Thursday night was unusually busy in the NBA, with nine games on the schedule, so let's jump into the action with a look at the Grizzlies' road win vs. the Suns.
Memphis at Phoenix
The Grizzlies' road victory came courtesy of a huge effort from their bench, which combined to score 54 points on 52.3 percent shooting. The win also came despite an off night from Mike Conley, who had 11 points, six assists and six turnovers while allowing Goran Dragic to blow up for a career-high 33 points on 13-of-22 shooting. Conley is battling a variety of nagging injuries and there's no cause for long-term concern. Both he and Zach Randolph (20 points, 15 boards) are daily locks for lineups but the same can't be said for slumping Tony Allen (two points in 13 minutes) and Tayshaun Prince (two points in 15 minutes).
The cause of Allen and Prince's woes, as mentioned, was the Grizzlies' bench. Mike Miller turned back the clock while posting 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists, Ed Davis double-doubled with 16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals, Jerryd Bayless dropped in 17 points in 31 minutes, and James Johnson quietly added six points, six boards, one steal and two blocks to keep up his streak of strong performances. Johnson is worth using until (or unless) he cools off but I'm not sold on anyone else in Memphis' second unit, and even Davis' role will be reduced when Marc Gasol returns.
Dragic's 33-point outburst was due in large part to Eric Bledsoe's sudden absence due to a sprained knee, but the Dragon has been excellent all season regardless of who's on the court with him. He's a top-40 option in eight-cat leagues, on a per-game basis, and I see no reason why he'd slow down unless his frenetic style of play leads to another injury. Speaking of which, Bledsoe's injury wasn't disclosed until after lineups were set, so he surely burned many owners, but the Suns said he "might" be available on Saturday if the swelling in his knee goes down. With luck we'll have a positive update after Friday's practice. Gerald Green filled in at SG and played 32 minutes, but other than his four steals he was a mild disappointment, making 4-of-10 shots (1-of-7 from downtown) to finish with nine points.
Milwaukee at Utah
To the delight of the tank-happy punsters at SaveOurBucks.com, Milwaukee lost in Utah despite a strong effort from Larry Sanders. He made all seven of his field goals to finish with 16 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks, and he looks like the fierce rim protector we saw last season. With 33+ minutes in each of the past three games and limited competition at center, he's already paying off for owners who stashed him.
Luke Ridnour started for the second straight game, scoring 12 points with eight assists in 37 minutes, and he's worth a look as a short-term PG option until coach Larry Drew changes his lineups again. O.J. Mayo, who hasn't played consistently well since mid-November, scored four points in 18 minutes. Things didn't go any better for reserves Caron Butler (17 minutes) and Khris Middleton (20 minutes), the latter of whom has dropped off rapidly after a scorching stretch as a starter. So it goes in Milwaukee.
Even starting PF Ersan Ilyasova played under 18 minutes, contributing eight points, three rebounds and four turnovers in his latest catch-me-if-you-can flirtation with fantasy relevance (he was coming off a solid double-double). Somewhat amazingly, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has played a steady 30+ minutes since mid-December, and on Thursday he posted 10 points, one 3-pointer, seven rebounds, five assists and one block. By the way, I'm not at all tired of marveling over the size of Antetokounmpo's hands.
One thing I am weary of is Enes Kanter's sporadic play off Utah's bench. He had 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks on Thursday, doing his damage in just 19 minutes, and he's topped the 20-minute mark just twice in Utah's past 12 games. The only clear fantasy winners for the Jazz were Derrick Favors (21 points, 11 boards, four steals) and Gordon Hayward, who filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, three 3-pointers, four rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
Philadelphia at Sacramento
The 76ers won in Sacramento thanks to huge performances from Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, in addition to a 21-point effort from Tony Wroten off the bench. Wroten topped the 30-minute mark for the first time in almost three weeks, while Michael Carter-Williams finished with seven points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks in just 27 minutes. I'm not reading anything into this brief playing-time reversal, though it's worth noting that MCW was on the bench for the final five minutes of the game.
Evan Turner racked up 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals and he's been simply terrific since missing one game with a sore knee on Dec. 28. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Young's roll continued unimpeded with 28 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a career-high six steals, one block, and all without a single turnover. It's great to see him thriving in recent weeks (seemingly ever since it was reported that he had asked for a trade, which he denied), and the increase in his 3-point shooting has been startling. After going a combined 2-of-12 from downtown during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Young is already a solid 28-of-68 (41.2 percent) this season. He's also attempting a career-high 14.7 shots per game and his terrific play is a primary reason Philly has a three-game winning streak.
The Kings got big performances from Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, and DMC led all players with 33 points and 14 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to avoid another home loss. Ben McLemore was scoreless in 23 minutes and continues to punch a hole in the Kings' starting lineup, Jason Thompson struggled with fouls and scored two points in under 20 minutes, and the only real bright spot beyond IT2, Gay and DMC was Jimmer Fredette, who came off the bench for 15 points, three 3-pointers and four rebounds. He did it in just 17 minutes and it would take a sea-change in the Kings' backcourt rotation for him to hold reliable value.
Charlotte at Portland
The Trail Blazers chewed up the Bobcats' surprisingly stout defense on Thursday -- Charlotte is sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency but the Blazers had 70 points at halftime, on their way to an easy 134-104 win at the Moda Center. The starting backcourt led the way, as Damian Lillard (24 points) and Wesley Matthews (25 points) combined to go 11-of-12 from downtown in the rout. Mo Williams joined in the fun with 15 points and 10 dimes in just 21 bench minutes, Nic Batum posted an understated line of 8/7/7 with two 3-pointers and a block, and nobody disappointed from a fantasy perspective despite limited minutes -- it's one of the benefits of scoring 134 points.
The Blazers' victims weren't as fortunate. Kemba Walker flopped, shooting 2-of-10 from the field while proving incapable of checking Damian Lillard defensively. Anthony Tolliver waited until the second half to attempt a shot, finishing with three points in 31 minutes. The cold performances continued all the way down the roster, interrupted only by the garbage fire Chris Douglas-Roberts lit once the game was out of reach. He made 6-of-8 FGs and 6-of-7 FTs, to go along with two 3s, four boards, two assists, one steal and one block, and did all of his damage in 24 minutes. This doesn't mean much unless CDR overtakes Anthony Tolliver for the starting SF job, which coach Steve Clifford has suggested could happen eventually, so we'll keep an eye on Charlotte's rotations just in case.
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Orlando at Cleveland
Nikola Vucevic tested his sprained left ankle before Thursday's game but still felt too much pain, so Jason Maxiell started and finished with six points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks in nearly 43 minutes of action. Vuc said his ankle didn't swell much and it wasn't as bad as he initially feared, so there's a good chance he'll be active for Saturday's intra-state game vs. the Heat. The mere possibility of Vucevic returning should scare owners away from Maxiell.
Glen Davis made just 6-of-19 FGs and 4-of-8 FTs in 43 minutes but he finished with 16 points, a season-high 13 rebounds, one steal and two blocks before fouling out. As with Maxiell, his numbers were artificially inflated with Vuc out of the lineup. Ditto for Andrew Nicholson, who had 12 points, six rebounds and one block off the bench.
It's worth mentioning that Tobias Harris (10 points) only played 28 minutes, while second-year forward Maurice Harkless managed just two points in 10 minutes at the bitter end of Jacque Vaughn's rotation. Harkless has nice fantasy potential thanks to improving 3-point range and an innate ability to rack up steals and blocks. His career 55.5 percent FT shooting is a downer, but none of that matters as long as he's unable to earn minutes in Orlando's rotation.
For the Cavaliers, Jarrett Jack started at PG with Kyrie Irving (bruised knee) ruled out just before tip-off. The veteran chipped in 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists despite shooting just 5-of-16 from the field. He's a solid fantasy play as the Cavs' starting PG, but Irving's MRI was negative and his day-to-day status makes Jack a very risky pickup in standard leagues.
Meanwhile, Anderson Varejao feasted on Orlando's undersized frontcourt to rack up 18 points, 25 rebounds, three assists and one block with a single turnover in 39 minutes. It was his best game of the season, his second straight game with double-digit points, and his season-high in FG attempts. The Cavs' decision to part ways with Andrew Bynum is huge for his value, to say the least. Now owners just need to hope that Cleveland isn't able to find a buyer for Bynum, who has been mentioned in trade rumors involving Pau Gasol.
Golden State at Miami
Warriors coach Mark Jackson was asked before Thursday's game how often Stephen Curry should be shooting from beyond the arc. "He has a green light," Jackson replied, just before his star PG went out and drained 8-of-15 shots from deep (13-of-22 overall) to finish with a game-high 36 points, in addition to 12 assists and four steals. Curry averaged 6.9 assists last season, which was easily a career-high, but this year he's second in the NBA at 9.5 per game.
Meanwhile, David Lee abused the Heat's interior defense for 32 points and 14 rebounds, making 13-of-17 FGs and 6-of-7 FTs while matching his season-high in scoring. The only clear-cut disappointment for the Warriors was Andrew Bogut, who finished with just six points, three rebounds and zero blocks in under 18 minutes. He struggled to defend Chris Bosh in the first half and was the victim of a poor matchup against the small-ball Heat, so this isn't a long-term concern. At least he'll be fresh against the Hawks (without Al Horford) on Friday.
Boston at Chicago
Jordan Crawford paced Boston with 22 points and seven assists on Thursday but it wasn't enough to steal a road win in Chicago. Starting PF Brandon Bass was once again benched down the stretch as he ceded the court to red-hot Kris Humphries. The Celtics' reserve big man racked up nine points, 11 boards, three assists, two steals and four blocks without a single turnover in 26 minutes, so it's not as though Brad Stevens was blindly turning away from Bass. Rookie centers Kelly Olynyk (eight minutes) and Vitor Faverani (nine minutes) were nearly invisible, but Jared Sullinger managed to eke out a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds despite playing with a badly bruised left hand.
Chicago's desperately-needed victory came courtesy of a balanced team effort with six players in double-digits. Notably absent from the double-digit club were Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin, who again split minutes to fantasy owners' detriment. Joakim Noah just missed a triple-double with 17 points, 11 boards and nine dimes, while Carlos Boozer bounced back from an awful game to contribute 16 points in 30 minutes.
Brooklyn at Oklahoma City
Deron Williams has been awful lately, scoring single-digit points in three of Brooklyn's past five games, and he said prior to Thursday's game that he's been limited by an undisclosed injury. That wasn't evident vs. the Thunder, however, as D-Will poured in a season-high 29 points with six 3-pointers, four assists and five steals. His big game set the stage for another dramatic game-winning jumper from Joe Johnson, who struggled all night (4-of-11 shooting) but came through in a pure 'Iso-Joe' situation when it mattered. Savor the moment.
Shifting attention to the Nets' bench, Andrei Kirilenko had nine points in 15 minutes but he's untouchable in fantasy leagues unless his minutes creep into the mid-20s. Mason Plumlee, who played 38 minutes on Tuesday, finished with just four points, three rebounds and three personal fouls in 11 minutes.
Brooklyn's spirit-lifting victory had a flipside. The Thunder were the last team in the NBA to lose a game at home, but they've now lost three of their past four in OKC including games vs. the Raptors, Trail Blazers and Nets. Kevin Durant scored 24 points and Serge Ibaka chipped in a quiet double-double with 10 points, 11 boards, two steals and one block, but they were the only starters in double-figures.
Reggie Jackson scored nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, adding five assists vs. four turnovers while playing under 30 minutes, while Derek Fisher logged 23 minutes off the bench. Beat writer Darnell Mayberry recently lamented Jackson's limited playing time. "Using Jackson in this fashion is seriously the biggest reason why I think his days in OKC are numbered," Mayberry wrote. "There's no reason a guy as talented as he is, with Russell Westbrook sidelined, should be subject to such sporadic minutes." Mayberry's point is well taken.
Fantasy owners aren't helped by the fact that in addition to "sporadic" playing time, Jackson is in the midst of a slump. On Thursday he made 4-of-13 shots overall, including 0-of-3 from downtown, which makes him a combined 27-of-84 from the field (32.1 percent) in OKC's past six games. If anything this is a buy-low moment. Jackson has terrific all-around fantasy potential and, fascinatingly, he's tied for the league lead in fourth-quarter minutes at 10.0 per game.
If you can guess even two more of the NBA's top-10 players in fourth-quarter minutes (per game) this season...well, you've watched far too much basketball and should probably go for a jog. In descending order, the list reads DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Reggie Jackson, Nick Young, Taj Gibson, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Korver, Jamal Crawford, Chandler Parsons and Rodney Stuckey.
New York at San Antonio
The Nets earned 'upset of the night' honors with their victory in OKC, but the Knicks weren't far behind as they came out of San Antonio with an unlikely road win. Iman Shumpert shattered his season-high with 27 points, tying Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks' team-high. He made 10-of-13 FGs, including six 3-pointers, with six rebounds and three steals. There was truly no way to see this coming as Shumpert had been limited to single-digit points in each of the Knicks' past twelve games. He attempted 13 shots in New York's first game of the season on Oct. 30 but didn't attempt 10 or more in any game until Thursday's sudden breakout. These 13-shot games could be bookends on the worst chapter of Shumpert's career, but it's more likely that they're random events in the course of a long and disappointing season. If I owned him in any fantasy leagues I'd be rooting for a trade.
Marco Belinelli topped Shumpert's stellar performance with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including six 3-pointers of his own, though he missed a potential game-winner down the stretch. Belinelli's ability to get hot from downtown gives him targeted appeal in some leagues, but he's too streaky for general use and this was just the second time he's scored double-digits since Dec. 21. Manu Ginobili posted a solid 11 points, 12 assists, two steals and one block in 28 bench minutes, and he continues to look healthier and fitter than he did last year, but it was a quiet evening for Tony Parker (12 points), Tim Duncan (nine points), Kawhi Leonard (eight points) and Danny Green (four points, zero rebounds in 19 minutes).
I spent many hours on Thursday night accumulating some data to provide owners in 'points leagues' with a competitive advantage. I specifically broke down the scoring systems for FanDuel, the default Yahoo! points system, and a standard ESPN points system. Unfortunately, the length of these game recaps prohibit me from including my detailed, stats-heavy conclusions, which discuss which categories you should target in a given league, and which teams are most lenient in those categories. I intend to post it as a separate column on Rotoworld later this week, so keep an eye out.
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