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Karl-Anthony Towns
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Basketball Daily Dose

Injuries and blowouts steal the show

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: December 28, 2020, 3:11 am ET

The first Sunday of the season didn’t lack for activity, as the slate consisted of 10 games. But the first game of the day may have been a harbinger of what was to come, as the Clippers “turned back the clock” in stunning fashion in a 51-point loss to the Mavericks. The Knicks and Cavaliers registered surprising blowout wins, while Charlotte, Indiana and Golden State were among the teams that won by much closer margins.

That all being said, injuries were the biggest story of the day with multiple fantasy standouts going down. Below is a look at what happened on Sunday, and how it all affects the fantasy landscape.

Sunday’s Scores
Mavericks 124, Clippers 73
Hornets 106, Nets 104
Magic 120, Wizards 113
Knicks 130, Bucks 110
Pelicans 98, Spurs 95
Cavaliers 118, 76ers 94
Pacers 108, Celtics 107
Warriors 129, Bulls 128
Suns 116, Kings 100
Lakers 127, Timberwolves 91

Major Happenings

No Kawhi, big problems for the Clippers: L.A. played Sunday’s matinee without the services of Kawhi Leonard, who was sidelined due to the mouth laceration that he suffered late in Friday’s win over the Nuggets. The cut required eight stitches to close, and with the perennial All-Star sidelined Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup. Kennard had a tough afternoon, finishing with seven points (3-of-11 FGs), two rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer in 29 minutes. Even with Sunday’s performance Kennard still has fantasy value, be it as a starter or as a reserve when Leonard is healthy. He’s currently rostered in just 19% of Yahoo leagues, and that number should increase even with this showing.

Serge Ibaka had a solid outing, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot in 20 minutes. To start the season he’s been right around top-100 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats, which appears to be Ibaka’s fantasy floor given his production throughout his career. Backup Ivica Zubac’s value took a significant hit with the signing of Ibaka, as he is hovering just inside of the top-200. Lou Williams is off to a slow start to this season, but that tends to be the case with him. Those who stick it out will likely be rewarded in time based upon how his career has gone.

Timberwolves lose Towns before, Okogie during, loss: Minnesota had a rough Sunday, which ended with a 36-point loss to the Lakers. It began with Karl-Anthony Towns being diagnosed with a dislocated left wrist, the body part that he broke during last season. How much time KAT will miss is unknown, but the good news is that no surgery will be required. As a result Naz Reid moved into the starting lineup, and in 28 foul-plagued minutes he accounted for 11 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one 3-pointer. Reid is rostered in 2% of Yahoo leagues, providing 12th-round value in 9-cat formats. He’s worth picking up in the short-term, as the second-year center should play plenty while Towns works his way back.

During Sunday’s loss the Timberwolves lost Josh Okogie, who was forced to depart in the second quarter due cramping. That’s good news for Minnesota, because at first glance the injury appeared to be more serious than that. His value to the Timberwolves’ rotation is greater than his fantasy value, due in large part to what he brings to the table defensively.

Cavs move to 3-0, but lose Love to calf injury: Cleveland remained undefeated on the season, a feat made that much more impressive due to the fact that Kevin Love re-aggravated the right calf injury that kept him out of the first two games. Love played just nine minutes, and it’s possible that the Cavs keep him on the sidelines until he’s fully healed. If that occurs it’s time to fully invest in Larry Nance Jr., who started in place of the injured Isaac Okoro and finished with 13 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes. Another Cavalier worth considering is Cedi Osman, who has been a top-100 player in both 8- and 9-cat formats over the last week. He is currently rostered in just 8% of Yahoo leagues.

Embiid a late scratch, moving Howard into the starting lineup: Philadelphia played Sunday’s game in Cleveland without one of its most important players, as Joel Embiid was a late scratch due to back tightness. With this being the second game of a back-to-back, if anything it’s a surprise that Embiid wasn’t ruled out well before tip-off given his medical history. Dwight Howard started and was flat-out dominated by Andre Drummond, finishing with nine points, three rebounds, three turnovers and four fouls in 15 minutes. Drummond went off for 24 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in just 26 minutes. Howard is more of a “rainy day” fantasy option than anything, as his value is quite low on nights when Embiid is available to play.

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“Unibrow” shelved in first game of a back-to-back: The Lakers played Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves without Anthony Davis, who was held out due to a right calf contusion. As a result Kyle Kuzma moved into the starting lineup and he played well, finishing with 20 points, three rebounds, three assists, three blocks (a career-high) and four 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Kuzma was efficient, shooting 8-of-12 from the field and turning the ball over just once. He has fantasy value coming off the bench, and thus far Kuzma has looked more comfortable in his role than he was last season. Through the first week of the season he’s threatened top-50 value in 9-cat.

On the injury front the Lakers had two more players run into issues Sunday night, as LeBron James re-aggravated the left ankle that he sprained in the season opener. James remained in the game after rolling his ankle, and the Lakers’ commanding lead got him some extra rest and a head start on the recovery process during the fourth quarter. Also, Alex Caruso strained a hand muscle and played just 11 minutes. Consider James, Caruso and Davis to be questionable for Monday’s game against the Trail Blazers. Kuzma would be an obvious play if either of the Lakers’ two main weapons are forced to sit.

Nets lose Dinwiddie, then the game, in Charlotte: Brooklyn suffered its first defeat of the season, falling by two in Charlotte, but there was a personnel loss during the third quarter that could be of even greater importance. Spencer Dinwiddie went down with what was called a right knee strain, and more will be learned about the severity of the injury come Monday. Should be be lost for an extended period of time that would open up a spot in the starting lineup, and Steve Nash doesn’t lack for options. He could move Caris LeVert back to the first unit, which would hurt LeVert from a fantasy standpoint. Filling the “Ginobili role” off the bench gives him more time on the ball, which would be tough to do if LeVert was starting alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Another option would be to place Bruce Brown, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot or Tyler Johnson in the starting lineup. Neither one has offered much in the way of fantasy value to start the season, and that’s unlikely to change in this scenario either. Johnson is the better scorer of the three, while Brown and Luwau-Cabarrot are better defenders. Feel free to hold off on grabbing any of these guys off of the waiver wire until more is learned about the severity of Dinwiddie’s injury.

Hornets’ Washington sprains ankle: P.J. Washington played 35 minutes Sunday night, posting a line of 14 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals before rolling his ankle during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Nets. The good news for he and Charlotte is that the team doesn’t play again until Wednesday against the Mavericks, so Washington will have some time to recover. More will be learned about the severity of his injury on Monday, and given the Hornets’ lack of interior depth they can’t afford to lose him for an extended period of time. With Cody Zeller (wrist) out for 3-5 weeks, Bismack Biyombo (12 points, six rebounds, one assist and one block in 30 minutes) and Washington handled the minutes at center on Sunday.

While James Borrego said that rookies Nick Richards and Vernon Carey Jr. would need to be ready to contribute at the time of Zeller's injury, both were DNP-CDs on Sunday. Jalen McDaniels played four minutes off the bench, but no Washington would mean even more smaller lineups for the Hornets. Currently rostered in just 11% of Yahoo leagues, Biyombo should have experienced an uptick in the immediate aftermath of Zeller’s injury. Even if he isn’t the most productive center, where else is Charlotte going to turn? With three games on the slate for this week, Biyombo is a player worth picking up.

Hawks’ Dunn to undergo surgery on Wednesday: Atlanta will be without one of its offseason additions for the foreseeable future, as Kris Dunn will undergo surgery to remove loose cartilage from his right ankle. Dunn’s right knee was the issue back in November, but while he made progress in his recovery the ankle became more problematic. How much more time he’ll miss won’t be known until after the surgery. The good news on the injury front for Atlanta is that Clint Capela (left Achilles soreness) was upgraded to probable for Monday’s game against Detroit. Last season it was the right heel that gave Capela trouble, ending his season in late-January.

The veteran center’s return would squeeze Nathan Knight out of the rotation, while also ensuring that John Collins would be playing fewer minutes at the five. Collins not having to spend as much time banging with center would likely benefit him offensively, which is good news for those who grabbed him within the first two rounds of their fantasy drafts.

Warriors’ interior depth takes a hit with Chriss injury: Golden State received two pieces of bad news ahead of Sunday’s game in Chicago, beginning with the update on Marquese Chriss. The young center is out indefinitely after he suffered a fractured right ankle in practice on Saturday, with more to be learned regarding Chriss’ recovery timeline after he undergoes surgery. That will open up a few more minutes for Kevon Looney in the short-term, but he isn’t worthy of consideration in any fantasy league. At first glance James Wiseman would be asked to do even more than he already does as the starting center, but it’s important to keep in mind that he missed the entire preseason due to a case of COVID-19.

Wiseman, who finished Sunday’s win with seven points, three rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one 3-pointer in 24 minutes, hasn’t gone over 25 minutes in any of Golden State’s three games. That will likely be his ceiling for the time being. The other piece of notable news for the Warriors was the announcement that Draymond Green would miss Sunday and Tuesday’s games due to a foot injury. Adding Green to the mix would be bad news for both Eric Paschall and Juan Toscano-Anderson, and neither is a worthwhile fantasy option at present time. Paschall had a solid night Sunday, finishing with 15 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 19 minutes.

Bulls lose Markkanen, but Carter Jr. bounces back: Not only did Chicago lose to Golden State in heartbreaking fashion, as Damion Lee’s 3-pointer in the final seconds proved to be the difference, but they also lost starting power forward Lauri Markkanen. He left the game during the fourth quarter after suffering a bruised left calf, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Should Markkanen have to miss time beyond Sunday, look for Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison to absorb many of the available minutes. Billy Donovan went nine deep Sunday night, with bigs Daniel Gafford and Luke Kornet both receiving DNP-CDs.

A positive for Chicago to take from this defeat was the play of Wendell Carter Jr., who struggled mightily throughout the preseason and in the first two regular season games. Shooting 8-of-9 from the field, he finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and one 3-pointer in 31 minutes. Carter has provided late-round value in both 8- and 9-cat formats during the first week of the season, and while that isn’t good I think he’s a “buy low” option. As noted above, Donovan doesn’t appear to have much faith in the non-Carter/Markkanen big men on the roster. So WCJ should have every opportunity to play through his slump, and that approach paid off Sunday night.

Hop on the J-Rich bandwagon while there’s still room: Dallas’ offseason acquisition of Josh Richardson was meant to help the Mavericks in two ways. Offensively he would give them a perimeter player capable of creating both for himself and for others, and defensively he’s a versatile guard who can take on a variety of matchups. And the move from Philadelphia to Dallas was going to improve his fantasy value as well. Through three games that has been the case, with Richardson tallying 21 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 27 minutes.

He’s now 8-of-20 from three for the season, and Richardson could be on his way to producing the best season of his NBA career. The eventual return of Kristaps Porzingis shouldn’t have too much of an impact on Richardson, who has been a top-50 player in 9-cat to begin the season. He’s rostered in 69% of Yahoo leagues, and that number is much too low given his production and status within the Dallas rotation. Luka Doncic had a solid Sunday, finishing with 24 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and one steal in 26 minutes. Given how much the Mavs led by, there was no reason for Doncic to take on his usual workload.

Opportunity knocks for the “Time Lord”: Celtics backup center Robert Williams has been a fantasy favorite practically since he entered the NBA due to his impressive per-36 averages. But the potential hasn’t been converted into consistent production, which has limited his fantasy value in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Sunday night he played 22 minutes in the Celtics’ one-point loss to the Pacers, accounting for 12 points (6-of-7 FGs), four rebounds, one assist, four steals and two blocked shots.

While the ending wasn’t good, as Williams’ defensive mistake led to Domantas Sabonis’ game-winning three-point play, the “Time Lord” deserves credit for the role that he played in Boston’s fourth-quarter comeback. Is he starting to put it all together? I’m not sure, because we’ve been here before with Williams. But if he can build on Sunday’s showing, either Tristan Thompson (22 minutes Sunday) or Daniel Theis (15 minutes) will likely lose playing time. “I feel like I’m definitely coming along, making progress,” Williams said after Sunday’s loss. “But like I said, I’m not coming along fast enough slipping up like this. So next game just try to minimize the slip-ups.”

Bucks get blown out and lose Craig late: The Clippers and 76ers weren’t the only expected playoff teams to put up stinkers on Sunday, as Milwaukee was dominated for much of its 20-point loss to the Knicks. Giannis Antetokounmpo (27/13/5/3 with one 3-pointer) and Khris Middleton (22/4/5 with one 3-pointer) were two of the four Bucks to score in double figures, with Bobby Portis (17/7/2/1/1) and Donte DiVincenzo (10/2/1) being the others. Making matters worse for Milwaukee was the nose injury suffered by Torrey Craig late in the fourth quarter. Craig has found it tough to crack the wing rotation thus far, and this injury doesn’t help matters. Should he miss time, that won’t have much of an impact fantasy-wise.

Payton, Randle and Burks show out for New York: Tom Thibodeau picked up his first official win as Knicks head coach, and the trio of Elfrid Payton (27/3/7/1 with three 3-pointers), Julius Randle (29/14/7/1 block with three 3-pointers) and Alec Burks (18/2/5 with four 3-pointers) had a lot to do with that. Payton was much-maligned after the Knicks’ first two games, and he responded in a big way against Milwaukee. While he isn’t necessarily a great fantasy option at the point, Payton is the best that the Knicks have to offer with Immanuel Quickley (hip) sidelined.

Burks has been outstanding to start the season, providing top-30 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Currently rostered in just 38% of Yahoo leagues, Burks should be a popular waiver-wire pickup on Monday. Randle has also played well, as he’s currently ranked just outside of the top-30 in 9-cat. And Mitchell Robinson deserves a mention for his being able to avoid early foul trouble and play 35 minutes in Sunday’s win. He’s a lock for top-100 value at minimum when he manages to stay on the court.

Some Other Noteworthy Stat Lines

Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross: Both scored 26 points in Orlando’s win in Washington, with Fultz also accounting for two rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Ross played 31 minutes, supplementing his point total with one rebound, one steal and four 3-pointers.

Raul Neto: Filling the void left by Russell Westbrook (rest), Neto started and in 32 minutes tallied 22 points (10-of-17 FGs), four rebounds, five assists, three steals and two 3-pointers. Whenever Westbrook sits, as this was the second game of a back-to-back, Neto stands to benefit the most and makes sense as a DFS play on those nights.

Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson: The Suns forward combined to score 43 points in Sunday’s win over the Kings. Bridges posted a line of 22 points, seven rebounds, one assist, one block and four 3-pointers in 36 minutes, while Johnson contributed 21 points, one rebound, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers in 21 minutes off the bench. And with Jalen Smith (sprained left ankle) sidelined, Frank Kaminsky played 19 minutes against the team that waived him and tallied 11 points, two rebounds, two assists, one block and one 3-pointer. As nice of a story as that was, Kaminsky isn’t worth picking up off of the waiver wire right now.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram: Ball finished Sunday’s win over San Antonio with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists, five steals and one 3-pointer in 37 minutes, while Ingram put up a 28/11/6/1 block line with two 3-pointers. Stan Van Gundy played just eight in this one, with Nicolo Melli among the DNP-CDs. He wasn’t a fantasy option even before this, so nothing changes on that front.

Andrew Wiggins: After struggling mightily in the Warriors' first two games, Wiggins was better Sunday night. Shooting 6-of-15 from the field, he finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes. For those wondering if they should drop Wiggins, that would be a bad idea even with his slow start. If anything, I'd consider him to be a "buy low" possibility. Stephen Curry (36/2/6/2/2 with five 3-pointers) led the way for the Warriors in Chicago, and Damion Lee shot 4-of-5 from deep with the last being the game-winning shot. 

Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward: Durant (29/3/4/1 block with five 3-pointers) outscored Hayward (28/6/7/1 with two 3-pointers), but it was the latter's team that went home with the win. Kyrie Irving added 25 points, three rebounds, six assists, one steal and three 3-pointers for the Nets. 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.