Saturday's five game schedule did not lack for entertainment value, beginning with the Clippers outlasting the Trail Blazers and ending with Luka Doncic putting forth one of the best games of his career to lead the Mavericks past the Bucks. In addition to Doncic, T.J. Warren put on another offensive showcase and Jamal Murray far exceeded his minutes limit in Denver's double overtime win over the Jazz.
Clippers 122, Trail Blazers 117
What happened towards the end of this game, with Patrick Beverley taunting Damian Lillard, is what grabbed the headlines. But the bigger takeaway was that the Clippers managed to win despite Kawhi Leonard getting the day off and Paul George being rested for the final 5:09 for "load management" reasons. George played 28 minutes on the day, finishing with 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and three 3-pointers. Also having his minutes managed was Lou Williams, who played just 18 off the bench and tallied 12 points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocked shot.
Landry Shamet, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris were the only rotation players to surpass the 30-minute mark, with JaMychal Green and Patrick Patterson playing 20 minutes apiece. Green and Shamet made three 3-points apiece, and starting center Ivica Zubac grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds while also dishing out four assists. This was the first game of a back-to-back for the victors, so it's definitely possible that George will get Sunday off while Leonard plays but takes on a limited (by his standards) workload.
Portland doesn't have the luxury of resting its star players, as the team is in the middle of a dogfight for the right to play in the 8 vs. 9 play-in round. Four players scored at least 20 points, with C.J. McCollum (29/4/8 with six 3-pointers) leading the way. Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. were the others, with Trent continuing his emergence as a key member of the Blazers rotation. Portland played this one without the injured Hassan Whiteside, which meant more minutes at the four (with the reserves) for the aforementioned Anthony.
Jusuf Nurkic (10/13/9/2 with one 3-pointer) finished one assist shy of a triple-double, and Zach Collins chipped in with seven points, seven rebounds, one block and one 3-pointer. Whiteside's absence freed up a few minutes for Wenyen Gabriel, but he is not a fantasy option in any league.
Nuggets 134, Jazz 132 (2OT)
The plan for Jamal Murray heading into Saturday's game, his first official appearance in a game due to a hamstring injury suffered during the scrimmages, was for him to play no more than 22 minutes. Well he shot right past that number, playing 39 and finishing with a line of 23 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, one block and two 3-pointers. Murray looked fatigued in the extra sessions, but that wasn't enough to keep him from making some big shots. There were no lingering injury issues with the hamstring, which is good news considering how much he played.
Murray's return moved Monte Morris back to the bench, and in 28 minutes he accounted for 15 points, one rebound, one assist and two 3-pointers. Morris' value certainly takes a hit, but not to the point where he's unplayable as the Nuggets remain without both Will Barton (knee) and Gary Harris (hip). Nikola Jokic (30/11/7/3 with two 3-pointers) and Michael Porter Jr. (23/11/2/2/1 with one 3-pointer) both posted double-doubles, with the latter overcoming a 1-of-8 afternoon from beyond the arc. Porter's been a revelation of sorts in the bubble, as he's scored 23 points or more in each of the Nuggets' last four games.
The absences of Barton and Harris on the wings have not only opened up more minutes for MPJ, but also given him the room to play through mistakes. That wasn't always possible when the Denver rotation was whole, and at this point it will be very difficult for Malone to return the rookie wing to "bit player" status. Jerami Grant (21/2/1/2/2 with one 3-pointer) led the Nuggets with 47 minutes played, and I'd rate him ahead of starter Paul Millsap when it comes to fantasy value.
Utah's starting lineup was back, as four of the five sat out Friday's loss to the Spurs due to either rest or nagging injuries. Joe Ingles, the lone starter to play in both ends of the back-to-back, played 46 minutes and finished with 11 points, three rebounds, 13 assists, one steal and three 3-pointers. He's been a bit more willing to take open shots in recent games, and Ingles' ability to make plays has also freed up Mike Conley (20/5/5/1 with three 3-pointers) to be more aggressive as a scorer.
Donovan Mitchell, who essentially went shot for shot with Murray at the end of both regulation and the first overtime, posted a line of 35 points, six rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block and five 3-pointers in 47 minutes, and Rudy Gobert (22/13/2/1 block) posted his third double-double in as many games. Miye Oni, who played well in his extended run Friday, played 10 minutes Saturday but should not an option in any fantasy format. Georges Niang can provide some value as a points and 3-pointers, as he made three against Denver, but that may not be enough to make him a worthwhile play in most formats.
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Pacers 116, Lakers 111
We'll start with the Lakers here, as LeBron James was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Thursday's loss due to a sore groin. He looked good in his 35 minutes on the floor, finishing with 31 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, one block and two 3-pointers. The problem for he and the Lakers was the fact that no other starter scored in double figures. Anthony Davis had an especially rough night, shooting 3-of-14 from the field and finishing with eight points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes.
Since going off for 42 and 12 in a win over the Jazz, he scored a total of 34 points (three games). Something seems "off" with Davis when it comes to the production, but he remains one of the top options in fantasy basketball. We just have to hope that he gets back on track ahead of the postseason. Alex Caruso started in place of the injured Danny Green, playing 27 minutes and finishing with five points, one rebound, five assists, three steals and one 3-pointer. Caruso's position in the rotation appears to be safe, but the Lakers have a lot of questions to answer on the back end.
Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, who have struggled in recent games, were both DNP-CDs while Quinn Cook and Talen Horton-Tucker figured prominently in the second unit. Cook shot 5-of-9 from three and finished with 21 points and one rebound in 24 minutes, while Horton-Tucker added 10 points, one rebound, one block and two 3-pointers in 16 minutes. Another reserve who showed well was Dwight Howard, who tallied 10 points and 12 rebounds. How Frank Vogel works out his rotation will be one of the biggest storylines heading into the postseason, especially if they draw Portland in the first round. Of the reserves I only trust Caruso (when Green is healthy) and Howard, and even that confidence is a bit shaky right now.
Flipping over to Indiana, T.J. Warren rebounded from what was his worst effort in the bubble during Thursday's loss to the Suns. He finished Saturday's game with 39 points, five rebounds, one assist and five 3-pointers, shooting 15-of-22 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line. Warren's shot 53.8 percent or better in four of the Pacers' five games in the bubble, and he's scored 32 points or more in each of those outings. Malcolm Brogdon (24/5/6/1 with four 3-pointers) and Victor Oladipo (22/7/5/1 with two 3-pointers) also surpassed the 20-point mark, and the Pacers won despite having just three double-digit scorers.
Doug McDermott (knee) made his return to action, playing 13 minutes, while Goga Bitadze (knee) played 12. According to coach Nate McMillan he's on a limit of 10 minutes due to the knee, which has been an issue for much of this season, and that should preserve the minimal amount of fantasy value that JaKarr Sampson (who's been used at both the four and the five) brings to the table. McDermott may be worth a look once he gets back into the swing of things due to the 3-pointers, but I prefer Justin Holiday when evaluating the Pacers reserves.
Suns 119, Heat 112
Phoenix remains the lone undefeated team in the bubble, moving to 5-0 with Saturday's win over Miami. Devin Booker shot 0-of-7 from the field but still managed to score 35 points, as he shot 15-of-19 inside of the arc and was also 5-of-5 from the foul line. More surprising than Booker's scoring exploits was the effort put forth by Jevon Carter, who shot 6-of-8 from three and finished with a season-high 20 points. The six 3-pointers are a career-high for Carter, who also tallied four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 26 minutes.
Carter's defensive abilities aren't to be questioned but the jump shot has been a concern early in his NBA career. If he can develop into a dependable shooter, his fantasy value will increase substantially. Cameron Johnson (14/3/1 steal/1 block and two 3-pointers) reached the 100 3-pointers mark faster than any player in Suns history, while Deandre Ayton (18/12/2) put up a decent stat line despite struggling to contain Bam Adebayo for significant stretches. Ricky Rubio (7/10/8/1/1 with one 3-pointer) was just 3-of-9 from the field, but scoring isn't where his value lies.
And Dario Saric saw some time at the five, as Frank Kaminsky was used for just four minutes. Saric finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes, and more minutes at the five could be in the cards due to Kaminsky's ineffectiveness and Aron Baynes still sidelined due to a knee injury. If Saric continues to get run as a small-ball five, that would give his fantasy value a nice boost and make him worth considering as a low-cost option.
Miami played this game without two starters (Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn) and a key reserve (Goran Dragic), which meant a move into the starting lineup for both Derrick Jones Jr. and Tyler Herro. The former wasn't all that effective but the same can't be said for Herro, who finished the game with 25 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists (a career-high) and one 3-pointer in 36 minutes. The rookie guard shot 10-of-16 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line, and he scored 20 points or more in back-to-back games. Herro's value will take a hit once that trio returns, but that it may be a few days before that occurs.
It was reported that Nunn returned to Orlando Saturday night, and with a four-day quarantine likely in the cards he may not be available to play until Friday (Wednesday is a long shot). Duncan Robinson (25/3/3/2 blocks and four 3-pointers), Adebayo (18/7/9/1/3) and Jae Crowder (17/2/1/2 blocks and four 3-pointers) also scored in double figures, with Andre Iguodala adding 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 31 minutes off the bench. I can't trust Iguodala as a consistent fantasy option, but as long as Butler and Dragic remain out he'll have the opportunity to show what he can do as a versatile playmaker.
Mavericks 136, Bucks 132 (OT)
To say that Doncic put on a show in this one would be an understatement, as he tallied his 17th triple-double of the season. Shooting 12-of-24 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line, Doncic finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds, 19 assists, one steal, three 3-pointers and just two turnovers in 42 minutes. This was his 12th 30-point triple-double of the season, making him the third player in NBA history (Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook) to hit that number in a single campaign.
Seth Curry (knee) made his return to the starting lineup but was largely ineffective, playing 21 minutes and finishing with two points and one assist on 1-of-7 shooting. As he works off the rust Trey Burke (10/4/3/1 with two 3-pointers) would be the player with the most to lose, as he played 20 minutes Saturday night. Dorian Finney-Smith (27/11/5/1 block with six 3-pointers) and Maxi Kleber (15/3/1/1 with three 3-pointers) helped pick up the slack for Curry in the 3-point shooting department, as they combined to shoot 9-of-18 from beyond the arc. Both forwards are solid low-cost plays in any fantasy format, whether they start or come off the bench.
Kristaps Porzingis (26/11/3/1 block with one 3-pointer) shot just 9-of-24 from the field before fouling out, but the double-double was his second in the bubble.
Rarely does a player who tallied 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots have a "tough" night, but that was the case for Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the overall field goal percentage of 50 percent (13-of-26) was acceptable, making half of your free throws on 14 attempts is not. Add in a 1-of-7 night from three and five turnovers, and it goes without saying that Giannis has enjoyed far better nights. For the season Antetokounmpo is shooting a career-low 63.2 percent from the charity stripe, so despite his excellence he's still leaving points on the floor.
Brook Lopez caught fire in the first half, scoring 24 points. He would finish with a line of 34 points (season-high), seven rebounds, two blocks and six 3-pointers in 35 minutes. The transformation that Lopez has undergone in recent seasons has been impressive, as he's transitioned from being a back-to-the-basket center to one who's comfortable playing on the perimeter. Khris Middleton (21/6/11 with two 3-pointers) and Eric Bledsoe (15/5/4) also scored in double figures, with the latter playing 31 minutes.
The expectation was that he would play 23 minutes, but coach Mike Budenholzer does have some flexibility with regard to the starting point guard's playing time. Bledsoe looked to be moving around with any issues, which bodes well for future games. Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill and Marvin Williams all played at least 21 minutes off the bench, and Robin Lopez picked up a DNP-CD. The matchup wasn't all that favorable, as the Mavericks can go small with their second unit, which may have been why Lopez sat. Hill and DiVincenzo are the best choices when it comes to fantasy value on the Bucks bench.