Friday’s schedule set up for both series to reach their conclusion, with the Celtics and Raptors playing in Game 7 and the Clippers holding a 3-1 lead on the Nuggets. But Paul Millsap had other ideas, as his big third quarter served as the boost that Denver needed to overcome a 16-point deficit and extend the series to a sixth game. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic led the way stats-wise for Denver, while Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did so for the Celtics in their hard-fought win over Toronto. Also of note from the bubble was a Rockets rotation player being sent home due to a protocol violation, leaving Houston shorthanded heading into Game 5 of its series with the Lakers.
— NBA hoping to play 82 games next season
One day after holding a conference call with its Board of Governors, the NBA held a call with the league’s general managers on Friday. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, dates for the draft (November 18) and start of next season (December 25) remain fluid, and there were other important details especially for those who play fantasy basketball.
The hope is that all teams will be able to play 82 games next season, with reduced travel and possibly reduced attendance as well. How an 82-game schedule with these parameters would look remains to be seen, and the layout is especially important when it comes to back-to-backs (how many each team would have to play). The new slate could also impact USA Basketball, as the Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed a year due to the pandemic. That won’t be of much impact with regard to fantasy leagues, however.
— Danuel House sent home for protocol violation
The Rockets will be down a rotation player for Saturday’s Game 5, as Danuel House was sent home by the league after its investigation found that he violated bubble protocol. House, who was held out of Games 3 and 4 while the league looked into the situation, was found to have had an “unapproved guest” in his room. Not going to go into the details, but the league’s release does a good job of that for those who may need a refresher.
House’s unceremonious exit opens up minutes for Ben McLemore, who after playing a total of 11 minutes in the first three games of the series played 10 minutes in Game 4 and 15 in Game 5. He finished Thursday’s loss with nine points, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers, making all three of his shot attempts. McLemore is a potential points and 3-pointers player, but I’d rather roll the dice on a Jeff Green or even Austin Rivers when it comes to the Rockets reserves. Houston played just eight players Thursday, and the same should be expected for Game 5 barring injury.
The Lakers’ rotation should remain unchanged, with LeBron James (groin), Anthony Davis (rib) and JaVale McGee (ankle) still listed as probable while Dion Waiters (groin) is doubtful. McGee didn’t play at all in Game 4, with Markieff Morris replacing him in the starting lineup, and that will likely remain the case Saturday night.
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Nuggets 111, Clippers 105 (Los Angeles leads, 3-2)
Los Angeles led Game 5 by as much as 16 points, but despite appearing to teeter on the edge of being blown out in an elimination game Denver managed to hang around. And then Paul Millsap, who accounted for just three points and three rebounds in Game 4, got going. Millsap scored 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter, and while the Nuggets still went into the fourth trailing by seven their veteran forward provided a much-needed boost. Jamal Murray (26/8/7 with five 3-pointers) and Nikola Jokic (22/14/5/1/2 with two 3-pointers) took over from there, with Monte Morris (12 points, one assist and three steals) coming up big off the bench.
Also of great importance down the stretch was Michael Porter Jr., who finished the game with seven points, five rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and one 3-pointer in 22 minutes. The stat line wasn’t all that impressive, but late in the fourth quarter the rookie knocked down a three, blocked a dunk attempt and grabbed a key rebound in traffic.
Porter Jr. made his feelings known after Game 4, and while the touches weren’t plentiful in Game 5 he managed to make some key plays when Denver needed them. Porter is a player that I’m excited about heading into next season from a fantasy standpoint, especially if he can make strides defensively and force Michael Malone to leave him on the floor. That being said, his 2019-20 campaign isn’t over just yet.
The usual suspects led the way offensively for the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard (36/8/4/3 with five 3-pointers) and Paul George (26/6/6/1/2 with four 3-pointers) being the only players to surpass the 20-point mark. If there’s a concern it’s Lou Williams, who shot 2-of-10 from the field (0-of-5 3-pointers) and finished with four points, one rebound, five assists and one blocked shot in 19 minutes. The assist tally is certainly welcome, but both he and Montrezl Harrell (six points, three rebounds and one block in 16 minutes) have been targeted by Denver defensively and the approach has worked. Both will obviously remain in the rotation, but the defensive struggles have had a negative effect on their minutes.
Marcus Morris (12/7/2 with three 3-pointers), who has scored 11 points or more in each game this series, is an effective low-cost option but the price tag may increase with Sunday’s Game 5 being the lone contest on the schedule. Patrick Beverley (10/1/1/1/1 with two 3-pointers) hit double figures for the first time in this series, while Ivica Zubac accounted for five points, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal in 32 minutes. Zubac is a much better fantasy option than Harrell in this series because of the Clippers’ need to match up with the aforementioned Jokic.
Celtics 92, Raptors 87 (Boston wins, 4-3)
As one would expect from a Game 7, this battle was close throughout but in the end Boston made the big defensive plays needed to advance. Jayson Tatum (29/12/7/1/1 with four 3-pointers) and Jaylen Brown (21/8/2/4 with one 3-pointer) shouldered much of the load offensively for the winners, while Kemba Walker (14/6/4/2/1 with one 3-pointer) and Marcus Smart (16/2/6/3/1 with two 3-pointers) produced full stat sheets despite combining to shoot 11-of-31 from the field. The good news for Walker is that he likely won’t have to deal with as many junk defenses in the conference finals when the Celtics take on the Heat, but that won’t be an easy matchup either.
As for Smart, he averaged 3.4 3-pointers per game in this series, while making just over 41 percent of his attempts. Given how inconsistent he’s been as a perimeter shooter throughout his NBA career, those numbers are a bonus when it comes to both his value within the Celtics rotation and his fantasy value. Brad Stevens essentially went with a six-man rotation for this one, with Tatum, Brown, Walker and Smart all playing 43 or 44 minutes. Daniel Theis (five points, five rebounds, one steal and two blocks) was limited to just 23 minutes due to foul trouble, which opened up minutes for Robert Williams in the first half and Grant Williams in the second.
Neither Williams (not related) is worth utilizing in any fantasy format in the next round, but the Time Lord is worth looking into for the 2020-21 campaign.
From the Toronto side of things, if this series is going to be remembered for anything it’ll be the offensive struggles of Pascal Siakam. He shot 5-of-12 from the field in Game 7, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Unfortunately for Siakam, who better than 50 percent from the field in just one of the seven games (Game 5, when he was 5-of-9 and scored 10 points), he had as many turnovers (five) as made field goals in the series decider. Looking towards next season, he was a top-50 player in both eight- and nine-category formats and I’m expecting similar (if not better) production in 2020-21.
Something that will impact the production of nearly every player in the Raptors rotation is the decision that will be made this offseason by Fred VanVleet. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent, and after being a top-25 in both eight- and nine-category formats this season VanVleet should be of similar status next season. He finished Game 7 with 20 points (8-of-20 FGs), three rebounds, six assists, two blocks and four 3-pointers in 45 minutes, leading Toronto in points, assists, blocks (tied with Marc Gasol) and minutes. Kyle Lowry (16/6/4 with one 3-pointer), Serge Ibaka (14 points, eight rebounds and one 3-pointer) and Norman Powell (11 points, three rebounds, one block and one 3-pointer) also scoring in double figures.
In addition to VanVleet, Gasol and Ibaka will both be unrestricted free agents this offseason, while Chris Boucher (DNP-CD) will be a restricted free agent. Main pieces such as Lowry, Siakam and Powell are due to be back in the fold for next season, but Toronto’s rotation could have a much different look whenever the 2020-21 campaign begins.