Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs

The Sacramento Kings defeated the San Antonio Spurs 121-114 behind strong performances from Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. I love me some Tyrese Haliburton. With De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell in the NBA’s health and safety protocol, Haliburton has been handed the keys to the Kings’ offense and he’s put together strong performances in back-to-back games now. Haliburton had a double-double by halftime and finished this game with 27 points (12-19 FG, 3-5 3PT), four rebounds, 11 assists, and two steals. Haliburton’s off-kilter rhythm and unorthodox shooting stroke make him a fun watch and his defensive playmaking make him a reliable fantasy option in any format—bask in the glory if he’s on your roster. Buddy Hield was the other star of the night for the Kings. Hield scored 18 of his game-high 29 points (10-18 FG, 7-9 3PT) in the fourth quarter and finished this game with three rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Damian Jones scored a career-high 23 points and added eight rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Harrison Barnes rounds out the Kings’ top performers with 14 points (4-11 FG, 1-3 3PT), seven rebounds, and three assists.

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Spurs Notes

The Spurs scored the ball well in this game, but could not get enough stops to take home the win. This is a tough loss for a Spurs team that beat the Utah Jazz 128-126 in their previous game. Dejounte Murray led the charge for the Spurs in this game, as he’s done all season. Murray finished the game with 25 points (11-17 FG) seven rebounds, nine assists, and one steal. Murray was able to slither his way into the paint over and over, finishing above Kings defenders with a soft touch. Lonnie Walker IV added 19 points (8-16 FG, 3-4 3PT) and Bryn Forbes scored 18 points ( 7-12 FG, 4-8 3PT) off the Spurs bench. Keldon Johnson chipped in 16 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, and two steals. It befuddles me that a player as athletic as Johnson can’t record at least one steal a game—he’s currently averaging 0.9 steals a game—but alas. Devin Vassell finished this game with 11 points, two rebounds, one assist, and one block. After a run of strong play, Derrick White was incredibly quiet in this game, finishing the contest with just 5 points (2-8 FG, 0-3 3PT), one rebound, two assists, one steal, and one block. Over his last 10 games, however, White is averaging 17.7 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and nearly a block a game (0.9).

Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons defeated the Miami Heat 100-90 to end their 14-game losing streak. Saddiq Bey scored a game-high 26 points (7-13 FG, 3-6 3PT) and added four rebounds and two assists. Hamidou Diallo was the other unexpected star of this game for the Detroit Pistons. Diallo’s athleticism helped him repeatedly get into the paint, where he used his strength and touch to finish over Heat defenders. He scored 15 points (7-10 FG, 0-1 3PT), grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out two assists. Killian Hayes and Frank Jackson both scored in double figures, as well. Hayes, to my eye, still remains a long way away from being a meaningfully impactful offensive player in the NBA. He lacks the shake and burst needed to break the paint, nor is he a maestro as a ball-handler. Nonetheless, he appears to understand his limitations and rarely tries to do more than his skillset might allow. He finished the game with 11 points (3-7 FG, 1-3 3PT) two rebounds, one assist, and one steal. This was a disappointing game for Cade Cunningham, who was on the business end of much of Kyle Lowry’s dark arts foul drawing and he ultimately fouled out after being called for a charge with just over a minute left in the game. Cunningham finished the game with four points (2-4 FG, 0-2 3PT), three rebounds, 10 assists, and two steals.

Heat Notes

As a team, the Heat shot 63% (21-33) from the free-throw line and 30% (13-43) from the three-point line. The Pistons also outscored the Heat by 20 points in the paint. Without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin, and P.J.Tucker (whom they lost in the first half due to a knee injury) the Heat struggled to generate good offense. The flaws in Kyle Lowry‘s game at this point in his career showed up again last night. Lowry’s scoring, three-point shooting, and free-throw attempts are all down this season. He struggled to 19 points (3-12 FG, 2-9 3PT) in this game, but did add five rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal. Dewayne Dedmon, who’s been starting in place of the injured Adebayo, finished the game with 11 points (5-6 FG, 1-1 3PT), five rebounds, and two assists. Gabe Vincent cooled off after scoring a career-high 27 points against the Orlando Magic in the Heat’s previous game. He finished the matchup against the Pistons with eight points (3-11 FG, 1-6 3PT), three rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Max Strus was the Heat’s most reliable source of offense this game and played 33 minutes as a result. He finished the game with 24 points (7-16 FG, 4-11 3PT), four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Given all of the Heat’s injuries and Duncan Robinson’s occasional struggles shooting the ball, Strus should be a solid DFS play and a great option for points and threes in deeper season-long leagues right now. Speaking of Robinson, his substandard shooting this season continued last night, as he finished the game with just six points (2-11 FG, 2-10 3PT), three rebounds, and four assists. Robinson is shooting just 37% from three this season, which would be impressive for plenty of NBA players, but Robinson shot 47 and then 43% in his two previous seasons.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are showing some signs of life! The Blazers have now won two in a row after demolishing the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. Last night the Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 105-100, behind strong performances from Lillard and Norman Powell. Lillard finished the game with 32 points (9-19 FG, 3-9 3PT), five rebounds, five assists. At least a couple of Lillard’s five assists came on passes to Norman Powell for clutch baskets late in this game. Powell finished this game with 28 points (10-16 FG, 5-8 3PT), three rebounds, four assists, and one block. Nassir Little and Robert Covington were the other two Blazers in double figures. Little added nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks to go along with his 12 points (4-8 FG, 0-2 3PT). Covington finished the game with 13 points (5-7 FG, 3-5 3PT), eight rebounds, one steal, and four blocks. Covington has looked like a new man after being moved to the bench. Larry Nance Jr. is Covington’s replacement in the starting lineup and while he’s not shooting the ball well, he’s doing all of the other Larry Nance things fantasy managers have come to love. Nance finished this game with two points (1-3 FG, 0-1 3PT), 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks. This is a stat line I can get behind! I’ve written about the Nance vs Little battle, but maybe it’s possible for both players to thrive on this Blazers roster? Little will likely remain in the starting lineup once C.J. McCollum returns, but we’ve seen Nance perform extremely well in limited minutes before.

Grizzlies Notes

This loss snaps the Grizzlies’ five-game winning streak, but it’s only the team’s second loss in the last 12 games. Dillon Brooks was the go-to scorer for the Grizzlies in this game and he finished the contest with a career-high 37 points (12-25 FG, 4-10 FG), three rebounds, three assists, and one steal. The Grizzlies have been damn near dominant during Ja Morant’s absence, in large part because of their improved defense, but the strong play of Brooks and Desmond Bane has ensured that they score enough points to win games. Steven Adams finished this game with 13 points (5-8 FG), nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 11 points (3-6 FG, 0-2 3PT), two rebounds, one assist, and one block. Jackson has been inconsistently consistent this season—I know you’re thinking, what the hell does that mean!? Jackson’s numbers for the season are very similar to his three previous seasons, except he’s shooting the ball a little worse from three. He shot 28% from three in just 11 games last year, but he shot 35% as a rookie and 39% in his second season in the league. This season he’s at 33%. I’m not quite sure what to make of Jackson. He’s shown flashes of three-point shooting skill that have you wondering if he could be one of the best big man shooters to ever play the game. He can shoot the ball on the move, off the dribble, or while spotted up, but his best stretches have often been cut short due to injury. He’s stayed healthy this season but has been unable to improve his rebounding numbers, and his defensive impact ebbs and flows. Hopefully, there are higher highs and a more consistent floor in Jackson’s future. Kyle Anderson amassed 11 points (5-14 FG, 0-1 3PT), four rebounds, one assist, four steals, and one block. In a rare clunker, Bane finished this game with 9 points (4-12 FG, 1-8 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Chicago Bulls 

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 115-110 in DeMar DeRozan‘s return from two weeks in the health and safety protocols. DeRozan scored a game-high 38 points and knocked down a clutch mid-range jumper to put the Bulls up 111-110 with about a minute left in the game. DeRozan also knocked down two free throws to pad the Bulls’ lead on the next possession. DeRozan finished the game with 38 points (11-24 FG), four rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Nikola Vucevic finished the game with 19 points (8-17 FG, 3-6 3PT), 13 rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Lonzo Ball also scored 19 points (7-15 FG, 3-9 3PT), and added four rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. I don’t know if Chicago is Balls’ forever home in the NBA, but his fit with the current roster couldn’t be better. As a result, we get to enjoy watching Lonzo Ball do all the things he’s good at, rather than fretting over his specific limitations. Alex Caruso finished the game with 17 points (6-11 FG, 3-5 3PT), nine rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Coby White had another poor shooting game, but with LeBron tracking him and looking for one of his patterned chase-down blocks, White threw down a right-hand hammer. I don’t know if that counts as dunking on LeBron, but when he gets old, he should definitely spin the tale that way.

Lakers Notes

The Lakers came up short in this back and forth contest, dropping their record to 16-15. They’ve now lost two games in a row. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Isaiah Thomas all had strong games, however. James led the Lakers with 31 points (11-21 FG, 1-7 3PT), and added 14 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and two blocks. With Anthony Davis sidelined and the Lakers understanding they’re at their best when they play small, LeBron played some minutes at the center position and spent some time guarding Vucevic in this game. Usually, this sort of lineup adjustment is saved for the playoffs, but due to their slow start to the season and the lack of continuity and healthy players. The Lakers are squarely in uncharted waters this season. Russell Westbrook finished this game with 20 points (9-19 FG, 0-2 3PT), nine rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and two blocks, continuing his strong play of late. Carmelo Anthony added 21 points (7-17 FG, 5-12 3PT, five rebounds, one assist, two steals, and two blocks off the bench. In just his second game since being called up from the G-League, Isaiah Thomas tallied 13 points (5-11 FG, 3-7 3PT), two rebounds, and one assist. Trevor Ariza returned to action for the first time this season and put in just three points, one rebound, two assists, but I’m certain the Lakers are thankful for every healthy body.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Dallas Mavericks 111-105 last night, behind a balanced scoring attack that saw six players score in double figures. The win pushed the Timberwolves’ win streak to four games. Karl-Anthony Towns led the charge and finished the game with 24 points (6-15 FG, 1-3 3PT), seven rebounds, six assists, and one steal. D’Angelo Russell finished the game with 22 points (8-16 FG, 4-7 3PT), two rebounds, and three assists. Jaylen Nowell added 16 points (6-9 FG, 2-2 3PT), four rebounds, and three assists off the bench. Malik Beasley chipped in 13 points (4-13 FG, 4-12 3PT), one rebound, five assists, and one steal while starting in place of Anthony Edwards who’s in the health and safety protocols. Jaden McDaniels also scored 12 points off the bench, helping the Wolves bench outscore the Mavericks’ 36-17.  Patrick Beverley did his usual dirty work on defense and on the glass, finishing the game with 10 points (2-6 FG, 1-4 3PT), eight rebounds, four assists, one steal, and two blocks. Jarred Vanderbilt continues to rack up rebounds and defensive stats and he finished this game with 6 points (3-4 FG), 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block.

Mavericks Notes

The Mavericks have now lost two in a row and sit in 9th place in the Western Conference standings with a 14-15 record. The team continues to play without Luka Doncic due to his ankle injury and unfortunately lost Kristaps Porzingis to foot soreness in this game. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a game-high 28 points (10-19 FG, 4-13 3PT) as a starter, stepping in for Reggie Bullock who’s in the health and safety protocols. Hardaway Jr. also amassed six rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block. Dorian Finney-Smith continued his strong play of late and finished the game with 23 points (9-13 FG, 3-5 3PT), three rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Over his last five games, Finney-Smith is averaging 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, and one steal, with shooting splits of 47/40/83. Jalen Brunson‘s strong season continued in this game, as he finished with 18 points (6-13 FG, 2-5 3PT) two rebounds, and 11 assists as the fill-in starter for Doncic. Before he left the game, Porzingis tallied 13 points (2-9 FG, 0-2 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Maxi Kleber was a monster on the boards, finishing the game with six points (2-4 FG, 2-4 3PT), 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Charlotte Hornets vs. Phoenix Suns 

The Phoenix Suns made quick work of the Charlotte Hornets in Devin Booker‘s first game back after suffering a hamstring injury about two weeks ago, beating the Hornets 137-106. The Suns went up by 20 points early in the first quarter and lead by as many as 36 in this game. The Suns are now 24-5 and have the best record in the league, a half-game ahead of the Golden State Warriors. Nine Suns’ players scored in double figures last night, led by JaVale McGee‘s 19 points off the bench. McGee’s strong season in Phoenix continued in this game as he amassed 19 points (9-10 FG), seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Mikal Bridges finished the game with 16 points (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT), four rebounds, and five assists. Devin Booker also scored 16 points (6-15 FG, 4-8 3PT) and added six rebounds, five assists, and one rebound. Deandre Ayton finished the game with 15 points (6-10 FG), 15 rebounds, two assists, and three blocks. Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, and Landry Shamet rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Suns. It is often foolish to take too much away from any individual game over the course of a long NBA season, but this seems like a pretty clear indication that the Hornets are not in the Suns’ weight class, so to speak.

Hornets Notes

In a battle of the Bridges, Miles Bridges outscored Mikal, pouring in an efficient 26 points and adding five rebounds and two steals. Of course, his team took home a big fat L. Mikal wins by 5th round TKO. Bridges didn’t get a whole lot of help from his teammates in this one. Kelly Oubre Jr. finished the game with 18 points (6-15 FG, 1-7 3PT), five rebounds, and one steal. P.J. Washington added 13 points (4-13 FG, 2-9 3PT), one rebound, four assists, and two steals. Gordon Hayward finished the game with nine points (4-13 FG, 1-5 3PT), two rebounds, three assists, and one block. Jaden McDaniels added 10 points (2-5 FG, 1-2 3PT), three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. LaMelo Ball shot the ball quite poorly in this game, finishing with just nine points (2-12 FG, 1-6 3PT), but he did add 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and one block.

As someone who loves watching LaMelo Ball play basketball and therefore watches a lot of Hornets games, I’m tired of the team getting blowout because of an inability or unwillingness to defend. Mason Plumlee is not the long-term answer at center and despite his big-money contract, Gordon Hayward is probably the third-best player on this team behind Bridges and Ball. The Hornets are in danger of pigeonholing themselves in NBA limbo, the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity. Bridges is up for a new contract this offseason and I don’t see all that many ways for the front office to meaningfully improve this team without making a trade. Maybe it should be the case that everyone except Ball and Bridges is available for trade this season or in the offseason, but this should especially be the case for the unspectacular older veterans on the roster—Hayward and Plumlee. It’s unclear to me how rival general managers view those two players, but it makes sense to take a step back this season in order to reset the books and set the franchise up for success in the future. Even if you’re appalled or grossed out by talk of the salary cap and contracts, there are obvious on-court reasons to consider a trade. The Hornets, prior to this drubbing at the hands of the Suns, were 19th in the league in defensive rating. They’re now last in the league in defensive rating, just behind the noted defensive dumpster fire that is the Sacramento Kings. As they get further away from this game, the Hornets’ DRT should improve. But if they want to be anything more than a plucky play-in team every year they’re going to need to improve their defense, which will likely involve getting a more reliable starting center and moving away from such a turnover-dependent defensive scheme. To illustrate the point, the Hornets are 5th in the NBA in steals per game, 29th in opponent second-chance points, and 29th in opponent points in the paint.