Christmas Day is among the most hyped lineup of games during the NBA season. But Friday, Dec. 23, was a Festivus celebration for the rest of us. After all, the Association exemplifies feats of strength and airing of grievances this time of year, as the slow-starting teams begin to gripe in the locker room, trade chatter reaches new highs, and the established powers of the season start showing more muscle in impressive wins. 

In the birthplace of Festivus, New York, it was the Bulls (airers of many internal grievances lately) who showed the most strength Friday night, ruining a monster game by the streaking RJ Barrett

DeMar DeRozan hit the clutch game-winner from, where else, a mid-range jumper, finishing 25-7-10-2-1 in the 118-117 victory. Zach LaVine may be dreaming of La La Land, but came through for the Bulls with 12-of-22 shooting, 4-of-9 from deep, finishing with 33-4-3. And Nikola Vucevic kept the strong play going with 22 points and 12 boards.

The Knicks were left holding the pole after some lackluster free throw shooting down the end. Julius Randle finished with 29-12-3-1-2 on 50% shooting. But it was Barrett’s near-career high 44 points, hitting all six 3-point attempts, 14-of-20 overall, that had the Garden rockin’ before the Knicks flubbed the game away. 

Barrett’s hot streak is now two weeks deep, scoring at least 22 in seven of his last eight games, shooting 50%+ and averaging three 3s a game during the span. He snags about five boards a game, but his below average free throw shooting and 1/1 assist-to-turnover ratio has him ranked only about 100 over that stretch (and still 217 in per game value on the season). He has a ways to go before being solid fantasy asset, but the former No. 3 pick is still just 22 and starting to come into his own. Ride him while he’s hot!

Elsewhere on a fun-filled Festivus night of ball:

Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz actually played well in the same game, leading the Magic over the Spurs 133-113. Anthony was a dime short of a triple-double, with 23 points, 10 boards and nine assists, hitting 8-of-10 shots, including all four of his 3-point attempts, in 31 minutes off the bench. Fultz posted 8-7-8 with four steals. Wendell Carter Jr. returned with a minutes restriction, so Mo Wagner (17-8-1) stayed in the starting lineup alongside brother Franz (21-0-4).

Tre Jones hit 7-of-10 shots for 16 points with four boards, eight assists and two steals, and is currently the only reliable standard leaguer on the Spurs roster other than Devin Vassell – who had an off shooting night, but nabbed four steals and a block to go with 14 points. 

James Harden messed around big time with 22 points, 21 assists and 11 rebounds, while Joel Embiid dominated (again) with 44-7-3-1-2 as the 76ers topped the Clippers 119-114. De’Anthony Melton had a lot of threes; as in, three 3s, three assists, three boards and three steals along with 13 points. I still think he’s a bit of a buy if his owner is spooked about the coming return of Tyrese Maxey and you can get him cheap. Melton is now established as one of, if not the, best defensive guards in the game, proven again Friday night as he shut Paul George down in the second half. 

Norman Powell posted 21 points (8-13 FG, 2-5 3pt, 3-7 FT), four boards and four assists in 23 minutes. Kawhi Leonard was equally as efficient in the loss (12-19 FG, 1-2 3pt, 3-4 FT), scoring 28 with three boards and five assists, but zeros in the D stat boxes. 

Al Horford posted just his third double-double of the season, finishing with 17 points, 11 boards, two assists, two steals and three swats as Boston beat Minnesota, 121-109. Big Al hit five 3s, and, fun fact, has made just three 2-point buckets in his last six games. But he crept back into the Top 50 per game value territory with this performance. 

Both teams’ top duos got after it. Jaylen Brown scored 23 in the fourth, finishing with 36-7-3-1-1, and Jayson Tatum posted 30-8-5-1-0; although the two were a combined 4-of-19 from behind the arch. D’Angelo Russell finished 21-7-10 and a block, and Anthony Edwards 30-6-4 and two blocks. 

Kyle Anderson sat, so Naz Reid got some run at PF alongside Rudy Gobert (who wasn’t much of a factor in this one with eight points and 12 boards), finishing with 14 points, five boards, two assists, two blocks and two 3s in 25 minutes. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, it would make sense for Minny to trade the 23-year-old. If he ends up in a good spot, could be a fantasy stud down the stretch. 

The Brooklyn starters were in a giving mood, with four of them finishing with at least five assists in a 118-100 statement win over Milwaukee. Nic Claxton was a near-perfect 9-of-10 from the field for 19 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists and three steals, and his fantasy value has shot up the rankings board over the Nets’ eight game win streak (currently 40 in per game value, 23 in total value). Ben Simmons dished eight assists for the third game in a row, along with 12 points (6-9 FG), 11 boards and three steals. T.J. Warren continues to play well off the bench, posting 12-6-3-1-0 in 21 minutes. His Per 36 stats have been great in his return to play, but there doesn’t seem to be a path for him to get to upper 20s in minutes per game. Something to keep an eye on, though. 

Not much to note from the side of the Bucks, playing their fourth straight without Khris Middleton.

The Bane is Back! Desmond Bane returned with 17-3-2-1-0 as the Grizzlies destroyed the Booker-less Suns, 125-100. Jaren Jackson Jr. posted a smooth 24-10-1-1-2 stat line, and confidence is growing in him continuing his back-end first round/front-end second round value.

Some group message acquaintances of mine are entrenched in an ongoing battle of stubborn proportions, about whether Luka Doncic is truly a transcendent player, or if he’s just a tubby stat-seeker who dribbles too much, doesn’t play d and will never win a championship. Friday night went to the former, as Luka posted a 50 burger on 17-of-30 shooting, 6-of-12 from deep, with 10 assists, eight boards and three steals, as the Mavs won in Houston, 112-106. But, seven turnovers? C’mon man!. Christian Wood was ho-hum in his return to Houston, with eight points and five boards. But the four blocks were nice, and he has 12 swats in his last 5 games. 

Houston’s front court was impressive in this one. The offense is running more through Alperen Sengun, who finished 19-8-7-1-0, and that seems to be helping Jabari Smith, Jr. (24-10-3-0-1; 10-17 FG). Keep it up Jabari; make me a believer!

Wally Sczerbiak apologized for calling Tyrese Haliburton a Wannabe Fake All-Star. He should apologize to the Pacers recent opponents. “Little Magic” scored a career high 43 points (10-17 FG, 10-16 3pt, 5-5 FT), with two boards, seven assists, a steal and a block. Buddy Hield kept his hot shooting going, hitting 7-of-11 from the 3-point line. Bennedict Mathurin didn’t do much in a spot start for injured Aaron Nesmith.

A career high in points was also had by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 44 points (17-29 FG, 3-4 3pt, 7-9 FT), along with 10 boards, six assists, two steals and a block. But it wasn’t enough to beat the Zion-less Pelicans, who won 126-123 in overtime. Naji Marshall stepped into the starting PF spot and showed off 17-8-3 and a steal. Jaxson Hayes (21-6-4) and Trey Murphy III (23-5-1-2-0; 5-8 3pt) also took advantage of the extra run. CJ McCollum posted 17-6-11-1-2, and is in a nice groove following some lackluster performances earlier in the month. McCollum is the No. 22 ranked per game player over the last 2 weeks.

Aleksej Pokusevski (17-6-3-4-1) and Josh Giddey (20-10-6-1-1) also posted nice lines for their owners. 

Scottie Barnes with a bounce back game, posting 25-10-4-2-0 on 63% shooting, as Toronto took down Cleveland 118-107. The shorthanded Raptors relied heavily on their top 4, averaging around 40 minutes each, and all posted solid stat lines: Pascal Siakam, 26-7-9-2-1 (9-22 FG, 2-5 3pt, 6-8 FT); OG Anunoby, 26-9-2-2-0 (10-16 FG, 6-9 3pt); and Fred VanVleet, 18-8-4-1-1 (5-12 FG, 5-10 3pt, 3-3 FT).

Issac Okoro’s stock is trending up. He finished with 15 points, three boards, two assists and two blocks with good efficiency in 20 minutes as a starter. His defense has been stellar the last couple weeks, which help him maintain a solid rotation spot.

Kyle Kuzma denied the victory beam in Sacramento, scoring 32 points (13-23 FG, 2-8 3pt, 2-3 FT) with nine boards, five assists and two steals in a 125-111 win. Kristaps Porzingis returned with some rusty shooting, but contributed 13 rebounds, a steal and two blocks. Rui Hachimura balled out in his second game back, posting 21-5-4 in 27 minutes off the bench with three 3s.

Domantas Sabonis posted one of my favorite lines with a 20-15-10 trip-dub, but exited a few minutes before the final buzzing holding his previously-injured hand. Trey Lyles could be a good streamer if Sabas Jr. misses time. He was a perfect 6-of-6 in this one, finishing with 14-4-1-1-1 in 23 minutes. Or, maybe, just maybe, the Kings get Richaun Holmes some run, at least to boost the trade value if nothing else. 

I’ve seen a lot of Aaron Gordon love following my mini-spotlight of him last week. Either I’m a trend-setter, or just a coincidence [definitely coincidence]. He was a simple 6-of-9 for 13 points, with six boards and a block, as the Nuggets took care of the faltering Blazers 120-107. Nikola Jokic was his normal beast self (29-8-11-2-0), and Jamal Murray remained a top DFS play anytime he faces Portland, finishing 25-8-11-2-0.

Anfernee Simons was an ugly 1-10 from deep, and has been barely rosterable over the last two weeks. He remains at No. 60 on the season, and my fanboy love for the PDX Ant requires me to label him a buy low at the moment. 

PJ Washington helped the Hornets sting the Lakers, 134-130, with 24 points, five boards, four dimes, two steals and two blocks. Terry Rozier shot 9-of-15 (5-9 3pt) for 23 points, returning from a two-game absence, along with four boards, six assists, two steals and a block.

Thomas Bryant took a shot from Mason Plumlee and exited with a shoulder injury. Wenyen Gabriel may be a stream if Bryant is out, but he doesn’t do much outside of points and boards – and really not great at that. More likely we’d see more LeBron James (34-2-8-1-0) at the 5 spot. 

John Collins had 8-12-3 and three blocks, and Trae Young posted 28-2-13 and two steals in a blowout win over the Pistons, 130-105. Onyeka Okongwu has been producing as of late, posting 12-9-2 with two blocks in just 21 minutes against Detroit. He’s put up Top 50 value over the last two weeks.

Thanks to the 11 people out there who spend a bit of their Saturday’s reading my recaps. Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!