because of Embiid’s durability, and he’s certainly showing his worth as a handcuff lately with averages of 11.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in his last three games without Embiid.
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Kristaps Porzingis struggles in return
Kristaps Porzingis was back in the lineup on Thursday after a two-game absence due to a sore knee, but his fantasy owners are probably wishing he sat this one out too. He was either rusty or playing at less than 100 percent, as he missed all 11 of his shots and finished with just one point, five rebounds, one assist, zero steals, zero blocks and zero 3-pointers in 23 minutes.
He was benched down the stretch while Michael Beasley was hearing MVP chants from the crowd in the fourth quarter, but there’s no report of an injury or a setback for that matter. When asked about his performance, Porzingis just chalked it up as a rough night. “Kobe says you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Today I missed all hundred,” Porzingis said. “You can’t really play worse, shoot worse, than that. I’m looking forward to tomorrow night to bounce back.”
The big takeaway here is that Porzingis is expecting to play on Friday vs. Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back set which could be a sign that his knee wasn’t bothering him — Porzingis missed one game of two back-to-back sets earlier this season when he was banged up and both games of another back-to-back set as well. I’ll mention Michael Beasley a bit later, but handcuffing Porzingis with him just in case is a good idea.
Damian Lillard diagnosed with a hamstring strain
Well, we finally found out what injury Damian Lillard has and it’s not good news. The Blazers are calling his injury a hamstring strain, and after re-watching the video of the incident it’s clear when it happened. Lillard claims that Pau Gasol slammed into the back of his right knee, but if you look closely, Gasol never makes actual contact and Lillard pulls up lame. If anyone has ever experienced a hamstring injury, then you know that they can be extremely uncomfortable/painful and I can see why Lillard thought Gasol made contact with him.
Lillard said he could barely move down the stretch of Wednesday’s game and called himself a decoy, so it’s not a surprise that they have already ruled him out for Friday’s game vs. the Nuggets. If I had to guess, I’d expect him to miss Saturday’s game as well. With that in mind, Shabazz Napier becomes an intriguing short-term pickup. He’s having his best season by a mile, shooting a career-high 50.7 percent from the floor. He’s also coming off back-to-back games with double digit points, and I’m expecting him to start alongside C.J. McCollum while Lillard is out.
Pretty much everyone else in the Portland rotation gets a bump as well, but McCollum might be the biggest winner — McCollum has a 31.2 usage rate without Lillard compared to 23.2 when they share the floor. He’s an elite DFS play and is going to be a monster in the short term.
Denzel Valentine had 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and four 3-pointers in 36 minutes against the Cavs for his second big game in a row after he had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, one steal and three triples the game before. David Nwaba has been coming on strong lately and is a legitimate threat, but this is still Valentine’s job to lose and he’s had some really nice moments this season. Like most young players, he’s going to have some ups and downs, but when Valentine is hot he’s a beast in fantasy for his all-around offensive game.
Kyle Korver had 15 points and four 3-pointers in 25 minutes with J.R. Smith out with a sore knee, but the Cavaliers don’t play again until Christmas day. Just keep this game in mind in case Smith’s injury lingers because knee issues are no joke.
Richaun Holmes- As pointed out earlier, Holmes is arguably the top handcuff in fantasy basketball, especially with the 76ers being so shady about Joel Embiid’s injury status. When Embiid’s 2016-17 season was cut short, Holmes had top-35 value with 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 steals and 0.7 3-pointers on 58.1 percent shooting after the All-Star break. You can’t leave that kind of upside on the wire.
Delon Wright- Since returning from a month-long absence, Wright has seen his role steadily increase and it looks like he’s already leapfrogged Fred VanVleet to take his backup PG role back. Wright can play several different positions and even played close to 19 minutes next to Kyle Lowry, finishing with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and two triples in 28 minutes in Thursday’s win over the 76ers. The Raptors were missing C.J. Miles (dental work) and Norman Powell had three fouls in 12 minutes, but it will be interesting to watch Wright’s role going forward.
Jakob Poeltl- I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I think Poeltl could replace Jonas Valanciunas as the starter at some point this season. He’s locked in a timeshare right now, but had another productive game on Thursday with eight points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 20 minutes compared to 16 unproductive minutes for J-Val.
Jerryd Bayless- J.J. Redick has already been listed as doubtful for Saturday’s rematch vs. Toronto due to right hamstring tightness, so Bayless could be looking at another start or two. He played 34 minutes on Thursday and was much more involved than T.J. McConnell (21 minutes) and Timothe Luwawu (14 minutes), scoring 11 points with one assist, one rebound, four steals and one triple. He attempted 11 shots including seven 3-pointers, so he was a few missed shots away from a much bigger night.
Michael Beasley- Even with Kristaps Porzingis back from his knee issue, Beasley wasn’t ready to play second fiddle to anyone and erupted for 28 of his 32 points in the final 17 minutes on the game with MVP chants raining down. He hit 13-of-20 shots and 5-of-6 free throws with 12 rebounds, and he’s at least worth holding onto until we confirm that Porzingis is OK. Who knows, maybe the Knicks carve out a bigger role for him even with some minutes next to KP6.
Isaiah Canaan- He has a firm grasp on the backup PG role and has basically forced his way into a timeshare with Tyler Ulis. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 5.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 triples in his first four games as a member of the Suns, and the franchise has been so impressed that they are planning to sign him for the rest of the season. Troy Daniels has also been trending up as a 3-point specialist with 18 combined triples over his last five games, but he will likely lose most of his steam with Devin Booker (groin) possibly back before the new year.
Isaiah Thomas practiced with in the G-League in a 5-on-5 scrimmage and was even seen warming up with the Cavs prior to their game on Thursday. The Cavaliers have ruled out a Christmas day return, but it sounds like a return in late December is definitely still on the table even though most reports have him returning the first week of January.
Devin Booker (groin) said he's been "shooting, running, jumping, doing everything,” and he also went through Thursday’s pre-game workout. Coach Jay Triano said Booker wouldn’t practice fully with the team until Christmas Eve, so it sounds like he could be back either on Dec. 29 vs. the Kings or Dec. 31 against Philly, but that’s mostly speculation based on his timetable.
Nets GM Sean Marks D'Angelo Russell (knee) "is progressing well,” but wouldn’t offer a timetable for his return. He did confirm that Russell would be back this season, and after listening closely to the interview, he was hinting strongly that we could see Russell back in action in mid-January.