Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic

After defeating the Orlando Magic 93-83 Sunday afternoon, the Miami Heat are now 11-5 without their starting center, Bam Adebayo. Many of those victories also came without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Assuming Butler can stay healthy going forward and Kyle Lowry can make a swift return from the NBA’s health and safety protocol, the Heat can begin their quest to move up the Eastern Conference standings.  They’re no doubt eying the Chicago Bulls who currently are second in the conference with a 19-10 record, due to some postponed games. However, even if the Heat is unable to move up from their current position in fourth place in the conference, their focus will be on health and continuity heading into the playoffs. They’ve gotten needed contributions from fringe players on the roster like Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Omer Yurtseven. The in-game reps these players have received over the past few weeks should only help them later in the season.

Sunday’s matchup against the Magic saw Jimmy Butler return to action for the first time since December 6th. Butler finished with 17 points (5-14 FG, 0-1 3PT), 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent each scored 13 points. Vincent finished added five rebounds and eight assists to go along with his 13 points. He provided the Heat with some needed ball-handling and playmaking in the wake of Kyle Lowry’s absence. Caleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven chipped in 17 and 16 points respectively. Martin was the most efficient Heat player in the game, finishing the contest with 17 points (7-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), five rebounds, one steal, and one block. Yurtseven got his first NBA start in this game after Dewayne Dedmon sprained his MCL in the Heat’s previous contest.  Yurtseven put up his fifth straight game with double-digit rebounds and tallied 16 points, 15 rebounds, and two assists, all told. Vincent, Yurtseven, and Strus should continue to be solid plays across multiple formats for as long as the Heat’s big guns are out. Tyler Herro played just 19 minutes in this game because he was ejected after picking up his second technical foul for vigorously protesting an offensive foul call in the third quarter. Herro received his first technical foul midway through the second quarter due to a dust-up with R.J. Hampton. Herro didn’t provide much as a scorer, but he did do a great job getting his teammates involved before his unceremonious exit. He finished the game with two points (1-5 FG, 0-1 3PT), two rebounds, eight assists, and one steal. Udonis Haslem also got 11 minutes of court time and scored an efficient eight points (4-8 FG), grabbed five rebounds, dished out one assist, and notched one steal. The Heat’s “OG” has been thrust into some recent playing time due to Miami’s Covid and injury-depleted roster. It should come as no surprise that the veteran culture setter for the Heat has stayed ready and provided some solid contributions in his limited playing time of late.

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Magic Notes

With this loss, the Orlando Magic fell to 7-27 on the season and 0-3 to the Heat. Like almost every team in the NBA, the Magic were missing a number of players due to injury and health and safety protocols. As a result, Gary Harris led the Magic in scoring with 20 points (7-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), adding three rebounds and one assist while R.J. Hampton showed some flashes of what made him an exciting prospect before he entered the NBA and finished the game with 14 points (6-14 FG, 2-7 3PT), one rebound, five assists, two steals, and one block. Maybe the Magic’s best young player, and certainly their best rookie, Franz Wagner finished the game with 13 points (4-11 FG, 1-1 3PT), two rebounds, one assist, and two steals. Wagner ran a number of pick-and-rolls throughout the game and played mostly as a point-forward, further demonstrating his skill and versatility. Hassani Gravett, one of the Magic’s four hardship signings, rounded out the team’s double-digit scorers with 12 points. Wendell Carter Jr. was mostly quiet in this game and finished with eight points (3-7 FG, 1-3 3PT), 14 rebounds, two assists, and six turnovers.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Sacramento Kings

The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Sacramento Kings 127-102 in Ja Morant‘s third game back from a knee injury. It was the first Grizzlies win with him back in the lineup. Although this game turned into an easy victory for the Grizzlies, the Kings were actually ahead 50-49 at the half. However, the Kings went cold as the Grizzlies turned up their defense and eventually started to score at will. They outpaced the Kings 72 to 36 in points in the paint and 35 to 14 in second-chance points. As he’s done much of the season, Desmond Bane led the Grizzlies in scoring with 28 points (11-19 FG, 4-6 3PT) and added four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one turnover. He and the rest of the Grizzlies took full advantage of the Kings’ subpar defense; seven Grizzlies players score in double figures. Jaren Jackson Jr. finished the game with 21 points (5-18 FG, 1-8 3PT), six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks. Jackson didn’t shoot the ball well, but he bullied his way into the paint and to the free-throw line (10-13 FT) to salvage a solid scoring line. Ja Morant finished the game with 18 points (8-18 FG, 0-3 3PT), seven rebounds, and nine assists. Kyle Anderson finished the game with 14 points (5-8 FG, 1-3 3PT), three rebounds, and three assists.  Brandon Clarke chipped in 14 points (5-6 FG), five rebounds, and two assists.

Kings Notes

The Kings have now lost three in a row and fallen to 12th in the Western Conference (13-21). De’Aaron Fox returned to action for the first time since December 15th (health and safety protocols). Five Kings’ players scored in double figures, led by Tyrese Haliburton, who finished the game with 18 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT) five rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and one block, ending his four-game run of double-digit assists. Although he didn’t shoot the ball extremely well, it was nice to see Haliburton still get a chance to run the offense at times. There have been a lot of words written about how Haliburton and Fox don’t fit together this season, hopefully, the two players can find a better balance of usage and responsibilities than they have for most of the year. Damian Jones, who has, confusingly, had a run of solid play recently, finished this game with 15 points (6-8 FG, 0-2 3PT), six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. However, he missed out on having a bigger game due to foul trouble. Fox threw down a monster slam in transition in this game, but otherwise, it was more of the same from him this season. He finished the game with 12 points (5-12 FG, 0-2 3PT), three rebounds, five assists, and seven turnovers. Harrison Barnes also scored 12 points (4-10 FG, 3-5 3PT) and added seven rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors

The Cleveland Cavaliers took home the lopsided victory, 144-99, in this matchup of mostly non-representative rosters. Both teams have been ravaged by Covid—especially the Raptors. This game will not be something “The North” wants to remember. As a result, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Dean Wade started alongside usual starters Lauri Markkanen and Darius Garland. All five starters and Denzel Valentine scored in double figures—good for Denzel Valentine, man! Love and Garland led the team in scoring, each tallying 22 points. Garland tallied four rebounds, eight assists, and two steals to go along with his 22 points (9-17 FG, 3-9 3PT). Love added nine rebounds, two assists, and one steal to go along with his 22 points (7-12 FG, 6-9 3PT). Markkanen finished the game with 20 points (9-13 FG, 1-3 3PT), seven rebounds, one assist, and one block. Ricky Rubio played well as a fill-in starter and finished the game with 16 points (6-13 FG, 2-6 3PT), two rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Valentine and Wade each scored 17 points. The Cavaliers had seven players sidelined, including centerpiece big men Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen.

Raptors Notes

The Raptors have 10 players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. As I said before, the Raptors may be the team hit the hardest in the league by the spread of Covid. The Raptors had their two previous games postponed because they were unable to suit up the required eight players. Their current eight-man active roster includes four hardship exemption signees—D.J. Wilson, Tremont Waters, Juwan Morgan, and Daniel Oturu—and had never before played together. Yuta Watanabe, D.J. Wilson, Chris Boucher, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Dalano Banton started for the Raptors in this game. Yuta Watanabe led the Raptors with 26 points (11-20 FG, 2-5 3PT), 13 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Boucher chipped in 21 points (6-19 FG, 2-10 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Wilson and Mykhailiuk also scored in double figures. Wilson poured in 15 (6-8 FG, 0-1 3PT) points and added eight rebounds, four assists, four steals, and one block. Mykhailiuk tallied 10 points (4-12 FG, 1-4 3PT), five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Washington Wizards 117-96, behind a strong performance from their superstar center, Joel Embiid, who did it all for the Sixers, finishing the game with 36 points (12-17 FG, 2-5 3PT), 13 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Tobias Harris added 23 points (10-16 FG), seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Furkan Korkmaz tallied 14 points (5-9 FG, 2-6 3PT) four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Tyrese Maxey and Georges Niang returned from health and safety protocols and Maxey proved to be a steadying force for the Sixers offense. He finished the game with 13 points (5-11 FG, 1-2 3PT), three rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers. Seth Curry didn’t shoot the ball well, but picked up the playmaking slack, finishing the game with 11 points (4-14 FG, 3-8 3PT) five rebounds, and nine assists.  The 76ers are now 17-16 and sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Wizards Notes

After this loss, the Wizards are also 17-16. They played this game without their leading scorer, Bradley Beal, who remains in health and safety protocols. Spencer Dinwiddie led the Wizards in scoring with 17 points (6-13 FG, 2-5 3PT) and added three rebounds and six assists. Montrezl Harrell tallied 17 points (4-7 FG, 0-1 3PT), four rebounds, three assists, and one steal before being ejected after picking up two technical fouls in separate entanglements with Joel Embiid. Kyle Kuzma finished the game with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Deni Avdija continues to tantalize with his still raw, but intriguing all-around game. He finished this contest with nine points (4-19 FG, 1-4 3PT), nine rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Even when the Wizards are a solid respectable basketball team, like this season, it happens in the strangest ways. Dinwiddie and Beal are underperforming expectations, Kuzma is rebounding at a career-best rate, and Davis Bertans still can’t buy a basket. Riu Hachimura still hasn’t played? They’ve got a lot of solid players and they’re getting the job done. Despite the fact that the Wizards haven’t been decimated by Covid as they were last season, this team may be the quintessential #2021 team in the NBA.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The last time these two teams matched up, the game ended like this:

This game unfolded in much more traditional fashion, as the Thunder beat the Pelicans 117-112, ending the Pelicans’ four-game winning streak. On the night Shai Gilgeous-Alexander passed James Harden to move into 41st place on the Thunder’s all-time scoring list, he poured in 31 points (11-20 FG, 1-5 3PT) and added four rebounds, five assists, one steal, and three blocks. Rookie Aaron Wiggins tallied 24 points (8-10 FG, 2-4 3PT), six rebounds, and one assist. Lugentz Dort finished the game with 13 points (5-14 FG, 1-7 3PT), two rebounds, one assist, and four steals. Dort’s made three early in the first quarter extended his consecutive games with at least one three made to 44. The record is 157 consecutive games with at least one made three, owned by Steph Curry, which he might soon break. Good luck with that Lugentz! Jeremiah Robinson-Earl added 15 points (5-9 FG, 3-6 3PT), seven rebounds, and one assist. Josh Giddey had the most interesting stat line on the night, however, finishing the game with zero points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and one block. It’s not every day you see a stat line that, especially from a guard.

Pelicans Notes

The Pelicans had their wings clipped early in this game as Brandon Ingram played just eight minutes and left the game due to Achilles soreness. Nonetheless, the Pelicans put up a valiant fight, even taking a 92-91 lead with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Playing without Jonas Valanciunas, the Pelicans were led by Josh Hart, who scored 29 points (10-17 FG, 3-7 3PT), grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out four assists, swiped three steals, and blocked one shot. Garrett Temple scored 22 points after replacing Brandon Ingram. Devonte’ Graham notched 15 points (5-13 FG, 3-8 3PT), two rebounds, eight assists, and one steal.  Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez, and Herbert Jones all scored in double figures as well. Hayes finished the game with 15 points (5-9 FG, 0-1 3PT), six rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Jones finished the game with 15 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. If the jumper ever starts to fall on a higher volume of attempts, or the Pelicans ever improve their defense, Jones could be another defensive-minded per-minute star in the mold of players like De’Anthony Melton and Jarred Vanderbilt. Hernangomez tallied 14 points (4-8 FG), six rebounds, and two assists.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons

The Spurs beat the undermanned Pistons 144-109, to win their third game in a row. The victory moved them into 10th place in the Western Conference with a 14-18 record. The Spurs led by as many as 30 points in the first half and scored 72 points in the paint on the night. Keldon Johnson led the Spurs in scoring with 27 points ( 10-12 FG, 4-4 3PT) and added five rebounds and one assist. Four other Spurs players scored in double figures. Reserve center, Jock Landade scored 18 points, and starting center Jakob Poetl finished the game with 14 points (7-8 FG), four rebounds, and two assists. Doug McDermott tallied 13 points (5-10 FG, 3-5 3PT), three rebounds, and three assists. Keita Bates-Diop notched 10 points (3-4 FG), six rebounds, and two assists. Derrick White scored just eight points (1-3 FG) but grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out three assists, and tallied one steal. Dejounte Murray missed this game due to being placed in health and safety protocols.

Pistons Notes

The Pistons had five players in health and safety protocols including Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, and Cade Cunningham. They were no match for a resurgent, mostly healthy Spurs team, but on the bright side, Hamidou Diallo‘s hot streak continued. Diallo finished the game with 28 points (13-19 FG, 1-2 3PT), three rebounds, two assists, three steals, one block, and seven turnovers. Saddiq Bey scored an inefficient 23 points, a far too common occurrence this season as he’s shooting 36.7% from the field on the year. Luka Garza got the start and tallied 20 points (7-14 FG, 2-5 3PT), six rebounds, and two assists. Frank Jackson chipped in 17 points (7-19 FG, 2-5 3PT) two rebounds, two assists, and one steal.

Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers

The Bulls beat the Pacers 113-105, in Zach LaVine‘s return from health and safety protocols. While Lavine returned, Lonzo Ball, Tony Bradley, Alfonso Mckinnie, and head coach Billy Donovan missed the game due to health and safety protocols. The Bulls are second in the Eastern Conference with a 20-10 record after having three recent games postponed. Though the postponements help, they’ve done a masterful job, staying afloat with so many of their players in and out of health and safety protocols. LaVine led the Bulls in scoring with 32 points ( 12-18 FG, 5-9 3PT) and rounded out his stat line with four rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. DeMar DeRozan continued his strong play this season and finished the game with 24 points (9-20 FG, 1-1 3PT) three rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Nikola Vucevic chipped in 16 points (7-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks. Javonte Green rounded out the double-digit scorers with 13 points (4-4 FG, 1-1 3PT), four rebounds, and one assist. The Bulls were also without Alex Caruso and Derrick Jones Jr. due to injury.

Pacers Notes

With this loss, the Pacers have fallen to 14-20, 13th in the Eastern Conference. While the Pacers have had to deal with some Covid absences, it has largely been injuries that have kept their players off the court, as has been the case in recent seasons. That trend continued in this game, as the team was without Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles) and Jeremy Lamb (wrist). Caris LeVert led the Pacers with 27 points (9-22 FG, 3-10 3PT), four rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block, and just one turnover. Myles Turner chipped in 19 points (9-18 FG, 0-4 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks. Chris Duarte finished the game with 16 points (7-14 FG, 2-4 3PT), five rebounds, one assist, and two steals. Domantas Sabonis was a beast on the boards, notching a double-double with 14 points (5-17 FG, 0-1 3PT), 16 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Justin Holiday added 10 points (4-7 FG, 2-4 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Nearly every matchup in the NBA right now is a battle of the walking wounded and Covid depleted, but this seems especially true for the Denver Nuggets who are missing two of their three best players, potentially for the season. Jamal Murray hasn’t played this year as he recovers from an ACL tear and Michael Porter Jr. recently had back surgery that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Aaron Gordon also missed this game due to hamstring soreness. Austin Rivers had been mostly out of the lineup due to health and safety protocols prior to the Nuggets’ last four games. And Bones Hyland, the team’s sparkplug rookie, has been battling ankle injuries. Despite all of that, the Nuggets managed to defeat the Clippers (injured and incomplete due to Covid themselves) 100-103 in a nail-biter. It required some lockdown defense on the part of hardship signee and former Miami Hurricane, Davon Reed, on the game’s final possession for the Nuggets to secure the victory. But make no mistake, as has been the case for just about every Nuggets win this season, Nikola Jokic‘s all-around brilliance propelled the team to victory. Jokic notched his second 20-20 outing in as many games. He finished the game with 26 points (9-24 FG, 1-3 3PT) 22 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and two blocks. Jokic is unlikely to win league MVP again this year, due to his team’s pedestrian record, but everything about his play this season has been MVP worthy. Will Barton added 17 points (7-18 FG, 2-9 3PT), four rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Davon Reed—FROM THE U!— provided the Nuggets with some needed energy and toughness defensively and finished the game with 15 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 3PT), two rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Austin Rivers and Monte Morris each chipped in 12 points.

Clippers Notes

The Clippers came up short in this one, without Paul George (right elbow UCL tear), Isiah Hartentsteain (left ankle sprain), Reggie Jackson (protocols), Marcus Morris (conditioning and exiting protocols). Nevertheless, the Clippers found just enough production to make this a game. Starter Eric Bledsoe and reserve rookie Brandon Boston Jr. co-led the team in scoring with 18 points. Bledsoe finished the game with 18 points (8-17 FG, 1-2 3PT), two rebounds, 10 assists, five steals, and two blocks. Boston Jr. finished the game with 18 points 6-15 FG, 2-5 3PT), three rebounds, and two assists. It was Boston who was unable to create sufficient space and had to throw up a heavily contested three on the game’s final possession. Ivica Zubac, steady-Eddie that he is, added 17 points (7-8 FG), 11 rebounds, one steal, and three blocks. Serge Ibaka, seeing minutes with Hartenstein and others injured, chipped in 10 points (4-6 FG, 1-2 3PT), six rebounds, three assists, and one block. Terance Mann played his usual all-around game and finished the contest with 11 points (5-11 FG, 1-1 3PT), seven rebounds, and eight assists.

Get well and stay well, everybody!