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Basketball Daily Dose

James Harden puts on a show

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: August 1, 2020, 5:48 pm ET

On the heels of Thursday's doubleheader the NBA was back with a six-game slate, which thanks to sterilization measures that need to be taken in between games in Orlando is the max that we'll get on any given day. A night capped by James Harden and Russell Westbrook leading the Rockets to a comeback win over Dallas began with Orlando's blowout of Brooklyn. Trey Burke recaptured the magic from his Michigan days, De'Aaron Fox established a new career-high, and Giannis Antetokounmpo did the usual in his official Orlando debut. 

Magic 128, Nets 118 

Orlando pulled away during the second and third quarters, and the final margin was only respectable due to the Nets closing the game on an 18-0 run. Aaron Gordon (groin) was back in the starting lineup as expected and he would play 26 minutes, finishing with ten points, 11 rebounds and two assists. All five starters played between 25 and 27 minutes, with Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams playing 23 and 22 minutes, respectively, off the bench. Markelle Fultz (eight points, two rebounds, six assists and one steal) and Jonathan Isaac (16 points, six rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers) remain on minutes restrictions, with Fultz playing 19 minutes and Isaac 16. 

Even with the restriction Isaac, who’s looked very sharp in his appearances, would be worth a play in DFS given how cheap he currently is. He shot 6-of-7 from the field Friday and made both of his shots from beyond the arc. While it would be nice to get a couple assists out of Isaac, he’s proven to be a matchup nightmare for opponents in the brief time that he’s been on the court in the bubble. Fultz led the Magic with six assists, but give me Isaac if forced to pick between the two. Evan Fournier (24/1/5 with one block and three 3-pointers), Nikola Vucevic (22/7/5 with one 3-pointer) and backup center Khem Birch (12/4/5/1/2) had good afternoons as well. Mo Bamba isn’t in the rotation, which isn’t a shock given his limited workload during the scrimmages, and he didn’t check in until the fourth quarter when the Magic held a commanding lead. 

Brooklyn made a change to its starting lineup, with Lance Thomas (6/2/1 with one 3-pointer in 18 minutes) moving into the spot that was held by Timothe Luwawu during the scrimmages. And the move to the bench paid off, as TLC went off in his 22 minutes on the floor. 24 points (8-of-12 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), four rebounds, one steal and five 3-pointers…wow. I need to see another performance of that caliber before buying in on him, but those who did were rewarded on Friday. Caris LeVert (17/2/7/1) is the Net to watch but he didn’t have his best day shooting the ball, going 7-of-17 from the field and missing all four of his 3-point attempts. But we’ll take the seven assists. 

Rodions Kurucs saw some backup center minutes behind Jarrett Allen (14/5/3 in 27 minutes) and had his moments, finishing with seven points, six rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer. But Orlando eventually adjusted, thanks in part to the effort put forth by the aforementioned Birch. Donta Hall’s (eight points, three rebounds and one block in 12 minutes) name was called during the second half and that will likely be the case moving forward, as the Nets lose a lot defensively when they go with that Kurucs-anchored unit. Kurucs is worth a look on the back end of DFS rosters but that’s about it. Tyler Johnson (11/2/4 with one 3-pointer in 19 minutes) qualifies as well, since the Nets need to make up for Chris Chiozza’s lack of scoring. 


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Suns 125, Wizards 112

Deandre Ayton managed to do something that he had never done in his brief NBA career: he made an official 3-pointer. He made two in fact, shooting 2-of-3 as part of a 24-point, 12-rebound, three-assist, two-block effort in 35 minutes. He looked extremely comfortable, which was likely one part his skill level and one part Washington’s inability to defend him. 

"He didn't chase it. He just played the right way, and he ended up with the numbers that he had,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after the game. “He was at the rim. He's shooting threes. End-of-clock situations, he had the ball in his hands. He didn't panic."

Devin Booker (27/5/4/1 with two 3-pointers) shot just 8-of-21 from the field, but he was still effective enough to combine with Ayton to lead the way. Ricky Rubio (15/1/9/3 with one 3-pointer) played 29 minutes, and we’ve got some clarity behind him in the point guard pecking order. Cameron Payne, who made a positive impression during the scrimmages, filled that role Friday and filled the stat sheet (9/3/2/2/1 with one 3-pointer and one turnover in 19 minutes). Jevon Carter was primarily used off the ball, while Ty Jerome was a DNP-CD. 

Phoenix started Cam Johnson (12/3/2/1 with one 3-pointer) at the four, and Dario Saric (16/6/3/1 with two 3-pointers) played 27 minutes with playing time at both the four and the five. Aron Baynes was held out as he continues to improve his conditioning, but Frank Kaminsky played just 11 minutes due to the Saric usage mentioned above. Saric is worth utilizing as a low-cost forward in DFS, but the four turnovers committed Friday hurt. 

Jerome Robinson (20/1/1/1 with four 3-pointers) played 32 minutes off the bench and he had a good afternoon scoring-wise, as he racked up those 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field (2-of-3 FGs). Robinson being a points and 3-pointers guy isn’t particularly surprising, especially in that reserve role, but Troy Brown Jr.’s line left a bit to be desired. Fifteen points (6-of-11 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) isn’t bad, but he had just one rebound, one assist and one steal in 27 minutes. He won’t lack for opportunities to do more moving forward as the Wizards look to chase down Brooklyn, so I’m keeping the faith in him. Rui Hachimura is another young player to roll with, even with the five turnovers committed Friday. Twenty-one points (8-of-15 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), eight rebounds, one assist and one steal in 30 minutes. 

Shabazz Napier remains the starter at the point but Ish Smith had the better day, with 17 points, four rebounds, seven assists, one 3-pointer and three turnovers in 27 minutes off the bench. Napier (12/3/3/1/1 with one 3-pointer) and Thomas Bryant (10/7/3/2 with one 3-pointer) combined to shoot 8-of-25 from the field, with the former also committing four turnovers. Napier will remain the starter, thus preserving his fantasy value, but Smith wouldn’t be a bad play either given the minutes split (both played 27 Friday, spending short spurts on the court together). 

Blazers 140, Grizzlies 135 (OT) 

Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic made his first official appearance since March 2019, and he put up an outstanding line in Portland’s crucial win over Memphis. Nurk started and played 33 minutes, finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and six blocked shots. Adding him back into the fold is huge for Portland, and it also changes how Terry Stotts handles his rotation. With Nurkic, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside all at his disposal, Stotts was able to move Carmelo Anthony to the three. That, in turn, squeezes a perimeter player out of the rotation and that is apparently Anfernee Simons. Simons, who struggled during the scrimmages, was a DNP-CD Friday with Gary Trent Jr. (17 points, one rebound, two assists, one block and four 3-pointers) playing 26 minutes off the bench and Mario Hezonja (8/4/2/3 with one 3-pointer) playing 23. 

As for the big man rotation, Whiteside (seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes) takes a major hit with regard to both minutes and fantasy value, as Nurkic and Collins (37 minutes) are now ahead of him in the pecking order. C.J. McCollum (33/3/6/2 with three 3-pointers) and Damian Lillard (29/5/9 with two 3-pointers) played 46 and 45 minutes, respectively, which meant even fewer available minutes on the perimeter. Had Portland entered Orlando with its playoff position secure, maybe Simons figures more prominently in the rotation. But with the Blazers having entered Friday 3 1/2 games behind Memphis, Stotts felt the need to roll with his leaders for as long as possible. 

The Grizzlies went ten deep and five played at least 30 minutes, with Jaren Jackson Jr. (33 points, three rebounds, one steal, one block and six 3-pointers) playing a team-high 43. Ja Morant (22/5/11/1 with one 3-pointer) also surpassed the 40-minute mark, but it’s worth noting that he needed 22 field goal attempts (making seven) to hit that point total. Kyle Anderson spent some time running the point at the start of the fourth quarter, doing so for about four minutes before Morant re-entered the game. Anderson has the potential to be a set-up guy, as he was at UCLA, but not to the level that would be needed in order for it to have an impact on his fantasy value. 

Brandon Clarke’s line was noteworthy, as he shot 7-of-8 from both the field and the foul line and finished with 21 points, seven boards, two assists, one steal and two blocked shots in 34 minutes played. His athleticism and defensive ability put Clarke on the radar, and if he can continue to put up similar offensive numbers (talking the percentages), he becomes an even more attractive low-cost DFS option. Clarke and De’Anthony Melton (7/4/2/2/1 in 30 minutes) are both worth a long look, regardless of how may points they put up, because of the impact they can have as defenders/rebounders. 

Bucks 119, Celtics 112 

Giannis Antetokounmpo did the usual so let’s get that line out of the way now. The reigning MVP shot 14-of-20 from the field and 7-of-12 from the foul line, going for 36 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 32 minutes. Antetokounmpo’s play was a big reason why Milwaukee won despite Khris Middleton shooting 6-of-20 from the field. Middleton still tallied 18 points, five rebounds, eight assists, one steal and two 3-pointers, making up for the poor field goal percentage by contributing in other ways. Donte DiVincenzo made another start at the point, playing 27 minutes and at times sharing the court with backup point guard George Hill (28 minutes). 

Eventually Eric Bledsoe (COVID-19/conditioning) will be cleared to play and that would move DiVincenzo back to the bench. But the second-year guard is a valuable member of the Bucks rotation, and as a reserve he has a little more freedom to score than he does with the starters. That being said DiVincenzo’s rebounding and assist numbers have been better when he starts. Either way I won’t be cutting bait on the “Big Ragu” when Bledsoe makes his return to action, as there’s still value to be had there. Brook Lopez tallied six blocks, two fewer than his season-high, while also racking up 14 points, four rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers. 

On the Boston side of the equation Kemba Walker was on a minutes restriction, with the plan being to play him 15-20 minutes. Walker played 19 and outside of getting dropped by DiVincenzo on a step-back dribble, he looked pretty good. Don’t expect to see Walker playing heavy minutes in the short-term, as Boston aims to ensure that he’s at full strength for the playoffs. That opens up a few more minutes for Brad Wanamaker (14/6/1/2 in 26 minutes), but not enough to turn him into a DFS option that a player has to have. Marcus Smart played 32 minutes off the bench, scoring a team-high 23 points with Jaylen Brown (22/4/1/1 with three 3-pointers) right behind him. 

Jayson Tatum shot a poor 2-of-18 from the field, finishing with five points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot. The other four starters did what they could to carry Tatum, bu the was unable to turn things around. Boston played ten but it was effectively a nine-man rotation, as Grant Williams played just four minutes. Semi Ojeleye took most of the minutes available to reserve wings, but those 15 minutes weren’t enough to turn him into a fantasy option that should be used. 

Spurs 129, Kings 120 

De’Aaron Fox put on a show for Sacramento, scoring a career-high 39 points to go along with three rebounds, six assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 38 minutes. A rough 1-of-7 night from three prohibited him from surpassing the 40-point mark, but you can’t have it all I guess. Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic (24/2/2/2 with six 3-pointers) did what they could to carry the Kings, but Buddy Hield’s 2-of-13 night off the bench did little to help matters. Harrison Barnes was back in the starting lineup and he produced a solid 10-point, seven-rebound, one-assist, two-steal night in 37 minutes, but his return wasn’t as bad for Kent Bazemore as some may have assumed it would be. 

Bazemore was back on the bench but still put forth some valuable numbers, as in addition to eight points he contributed 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 23 minutes. Bazemore may still be worth a look in DFS because he won’t be all that expensive, as he remains a trusted member of the Kings rotation. Richaun Holmes (10/6/1) played just 24 minutes before fouling out, and Nemanja Bjelica (10/5/1/2/1 with one 3-pointer) met a similar fate after playing 30 minutes. Harry Giles played just four minutes, with San Antonio’s smaller lineups doing him no favors, but he won’t be an impactful fantasy option with Holmes and Barnes (who played some minutes at the four) back in the fold. 

San Antonio was without Patty Mills (rest) and they lost another veteran during the third quarter, as Marco Belinelli went down with a sprained ankle. While Quinndary Weatherspoon was the player who immediately entered the game at the time of the injury, Keldon Johnson is the reserve most likely to benefit if Belinelli were to miss an extended period of time. Johnson played 30 minutes, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. Combine Friday’s effort with his solid play in the scrimmages, and the rookie out of Kentucky stands to have a role in the Spurs rotation for the remainder of the team’s stay in Orlando. 

In total seven Spurs played at least 21 minutes, led by DeMar DeRozan (27/5/10). DeRozan played 38 minutes, and he had the ball in his hands plenty down the stretch (17 points in the fourth quarter) despite the presence of Dejounte Murray (11/4/4 with one 3-pointer), Derrick White (26/8/5/1/1 with four 3-pointers) and Lonnie Walker (16/3/4 with one 3-pointers) in the starting lineup. Each had at least four assists on the night, and White tied his career-high with those 26 points. Gregg Popovich appears comfortable with any of those four initiating things offensively, and that’s especially helpful when it comes to Walker’s fantasy value. And don’t sleep on Rudy Gay either, as he went for 19 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one block and three 3-pointers in 26 minutes off the bench. 

San Antonio went small for long decent stretches Friday night, with Jakob Poeltl being the lone center given credible playing time (Drew Eubanks played just two minutes). Poeltl is the only big worth entertaining on this roster, as DeRozan starts as the de facto four and Gay plays a lot at that position as well. 

Rockets 153, Mavericks 149 (OT) 

Harden had one of his best performances in this one, going off for 49 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals, three blocks, three 3-pointers...and one turnover in 44 minutes. He may have shot just 3-of-9 from beyond the arc, but The Beard was 14-of-20 from the field overall and had little trouble getting to his preferred spots (18-of-21 from the foul line helps, too). He and Russell Westbrook combined to score 80 points, with Westbrook supplementing his 31-point effort with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer). He did turn the ball over six times, but the overall line makes up for that.

Westbrook played 44 minutes, as Mike D'Antoni's pregame talk about managing his stars' minutes didn't come to fruition. In fact, all five starters played at least 40 minutes on the night. Robert Covington (13/11/3/2/4 with one 3-pointer) and Danuel House (20/5/1/2 with six 3-pointers) played 43 minutes, with the latter filling in for the injured Eric Gordon. Personally there really isn't a debate between House and Ben McLemore when it comes to potential fantasy impact, even with McLemore shooting 4-of-4 from three. His full line: 13 points and four 3-pointers. That's it. Give me House, because it isn't necessarily "all or nothing" if he isn't making 3-pointers. 

Luka Doncic (28/13/10/1/1 with one 3-pointer) made history before fouling out in overtime, becoming the first player aged 22 years or younger to tally at least 15 triple-doubles in a single season. That being said he and his Mavericks teammates had a tough go of it down the stretch, and the 11-of-27 shooting and eight turnovers didn't help the overall fantasy profile. That being said, he should bounce back against the Suns.

Kristaps Porzingis (39/16/2/2/1 with three 3-pointers) posted his sixth 30/10 game of the season, and the first five came in bunches (a three-game run in late January/early February, and a two-gamer in early March). Phoenix, consider yourselves forewarned. And how about Trey Burke? Eight 3-pointers, as he finished with 31 points, one rebound, six assists and one steal in 30 minutes off the bench. An outstanding night for him, as he picked up the slack for a struggling Seth Curry, but I'm not expecting an encore performance on Sunday.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (24/5/3/1 with five 3-pointers) played 41 minutes, one fewer than Doncic, and Dallas effectively went eight deep Friday night. There may be a few more minutes for a Justin Jackson or Boban Marjanovic in other matchups, but not enough to make it worth kicking the tires on either one. Maxi Kleber, on the other hand, would be worth the look. In 34 minutes he racked up seven points, seven rebounds, three assists, one block and one 3-pointer, and generally speaking he can be used in any matchup the Mavericks encounter. 

-- Zion Williamson will remain on a minutes restriction for now

Williamson's minutes, as he played just 15 Thursday night and wasn't on the floor in crunch time during the Pelicans' loss to the Jazz, were a major point of conversation Friday. Well, Pelicans team president David Griffin isn't budging at all when it comes to the way in which the franchise's prized rookie is used. The plan remains in place for Williamson to start -- not finish -- quarters, due in large part to the influence of the team's medical staff. 

"The reason they are taking place as they are at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he's warm and loose before he gets on the court," Griffin said Friday. "Everything that they are doing is predicated on that. The players have a very clear routine. His routine is to get loose at a certain time. We don't want him to get loose and then sit on the side and wait, because that's not conducive to him playing his best."

Griffin said that Zion won't play extensive minutes Saturday against the Clippers, and that may also be the case Monday night against Memphis. If I were a betting man, I'd bet on Williamson being "conserved" for that matchup with the Grizzlies, as that's the team New Orleans is looking to close the gap on in the race to force a play-in for the 8-seed in the West. 

-- Gary Harris (hip), Will Barton (knee) won't play Saturday 

Denver will be down at least two rotation players for its seeding game opener, as both Harris and Barton have been ruled out. And they could be down a third, as Jamal Murray is listed as questionable due to a lingering hamstring issue. Murray was able to play in Denver's final scrimmage, but that appearance wasn't enough to keep him off of the injury report. More "point Jokic," anyone? Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr. should see a boost in minutes on the wings, but no Murray would leave a gaping hole in that playmaker role as the Nuggets look to chase down the Clippers for the 2-seed. 

-- Joel Embiid (calf) not listed on the injury report 

No Embiid on the injury report is good news for the 76ers, as it should mean that he's a full go for Saturday's opener. That being said, it may be wise to wait until closer to tipoff before going "all in" on the big fella. Al Horford would move back to the bench, with his fantasy value taking a major hit as a result. Raul Neto (back) and Glenn Robinson III (hip) have been ruled out, and their absences free up more minutes for Alec Burks, but he isn't a must-have option. 

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.