Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets
The Utah Jazz defeated the Denver Nuggets 125-102, snapping a four-game losing streak. The Jazz were just 1-4 without Rudy Gobert in the lineup and Gobert and Donovan Mitchell seemed to trade subliminal jabs in press conferences and on social media. They appear to have righted the ship, for now. The Jazz are a bit of conundrum. They are an undeniably good team that has been labeled “a regular season team” for a few years, maybe even erroneously, except it didn’t matter because they did fall short of expectations in the playoffs. This year, there is once again general indifference towards the team outside of Utah and most interested parties are just wondering when Donovan Mitchell asks for a trade because he can’t get along with Gobert. The Jazz can’t get very far without Donovan Mitchell’s scoring, but they appear even more doom-struck without Gobert’s defense. What can be done? Would Jerami Grant help? Harrison Barnes? Whatever happens, I know fans outside of Utah will watch with crazy-eyed delight if the foundation once again crumbles beneath them in the playoffs.
Six Jazz players scored in double figures, headlined by Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell finished the game with 31 points (11-24 FG, 4-12 3PT), five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Bojan Bogdanovic added 21 points (8-15 FG, 1-4 3PT), four rebounds five assists, and one steal. Rudy Gobert tallied 18 points (7-7 FG, 4-7 FT), 19 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Royce O’Neale was the other starter to score in double figures and he finished the game with 11 points (4-6 FG, 2-4 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Jordan Clarkson chipped in nicely with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block off the bench. Eric Paschall (10) was the other Jazz player in double figures. Mike Conley finished the game with eight points (3-6 FG, 2-5 3PT), three rebounds, six assists, and one block.
Nikola Jokic won’t win MVP this season. The Nuggets are playing without their second and third best players and are unlikely to win enough games to afford him serious consideration in the race. However, everything about his performance this year screams that Nikola Jokic is one of the three to five best players in the NBA and that he’s well worthy of winning back to back MVPs. Last night’s performance only further solidified his stronghold on his place in the NBA’s upper echelon. He led the Nuggets in points, rebounds, and assists, and finished the game with 25 points (10-18, 2-5 3PT), 15 rebounds, 14 assists, and two steals. He recorded his triple-double before the third quarter ended. Four other Nuggets players scored in double figures. Aaron Gordon had a strong game, finishing the contest with 20 points (8-15 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Will Barton added 16 points (6-17 FG, 2-8 3PT), two rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Monte Morris tallied 13 points (6-13 FG, 2-18 3PT), six rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Bones Hyland also scored 13 points (5-14 FG, 3-10 3PT) and added two rebounds, three assists, and one block. It was a rough game for Jeff Green, who tallied just four points, three rebounds, and one assist.
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Phoenix Suns vs. Detroit Pistons
The Phoenix Suns continued what is becoming a near weekly tradition of dismantling rebuilding teams in the NBA’s Sunday matinee game. This time, they beat the baby-faced Pistons by a score of 135-108. The Suns have the best record in the Association and continue to look like the most competent, well-rounded team. Six Suns players scored in double figures headlined by Devin Booker, who finished the game with 30 points (11-18 FG, 1-5 3PT), four rebounds, and four assists. JaVale McGee added 20 points (9-10 FG), six rebounds, and one block, after taking over for Deandre Ayton, who left this game in the first quarter due to an ankle injury and never returned. Ayton played only seven minutes and was therefore only able to amass six points (3-3 FG), two assists, and one steal before suffering the ankle injury. Cam Payne scored an efficient 20 points (8-12 FG, 3-6 3PT) off the bench—reminiscent of his strong play last season—and added five rebounds and five assists. Chris Paul tallied 10 points (4-10 FG), six rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one block. Mikal Bridges also chipped in 10 points (4-10 FG, 2-6 3PT) and added three rebounds and four assists. Landry Shamet added 11 points and five assists. Jae Crowder nearly double-doubled, finishing the game with nine points (3-4 3PT), 11 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Jalen Smith has averaged about 15 minutes per game in the Suns last four contests. In other words, he’s still seeing some court time despite Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee both being healthy. I’m not sure this makes him viable in fantasy in anything but the deepest of leagues, but even with Bismack Biyombo on the roster, he should see a valuable increase in playing time if Ayton has to miss some games.
This defeat saw both Cade Cunningham and Josh Jackson ejected, but only Cunningham made strong use of use of his court time. Cunningham co-led the Pistons in scoring and finished the game with 21 points (9-15 FG, 1-3 3PT), one rebound, four assists, and one steal. Cory Joseph was the other Pistons player to tally 21 points (5-11 FG, 4-6 3PT) and he added two rebounds and seven assists to round out his stat line. Trey Lyles had a nice game, tallying 18 points (6-8 FG, 0-1 3PT), six rebounds, and two assists. Hamidou Diallo was the only other Pistons player to score in double figures and he finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, and one block. Killian Hayes finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, five assists, and one block. At this point in his career, Hayes appears to be a defense first, solid playmaking point-guard rather than the electric primary creator and scorer he was projected to be in the draft. It’s a less valuable archetype, but it is still a useful player, especially if he’s able to competently defend both guard positions and be a threat as a spacer. Right now, the defense is further along than the shooting, as Hayes is shooting just 30% from three on just under three attempts a game. Isaiah Stewart finished the game with five points, six rebounds, two assists, and one steal.
Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings
The Houston Rockets defeated the Sacramento Kings 118-112. It was a well-rounded performance from the beleaguered Rockets—all five starters and Garrison Mathews scored in double figures. Christian Wood co-led the Rockets in scoring and finished the game with 23 points (8-15, 3-7 3PT), 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block. This is the kind of well-rounded, energetic performance that could boost his trade value. Then again, they were playing the Kings. There’s no denying that Wood is a talented and highly-skilled big man, but it’s fair to wonder whether or not he’d be able to produce the same numbers in a winning environment or in the playoffs. There’s really only one way to find out for sure. Kevin Porter Jr. also tallied 23 points (6-12 FG, 5-9 3PT) and added four rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Jalen Green tallied 15 points (6-10 FG, 1-3 3PT), five rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon notched 15 points (6-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, and two assists. Gordon has played well this season and certainly looks capable of helping a contender in the playoffs. Jae’Sean Tate added 10 points (5-6 FG, 0-1 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Garrison Mathews chipped in 17 points and Kenyon Martin Jr. tallied nine points, five rebounds, and one assist. Alperen Sengun had a quiet night with just six points, two assists, and one block.
The Kings were without Tyrese Haliburton (health and safety protocols) in this game, but Richaun Holmes and Damian Jones did return to action. Marvin Bagley missed the game due to shoulder soreness and De’Aaron Fox was ejected in the fourth quarter for a flagrant-2 foul on Garrison Mathews. The Kings came back from down 15 early in the second quarter and took a lead into half-time, but were unable to seal the deal after leading by five early in the final period. Buddy Hield led the six Kings players in double figures with 27 points off the bench. He finished the game with 27 points (9-16 FG, 5-9 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, and four steals. Terence Davis started and finished the game with 17 points (6-14 FG, 2-10 3PT), six rebounds, five assists, and four steals. Davion Mitchell knocked down some shots and finished the game with 16 points (7-12 FG, 2-4 3PT), four rebounds, seven assist, and four steals. De’Aaron Fox tallied 14 points (6-12 FG, 1-2 3PT), three rebounds, and four assists before his ejection. Chimezie Metu finished the game with 14 points (6-14 FG, 1-6 3PT), seven rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Harrison Barnes tallied 12 points (2-7 FG, 1-5 3PT), two rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Richaun Holmes struggled with foul trouble and finished the game with just four points and one steal.
Golden State Warriors vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves comfortably beat the short-handed Golden State Warriors 119-99. It was a close game at the half and even through much of the third quarter, but the Wolves pulled away late in the third and went into the fourth quarter with an 91-81 lead. The Warriors were never really able to make it a game after that point. Five Wolves players scored in double figures, led by Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished the game with 26 points (11-20 FG, 1-6 3PT), 11 rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Jaylen Nowell tallied 17 points (6-9 FG, 3-5 3PT), two rebounds, and four assists. Malik Beasley added 16 points (5-10 FG, 5-9 3PT), two rebounds, and three assists. Patrick Beverley tallied 10 points (3-7 FG, 2-5 3PT), four rebounds, four assist, one steal, and one block. Jarred Vanderbilt also chipped in 10 points (5-5 FG) and added six rebounds, one assist, and one block. It was a quiet scoring night for both D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, who finished the game with nine points (3-8 FG, 2-4 3PT), one rebound, two assists, one steal, and one block. Russell finished the game with 7 points (2-9 FG, 0-5 3PT), three rebounds, 12 assists, and two steals. Jaden McDaniels added 9 points (4-12 FG, 1-5 3PT), 2 rebounds, one assist, two steals, and two blocks.
The Warriors loss to the Wolves drops their record to 31-12, 2.5 games back of the Phoenix Suns. Klay Thompson was the only member of the Warriors big three to play in this game as Steph Curry (hand) and Draymond Green (calf) sat out. However, it was Jordan Poole who led the Warriors in scoring. Poole finished the game with 20 points (5-13 FG, 3-7 3PT), four rebounds, and three assists. Like Thompson, Poole shot the ball poorly, but was able to boost his point total by going 7-7 from the free-throw line. Jonathan Kuminga had a second strong game in a row and finished the contest with 19 points (6-12 FG, 1-5 3PT, 6-10 FT), seven rebounds, and one assist. It’s unfair to Kuminga and the veteran champions on the Warriors roster to suggest that their ceiling depends on the rookie’s ascendence, BUT he simply provides an element of strength, speed, and downhill attacking that no other player on the Warriors roster can duplicate. His development gives them another athletic, 6’7″ player to throw into their closing lineup. He fits their defensive identity and could add some needed diversity to their offensive attack. He’s an obvious add in multi-season leagues. Injuries can happen and development can stall, but within the Warriors system and playing off Steph Curry’s gravity gives Kuminga serious impact potential. Klay Thompson continues to struggle from the field in his return to play, which should have been expected given his two year absence. Thompson finished the game with 13 points (5-14 FG, 3-8 3PT), four rebounds, two assist, and one steal. Andrew Wiggins added 12 points (4-11 FG, 2-6 3PT), two rebounds, four assists, and one block. You would have liked to see Wiggins have a bigger impact in a game that Steph Curry and Draymond Green missed, but alas this is the Wiggins experience. Otto Porter Jr., tallied 12 points (5-9 FG, 2-5 3PT), nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. Kevon Looney had a quiet scoring night but continued to do yeoman’s work on the boards. Looney finished the game with 4 points, 12 rebounds, two assist, and one steal.
The Warriors have been understandably hesitant to make a trade given the fact that they’re near the top of the NBA standings and are still working Thompson back into the rotation, but upgrading one or multiple of the Damion Lee, Nemanja Bjelica, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Chris Chiozza spots in the lineup seems prudent. I love Nemanja Bjelica‘s herky-jerky drive and kick game and his odd deep three-point shooting, but he gets attacked on the defensive end against good teams. You can of course play him with Draymond, but since his primary role is at backup center, you run into some issues. Juan Toscano-Anderson has the opposite problem, he’s a solid defender when he’s not fouling or over-rotating, but his reluctance to shoot open threes can sometimes stall the offense. Damion Lee is a solid player and a good shooter, but can also be exploited on the defensive end. In truth, the Warriors would probably have to give up one of their prized young players to make any meaningful improvements to their roster, which makes such a move unlikely given Joe Lacob’s commitment to the “win-now, develop-now philosophy.” Maybe Thompson eventual integration solves all of their recent offensive issues. If I’m being honest, I’d like to see Steph Curry hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy one more time and I’m concerned about some subtle signs of age related decline. Can the Warriors win it all without a traditional, wing-sized “go get a bucket guy.” Who makes the impossible, fallaway mid-range jumper you need to end a scoreless two-minute streak in a close game? Klay Thompson appears eager to fill that role since his return. Can Steph have a series-long heater from three-point range like Fred VanVleet did in the 2019 playoffs? Only time will tell, but I’d rather not be left wondering, “what if?”