The precursor to the much-hyped Clippers and Warriors game was the game between the Bulls and Knicks. On paper, this wasn’t the best choice by ESPN, considering the Knicks are out of the playoffs and the Bulls are competing for the 8th spot.

However, it featured two of the best, youngest international stars. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis dunked and shot his way to 29 points and 10 rebounds. He may have hit the so-called “rookie wall,” but he still contributes enough in a variety of categories to matter in fantasy for the playoffs.

Nikola Mirotic almost single handedly brought the Bulls back in the 4th quarter. He knocked down 9-13 from downtown, on his way to 35 points and 6 rebounds off the bench. Can you name the last Bull to knock down 8 threes in a game? Ben Gordon did it in 2008-09. While Gordon had a serviceable career, I hope both Mirotic and Porzingis have better careers than Gordon. Based on Wednesday, their futures look very bright.

Now only the other nightly notables:

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Ya know, Brandon Knight and The Dark Knight metaphor work pretty well as a parallel to my time here on Razzball Hoops.  In 13-14, Knight was one of my first bolder calls that panned out (hey, it’s easier for me to forget the bad ones OK!  …cough, MCW, cough…), exploding onto the scene as the Bucks PG like Batman Begins.  I guess that implies I exploded onto the scene, let’s just say I feel like I was better than Batman & Robin, so that’s a plus…  Then he was somehow even better for most of 14-15; the rare sequel that’s better than the original in The Dark Knight.  In my second season, I was the only ‘pert to have #OccupyDraymondGreen top 100!  Take that, Christopher Nolan!  Then he was traded to the Suns, and thus far this season, we’ve only seen flashes of the former brilliance.  Exactly like The Dark Knight Rises.  He got a bigger budget with his max deal, and also got a longer run time.  And while Anne Hathaway is hot and all, there’s a lot of things that just didn’t make sense.  Only time will tell if Knight can break this analogy, because the next stop for Batman is this horrific looking dawn of justice movie hooblah.  Whatever the hell it’s called…  Why in the hell is Affleck going from Oscar-winning director to star of a CGI clusterF$*#?!?!?!  Not like he needs the money!  Knight returned last night (hah!) for 10/2/5/0/1 in 25 minutes off the bench after nearly 2 months out due to a groin.  He looked pretty good out there, even though he shot only 2-9.  Was cutting hard and ran into a mess of big men to scuffle for a board, so he’s not just coasting until the end of the season.  Good timing before the fantasy playoffs!  Hopefully you were able to hold; while I think he’s gonna be ho-hum compared to his numbers pre-injury with the Suns tanking, I do think he’ll be must-own.  So here’s to hoping he’s finally healthy, and buck the trend of both the Batman franchise, or movies by Christopher Nolan.  I have to buck the trend of this analogy too!  Now THERE’S some pressure for 16-17 ranks!  Here’s what else went down last night in fantasy hoops action:

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What a return from the break!

It was an exceptional weekend of NBA action after the wayyyyyyy too long layoff for the break, highlighted by a huge upset by the Blazers.  Is anyone else getting annoyed by that Damian Lillard commercial on the NBA App?!  The one where he semi-raps, then says “thanks for the motivation” when asked about his haters?  Well, it’s kinda fitting now, with that performance after that All-Star snubbery!  Dame went Insame on the Warriors for a career-high 51 points, going 51/0/7/6/0, shooting 18-28 from the field.  But the crazier numbers were 9 treys, and not a single TO.  6 steals and no turnovers?!  That’s winning hoops right there!  He followed it up with a huge night last night as well, going 24/4/4 through 3 quarters before grandpa JB hit his bedtime.  Portland bested Golden State with a crushing 137-105 W in that Friday epic win, solidifying the Blazers as a playoff contender.  No one thought they would even be close, and as Slim and I talked on the Pod, Stotts deserves a ton of cred and maybe some Coach of the Year consideration.  If you told me in October the Blazers would make the playoffs, I woulda said you’re Insame!  Here’s what else went down over an exciting return to hoops over the weekend, plus The 7 Ahead for week 17:

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Ladies and Gentleman, the results are in!  In a runaway victory, Will “The Thrill”  Barton took the Most Valuable Pickup title in a landslide!  Keep in mind that this is only a vote for the first half of the year.  I have a feeling, it won’t be Barton when it’s all said and done.  Myles Turner is coming on strong, and Kent Bazemore keeps putting up rock solid numbers.  For now though, congrats to our first half MVP!

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Here’s how the final vote played out:

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Personally, I think Bazemore deserved it, but there’s definitely a lot more flash to Barton’s game, so the vote is understandable.

Let’s dive in to the wire for this week!

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As many of you already know (or as my avatar may suggest), I’m a Canadian so I don’t really have a dog in the 2016 United States Presidential fight. I do, however, live close to the border and have enjoyed traveling throughout the United States (including the entire northeast, Florida, California, Colorado, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands) with my wife over the better part of the last ten years. So I have a keen interest in American politics as it indirectly impacts “my world.”

That leads me to my admission – I watched President Barack Obama’s eighth and final State of the Union address last night (and the subsequent analysis & reaction) instead of basketball. There was basketball to be watched up here, I just chose not to. But it gave me some perspective – it reminded me that a common sense approach to the big picture issues is never as simple as it should be, and that holds true in the NBA as well. Examples from some of the 16 teams in action on Tuesday alone:

  • The Timberwolves have a wealth of young talent to cultivate and yet they start Kevin Garnett & Tayshaun Prince?
  • The Suns have a cancerous presence in their locker room (Markieff Morris) and they can’t decide what to do about it – they give him multiple healthy DNPs in a row, and then they unleash him for 27 minutes, taking opportunity from someone like Jon Leuer (17 minutes) who could actually be a part of their future plans.
  • The Celtics and Knicks – both of whom are in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt – continue to run heavier-than-necessary rotations rather than identifying the best court combinations and maximizing their efficiency and output.
  • The Rockets have an extremely fragile, high-salaried starting center (Dwight Howard) who is prone to usage-related injuries and they run him for 38 minutes when they have a number of other very capable young frontcourt players to ease the burden.
  • The Bulls appear to embrace their future for a moment by giving a solid rotation spot to Bobby Portis, only to yank it out from under him (he played 4 minutes on Tuesday) once they’re back to full health.
  • The Pelicans offer center Omer Asik a massive contract in the offseason and even when he’s playing well (13 rebounds, a steal and a block, team-high +7 net rating), and they’re absent their best frontcourt player, he can’t get minutes (18).

Essentially what I’m saying is that there are a lot of things we, as fantasy owners, think should happen by any measure of common sense, but just don’t because of a number of factors beyond our control. We can go data mining until the cows come home and have an open & shut case to make why Player X deserves more minutes/opportunity, but it doesn’t matter. We can only do so much. There will always be someone on the other side who impacts that situation and we just have to make the best of it. Thankfully, the NBA has a long season and, unlike football, one or two bad weeks won’t spell doom for your campaign. I love that we get 82 games to try and figure out what the heck is going on. We’ll never be right 100% of the time, no matter that the stats or common sense says we maybe could be, but it sure doesn’t stop us from trying…

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No, no, no, we never root for injuries. It’s terrible fantasy karma. But as one of the main cliches as fantasy lays out – injuries are the great equalizer. They end campaigns and create opportunities. Fortunately the torn ACL to Jarrett Jack isn’t going to end anyone’s campaign! But the opportunity for Shane Larkin is monumental.

Last Saturday night, we saw the dreaded non-contact knee buckle from Jack against the Celtics, and we got the somber news yesterday afternoon that he has a torn ACL and meniscus. “Wahhhhhh, I bet I never start a game again!” Meh, the Wahhhh gag just seems too mean right now… And if you listen to the Pod, you know I’m a Jack supporter and of course everyone in Razzball Nation wishes him a speedy recovery. But with the starting job open, Larkin-the-Herald-Angels-Sing immediately steps in as the no-question starter. While he’s looked mad impressive to me the few Nets games I’ve watched and he’s certainly a must-add, I’m not banking on top-50 value or anything. His skill set should make him more valuable than Jack as the starter with more 3s and STL, but I imagine he’ll have fewer AST with the same bad TO. Add Larkin everywhere, and if he starts absolutely gangbusters then sell high. I also could see Donald Sloan having a bigger role than most envision – after that nice run he had in Indy to start last year, I was really impressed with him as a player. Here’s what else went down over our first weekend of 2016, and The 7 Ahead for Week 11:

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Happy 2016, Razzball Nation! I hope all of you had a fun and safe New Year’s Eve party. Because for me, well, let’s just say I woke up with no clothes on laying in a field with a partially eaten deer carcass… What can I say, I thought it was Jason Kidd at first! Dumb rotations…

The party started out all normal – Slim had some Australian ‘shine, Matty brought the poutines, Dan A DJ-ed with his awesome hip hop mixes, the Petes just wanted to talk about their decent (Wizards) and atrocious (Sixers) Eastern conf. teams, danb was too busy following his DFS slate to bring anything, charlie showed up drunk since he’s on winter break, and Adam, well, I stayed away from him since all he wanted to talk about is how lucky my Panthers 14-0 run was and I knew a couple sips of Aussie shine in I might not be able to hold off my gun show. Stupid Bucs fans!

Once we all got settled, we couldn’t figure out a good movie to watch, so I put on A Scanner Darkly since during my Holiday travels I went to the Arctor house!

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Then at some point once Woody Harrelson said “don’t blame the drugs!”, it was the second half of the Pistons bludgeoning the Wolves and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope starting going nuts. He’s my Substance D, that’s for sure! My KCP addiction just took another monster hit, as he started slow but went bonkers late, ending with a 22/4/3/3/0 line on 7-17 shooting, with 2 treys and nary a TO. Everything started to get all Rotoscope-y, I turned into a Jeff Bridges Altered States cave person, and went hunting through the prairie. KCP has been ridiculous this past month, with a strong finish to 2015 after a couple of duds. I think we easily see a top-100 finish that could creep to top-75 if he stays healthy with all these minutes. All I know is when my KCP addiction is strong, I don’t feel any muscle in my body! I stay up for 3 days at a time! So 37:33 MPG should be no issue for him. Here’s what else went down on our final night of 2015 in fantasy basketball:

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With the season-ending injury to Bledsoe, all guards in Phoenix get a boost.  I’d look at them in the order of Booker and then Warren, based on how the minutes have played out so far.  It’s also worth mentioning that PJ Tucker has been getting big minutes of late, and although his usage rate is low, the amount of playing time may dictate a pickup.  Unfortunately, none of these options come close to replacing the production of Bledsoe, if you lost him.  The good news is, he’ll probably come at a discount again next year, although that’s little consolation…

I would also expect other players in Phoenix, like Leuer and Knight, to pick up some of the scoring slack for the rest of the year.  It looks like Markieff isn’t going to see any playing time until he’s moved, so he makes for an exceptionally risky stash.

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Earlier in the year when the NBA released its schedule for the 2015/2016 season, one of the very first things I did was flip forward to December 25th. I was really stoked to see five games, neatly stacked one after the other, for our holiday viewing pleasure. The excitement continued to grow right up until the games went live and we quickly learned that putting the ball through the hoop is, apparently, quite a bit more difficult on Christmas.

Anthony Davis in South Beach for a noon eastern tip-off against the Heat. What a great way to kick off the afternoon after tossing back a few coffee & Baileys, scarfing down some cinnamon buns, and opening some presents, right? Yeah…  no. They needed overtime and the Pelicans still couldn’t hit the 90-point mark. Brow was nice (29/15/4/4/3), as was Chris Bosh, but the game was not pretty. At all.

So I says to myself, I says: “Self, one stinker does not a bad day make. We just got the ugly one outta the way early. This will not be a harbinger of things to come. No, sir, it will not.” Next up we got the weirdly entertaining (and enigmatic) Bulls visiting the dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook & Kevin Durant in front of an always raucous Oklahoma City crowd. Well, Chicago doubled up OKC in the third quarter (32-16) to quiet the crowd and pulled away as nobody other than the Thunder’s two stars bothered to show up. The league’s second most efficient team on offense couldn’t crack the century mark and fell 105-96.

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Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki. He passed Shaquille O’Neal for number 6 on the all-time NBA scoring list.

While Kobe Bryant gains the headlines in his last season, Dirk and Tim Duncan have quietly shown how to adapt their game for the team’s sake, taking less money and adding more wins to their already impressive résumés.

At 37, Dirk isn’t the same fantasy monster that he used to be, but is still valuable. He’s scored 20+ points in three straight games and so far has posted better overall numbers than last season. His game is much different than Kobe’s, with much less wear and tear on his body, allowing him to remain relatively healthy later in his career. Personally, I don’t see any reason why Dirk has to tie the sneakers up anytime soon.

In addition to passing Shaqtus, Dirk hit the game winner in the Mavericks’ overtime win over the Nets. He finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Not bad for a 37-year-old.

Overtime basketball is free basketball and it usually means great stat lines for everyone involved:

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