Anthony Davis survived an injury scare on Friday. Jaren Jackson Jr. exited with a sore left knee and Victor Oladipo's back "locked up" on him. The Celtics had four starters score 25+ points, the Spurs upset the Jazz in Utah, and the Blazers fell at home with Damian Lillard (groin) in street clothes. There's plenty to discuss after a nine-game night in the NBA on Friday night, but the excitement and intrigue wasn't limited to what happened on the court.
Earlier in the evening, it was disclosed that Karl-Anthony Towns has a fractured left wrist and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. We finally have clarity about his injury, but it's not what fantasy owners hoped to hear – he's almost certain to miss additional time following his next evaluation, and the Wolves (14th in the West with a 16-38 record) could ultimately just shut him down. They'd surely love to see him play alongside D'Angelo Russell, developing some chemistry before the offseason, but the slightest doubt about KAT's long-term health would override that incentive. James Johnson and Naz Reid are the major beneficiaries here, and both guys could put up value even if they're sharing minutes at center. More on that in a moment.
Elsewhere, Markieff Morris was bought out by Detroit with the expectation that he'll join the Lakers if he clears waivers. That would add another fun sub-plot to the Western playoff race, as the Morris brothers would be playing for rival L.A. teams with championship aspirations. Kieff gives the Lakers versatile, veteran depth and another counter vs. small-ball lineups, but there's no reason to think he'll have fantasy value while Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma are healthy. To clear room for Morris' probable arrival, the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins. It's an admission that Cousins was unlikely to recover from his torn left ACL in time for the playoffs, and owners stashing him in deep leagues can safely cut him loose. Boogie is a four-time All-Star but the major lower-body injuries are piling up, his defensive limitations are well known, and it’s unclear how much interest he’ll draw as a free agent who turns 30 years old in August.
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Turning our attention to the on-court action from Friday, there's no shortage of players and topics to discuss. Rather than do a game-by-game recap, I'll meander through a variety of players who returned from injury (or benefited from a teammates' absence), saw their roles change for other reasons, and/or had a noteworthy performance (good or bad). We begin in Minnesota.
James Johnson slid to the Wolves' bench on Friday with Naz Reid taking over the starting center job. Johnson played 21 minutes to finish with nine points, six boards, four blocks, one steal, one assist and one 3-pointer. Reid was just as good with 19 points, nine boards, three steals, two 3-pointers and one assist in 33 minutes during a 127-117 loss to Boston. It's likely that Reid has overtaken Johnson permanently. Head coach Ryan Saunders could be playing the matchup game, but tonight's performance vs. a solid opponent suggests Reid is ready for the spotlight. As mentioned earlier, Karl-Anthony Towns' fractured left wrist will sideline him a minimum of two weeks and likely much longer. Johnson is best-suited to 8-cat and 9-cat leagues, where his defensive stats are more valuable than in points formats, and I'd advocate grabbing both him and Reid while we watch this position battle develop.
For the Mavericks, Kristaps Porzingis filled up the stat sheet in Friday’s win vs. Orlando with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and four 3-pointers. He was efficient, too, with 8-of-16 FGs and 4-of-4 FTs, and he's lost none of the momentum he carried into the All-Star break. His sluggish start to the season is forgivable in light of his lengthy rehab, but he's really heating up in February with 27.2 points on efficient shooting (50.0% FGs, 90.0% FTs), 10.2 boards, 3.6 triples, 2.0 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals. He's also committing a mere 1.2 turnovers per game. He looks like the fantasy stud owners expected and considering how far he fell in most drafts, he could pay off richly if he stays healthy through the fantasy playoffs.
Another day, another near triple-double for Luka Doncic. After an indifferent performance in the All-Star game, Doncic got back to work Friday with 33 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four 3-pointers, one steal and one block. He committed six turnovers but shot a reasonable 9-of-12 from the line, and that's the biggest area he can improve over the Mavs' final 26 games – he's currently a sub-par 76.5% at the stripe, which is compounded by the fact that he takes 9.2 freebies per game.
Maxi Kleber caught fire in 23 minutes off the bench, making 10-of-13 FGs and 3-of-3 FTs for a career-high 26 points with three rebounds, one assist and one block. He made three 3-pointers and paid off beautifully for anyone who deployed him. Delon Wright was also effective with the second unit, getting five points, five boards, four assists, one steal and one block, and those two guys plus Jalen Brunson appear to be the core of Dallas' bench. Kleber has easily been the best reserve to own the past month, despite some disappearing acts, and his strong play tonight relegated Willie Cauley-Stein to DNP-CD status.
Elsewhere, Anthony Davis gave owners one of his patented locker-room scares on Friday, limping off the court with a bruised right calf. He was able to return midway through the second quarter, fortunately, and finished the Lakers' 117-105 home win with 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks, four assists, two 3-pointers and one steal in 31 minutes. He was as dominant as ever in the second half, but don't be surprised if Davis' endless appearances on the injury report continue prior to Sunday's game vs. Boston. To his credit, AD has missed a modest seven games this season despite dealing with a sprained right index finger, bruised tailbone/glute, sore right knee, sprained right ankle and perpetually sore right shoulder. There are three teams within 5.5 games of the Lakers for the West's top playoff seed, too, which should compel L.A. to play Davis and LeBron James through most league's fantasy playoffs. If your league goes into mid-April, all bets are off.
Moving to Utah, Mike Conley was rested on Friday in the first half of a back-to-back set. Royce O'Neale started as a result, and he paid off for opportunistic owners with nine points, eight boards, three assists, two blocks, one steal and one 3-pointer. His role diminishes with Conley active, though, so O'Neale is a streaming-only option. Emmanuel Mudiay was the big winner with a ridiculously efficient 18 minutes of action off the bench – he made 6-of-10 FGs and 5-of-5 FTs for 18 points with five boards, three assists, one steal, one block, one 3-pointer and one turnover. Kudos to the fraction of DFS owners who had exposure to Mudiay tonight.
Joe Ingles has also fared better without Conley on the court this season, with the key being more offensive chances – he took 10 shots on Friday, just the second time since Jan. 16 that he's had double-digit attempts. The results weren't great (3-of-10 shooting for eight points, seven assists and three rebounds), and Ingles' pre-break shooting woes have followed him – he's shooting a moribund 31.4% in February. Conley will be ready to go vs. Houston on Saturday and he was heating up prior to the All-Star break, so get him back into all active lineups. Just be aware that likely DNPs are looming in Utah's remaining back-to-back sets – there are four remaining, including two in March (6/7 and 13/14).
Will Barton (right knee inflammation) missed four games prior to the All-Star break and was still considered questionable for Friday's game vs. OKC. Fortunately, he was cleared to play and didn't appear to have limitations as he racked up 16 points, nine boards, five assists and one steal in 32 minutes. Denver has a rather light schedule coming up, and they don't play back-to-back games until Mar. 22/23, so hopefully Barton can avoid any DNPs in the coming month. Nikola Jokic was a monster as usual with a line of 32/7/5/1/1/1, and extreme efficiency with 12-of-15 FGs and 7-of-7 FTs, but even that wasn't enough to beat the Thunder on the road. Jamal Murray had 21/6/4/1/1 in 38 minutes, and the problem tonight was a rare lack of supporting contributors – the Nuggets' depth is one of their greatest strengths, but only three guys scored more than seven points tonight.
The Celtics were playing without Kemba Walker, whose sore left knee continues to plague him even after the All-Star break. It's worth mentioning that he played 29 minutes in the All-Star game itself (a fancy exhibition), so Boston might not be thrilled with that decision. Either way, coach Brad Stevens continues to say that it's just a precaution to limit the wear-and-tear on Kemba and keep him primed for the postseason. That's fine, but it makes me wonder if Kemba will be held out during two imminent back-to-back sets on Feb. 25/26 and Mar. 3/4. My guess is 'yes', just because it seems logical, but that's just speculation.
In Walker’s absence, Marcus Smart (10 points, season-high 10 assists) filled in as a starter while Brad Wanamaker led the second unit with six points, two boards and one assist in 22 minutes. Smart's fantasy value doesn't change much whether he's starting or coming off the bench, and guys like Wanamaker and Romeo Langford aren't reliable for streaming purposes. The main impact is that Kemba's touches shift to other regular starters. Tonight, it was Gordon Hayward who gained the most, shooting 12-of-17 for 29 points with six assists, five rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes. Jaylen Brown had 25 points and eight boards, Jayson Tatum was typically good with 28 points, 11 boards and extras, and starting center Daniel Theis was an absolute stud. He posted career highs with 25 points and 16 rebounds, adding one block and one 3-pointer. He took full advantage of a delectable matchup vs. the Wolves, who started rookie Naz Reid at center. Theis gets a stiffer challenge vs. the Lakers on Sunday, on the road in L.A., so don't chase this performance in DFS. On a season-long basis, though, this game solidifies Theis as a pleasant surprise with top-75 value in 8-cat/9-cat.
The Wolves' guards looked very comfortable on Friday, despite the 127-117 loss to Boston. D'Angelo Russell scored 18 points with six rebounds and a season-high 13 assists. He had 11 dimes in his final game before the break, so this is a welcome trend for fantasy owners. Head coach Ryan Saunders said recently that his goal right now is "finding what works for D’Angelo." Throw in the indefinite absence of Karl-Anthony Towns (left wrist), and Russell is set up for a big finish to the 2019-20 season. I can't neglect his backcourt partner, though, as fellow newcomer Malik Beasley shot 10-of-18 from the field for 27 points with four rebounds, four 3-pointer and one assist. Beasley should already be owned everywhere, and the rise of the D'Angelo/Malik backcourt has really taken the wind out of Jarrett Culver's sails. The Wolves' prized lottery pick turned 20 years old on Thursday but didn't get his wish in this game with just two points, three rebounds, one assist and one block in 22 minutes off the bench.
Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) was back in action on Friday, putting up eight points, five boards and two blocks in 16 minutes. I'm surprised that the Wizards are already playing him, given that he had a setback with his right foot earlier this month, but apparently he's been given the all-clear from D.C.'s medical staff. When his minutes will ramp up is another question. They were cautious with him after his first return from the stress reaction, playing him no more than 22 minutes in his first seven games back. Over the following four games he averaged 27.3 minutes, and the result was a setback. Should he be owned? Yes, because he's a top-50 fantasy talent who could get unleashed just in time for fantasy playoffs. Will he be frustrating to own for the next week or two? I'd assume so, yeah. His presence also makes it hard to invest in Moritz Wagner (four points, five boards in 16 minutes) or stream Ian Mahinmi (5/5/2/2 in 16 minutes).
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Suns had a trio of banged-up big men available with Deandre Ayton (left ankle), Dario Saric (ankle) and Aron Baynes (hip) all playing vs. the Raptors. Ayton missed two games prior to the All-Star break, and he sat out the Rising Stars Challenge, so he had 12 full days of rest. He looked good in a tough matchup tonight, going for 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block, and as long as he's healthy there's really no upside for Saric and Baynes. As if to prove the point, Saric finished this game with eight points, five boards and three assists in 20 bench minutes, while Baynes added five points, one board and one block in 11 minutes. The influx of frontcourt players seemed to have a chilling effect on Mikal Bridges, too, as he posted just eight points, three assists, one rebound and one steal in 24 minutes. Bridges has been cruising the past month as a defensive specialist (1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks), so don't give up on him after one quiet night.
Not all notable performances are positive, and that's a necessary caveat for Kevin Porter Jr. The Cavs' first-round pick (No. 30) came into this game with strong tailwinds. He'd scored double-digit points in seven straight games, and coach J.B. Bickerstaff has talked him up relentlessly, saying he'd give KPJ minutes at point guard ("his elite playmaking ability can go to another level") while tasking him with a bigger load offensively ("we're going to give him a shot to do a ton, we're going to put the ball in his hands, we're going to ask him to score"). Fantasy owners were hyped to see what he'd do vs. the Wizards' awful defense, and Porter Jr. delivered...three points. He shot 1-of-3 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line with two assists, one rebound, two blocks and four turnovers. The bigger issue is that he committed five personal fouls in a mere 13 minutes of action, before getting tossed with a pair of technicals in the third quarter. Impatient owners might cut him, but that's short-sighted – everything I just wrote is still true (regarding his strong recent play and his coach's obvious mandate to unleash him), and he's a great guy to add for the fantasy gauntlet of March and April.
Kevin Love missed the Cavs' final game before the All-Star break with a sore Achilles, but that was just a precaution. He was very quiet in his return on Friday with nine points, one rebound and one assist in 23 minutes – he had more turnovers (three) than combined boards, dimes, steals and blocks. His return still cut into Larry Nance's workload a bit, as Nance had 13 points, six boards and two assists without any defensive stats in 26 minutes off the bench. There's a proven record for Nance as a per-36-minute fantasy beast, though, and he reminded owners what he can do during a hot stretch prior to the break – tossing out a dud vs. L.A. on Feb. 9, he averaged 18.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks in his previous three games. He may be inconsistent while Love and Tristan Thompson (10/11/4/2 on Friday) are healthy and active, but those guys have to get shut down soon, right? Beyond gaining familiarity with interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff and newly-acquired Andre Drummond, what reason do the Cavs have to play Love and TT?
Staying with the Cavs, I should note that Andre Drummond played just 22 minutes and committed seven turnovers in Friday's road win. The stats were fine with 12 points, 12 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks. It's the playing time that's concerning, as he's now played 22 minutes in consecutive games (before and after the break, no less), after logging 29 minutes in his Cavs debut. Larry Nance and Tristan Thompson both played more than Drummond (26 minutes each), but it's a trend I can't imagine will last long.
As regular readers of the Daily Dose are aware, I've rarely written this column in recent years. I'm rusty and am only now realizing that I've written far too many words to bring this home succinctly. It's worth a shot, though, so I'll conclude the 'game action' portion of this column with some quick hits about fantasy-relevant developments from Friday's game.
+ Jaren Jackson Jr.’s left knee soreness leaves him questionable for Monday’s game in L.A., since the Grizzlies didn’t offer any details after the game. Gorgui Dieng stepped up after JJJ’s early exit, posting 14 points, 10 boards and two steals in 21 minutes. He’d be a streaming option if Jackson Jr. misses more time, and Brandon Clarke (14 points, 10 boards, four dimes, one steal, one block) would also benefit with additional minutes.
+ Dejounte Murray lit up the Jazz for 23 points (10-of-16 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), seven boards, four assists and four steals on Friday. He turned the ball over once in 34 minutes, sank his lone 3-point attempt, and made a living from mid-range with seven buckets between 13-18 feet. There were significant minutes alongside Derrick White tonight, too, which is a fantastic sign for both guys' rest-of-season upside. It's even more impressive that Murray and White thrived with DeMar DeRozan returning from a back injury on Friday. DeRozan had 18/7/5 in 36 minutes and his injury appears to be a non-issue.
+ Pascal Siakam's fantastic season continued on Friday with 37 points, 12 boards, five triples, three assists and three blocks. He's been a top-50 fantasy asset on the season and doesn’t hurt fantasy owners anywhere. Even if the Raptors concede the East's top spot to Milwaukee, they have incentive to play key guys like Siakam until the No. 2 seed is secured (currently 1.5 games up on Boston).
+ Victor Oladipo struggled with a back injury during Friday's win in New York, scoring eight points on 3-of-8 shooting with three rebounds, one assist and four turnovers in 25 minutes. Nate McMillan said that VO's back "locked up" during the game and he could miss time with the injury, which would benefit Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Holiday.
+ D.J. Augustin returned from an injury that sounded scary (left knee bone irritation) but he failed to score in 16 minutes. As long as Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams are active, there's no reason to own DJA.
+ On a more positive note for Orlando, Nikola Vucevic racked up 27 points, 12 rebounds, four steals, one assist, one block and one 3-pointer. He played 37 minutes without a single turnover and remains an under-appreciated fantasy asset, simply because his game isn't flashy – you'll rarely see him on SportsCenter, but you will find him on championship fantasy squads.
+ Aaron Gordon typically hasn't been a well-rounded fantasy asset, so I have to highlight him for a moment. He had 10/12/7/2/1 on Friday, but that's just a continuation of a recent trend. Through eight games in February, he's averaging an impressive 19.6 points on 45.4% shooting, 2.0 triples, 8.3 boards, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.4 blocks. The dimes and steals are most eye-catching to me, as they're way above previous career highs. As a bonus, the dunk contest defeat could give him some extra motivation – Gordon is genuinely upset that he lost.
+ Michael Porter Jr. did little in eight minutes off Denver's bench on Friday, scoring four points with two rebounds and one turnover. He was thriving for a while prior to the break, but that was due partly to the Nuggets' rash of injuries – with Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Gary Harris and Jerami Grant all healthy, MPJ's path to value narrows substantially. I still like him a lot, to be clear, but if you need to win immediately, he may not be your guy. On a side note, Jordan McRae was a DNP-CD.
+ Mason Plumlee (right foot/ankle) returned from a long absence, playing 14 minutes off the bench. He didn't do anything to help fantasy owners and I doubt he will the rest of the season, but it's nice to see him healthy.
+ Steven Adams had the line of the night for OKC with 19 points, 17 rebounds, four steals, two blocks and two assists. Nagging injuries were bogging Adams down, but the All-Star break may have been a panacea. The Thunder are legitimately charging into the postseason and Adams should be as safe as they get down the stretch. Chris Paul was also excellent on Friday with 29 points and four 3-pointers, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just missed a triple-double with 11 points, nine boards and nine assists.
+ Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points off the Grizzlies’ bench, hitting 9-of-12 shots and a pair of 3-pointers. He added just three rebounds, though, without any assists, steals or blocks, so this was a hollow line for fantasy purposes. There’s no reason to pick him up.
+ Gary Trent Jr. started Friday's game in place of Damian Lillard, who is likely to miss at least a handful more games with his groin injury. He scored 15 points (5-of-11 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs) with three triples, but added just two assists, one rebound and one steal in 37 minutes. Anfernee Simons needs to step up in Lillard's absence, but he was similarly quiet with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting off the bench. Carmelo Anthony benefited with usage at 27.4%, and C.J. McCollum was (predictably) the big winner with 27 points, 10 assists, six boards, three 3-pointers and 31.5% usage. Between Trent Jr. and Simons, I prefer GTJ.
+ Frank Ntilikina started in place of Elfrid Payton (sore right ankle) and had 14 points, two boards, two dimes, two steals and two 3-pointers. Payton is just day-to-day so there's no real need to add Ntilikina here, especially because he's been inconsistent even when he's given an expanded role.
And finally, here are some things to consider as you look ahead to Saturday's seven games, which include a rare matinee between the Kings and Clippers. Paul George (left hamstring) and Patrick Beverley (right groin) have already been ruled out vs. the Kings. That extends Landry Shamet's shelf-life for at least one more game, and it will be interesting to see how much run Reggie Jackson gets in his L.A. debut. Personally, I'm not eager to deploy R-Jax or Marcus Morris since the Clippers still have plenty of offensive firepower on their roster. Jackson also comes in averaging 14.9 points on 38.4% shooting, with poor supporting stats, and it is time fantasy owners move on – he's 29 years old and isn't about to re-invent his game.
The Mavericks played on Friday so this will be a back-to-back set, and there's a chance Kristaps Porzingis will be rested as a precaution. Willie Cauley-Stein's role hinges entirely on KP's whereabouts, and he'll be worth a look if he gets the fill-in start. Maxi Kleber should also benefit if Porzingis sits, and he's already coming off a career-high 26-point game vs. Orlando on Friday.
Ben Simmons (lower back tightness) is probable vs. Milwaukee on Saturday. That lowers Joel Embiid's DFS ceiling a bit, after his season-high 39 points on Thursday, but the bigger issue might be the matchup vs. the Bucks' elite defense. It's more than a chance for Philly to prove they can hang with the Conference-leading Bucks, since they're still half a game behind Miami for the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage in the first round. With 26 games left on the schedule, every win matters. Simmons' return will also bump Raul Neto back to obscurity in a bench role, and Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson will spend less time on-ball than they did vs. Brooklyn.
I promise that the next time I write the Daily Dose it will be shorter. For my sake, if not yours. Until then, you can ask me questions or enlighten me with your own insights on Twitter @Knaus_RW.