Orlando Magic vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Orlando Magic beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-108 in a nailbiter in the sunshine state. The vaunted Mavericks defense posed only so much resistance as seven Magic players scored in double figures, led by Chuma Okeke off the bench. Okeke finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Franz Wagner finished the game with 18 points, two rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Cole Anthony tallied 16 points, four rebounds, and six assists. Wendell Carter Jr. notched a double-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Moritz Wagner tallied 14 points, four rebounds, and two assists off the bench. The last time these two teams played Mo Wagner and Luka Doncic got into a bit of a curfuffle. Wagner has an earned reputation as an irritant and Luka did not forget their exchange. He spent much of the first half talking trash to Wagner, growing bolder and bolder every time a Mavericks player scored on the German. However, later in the game, the Magic seemed to make point of involving Luka in the action when the Mavericks were on defense. Wagner rolled to a number of dunks in pick and roll action with Luka guarding Wagner or in the vicinity as a help defender. With the victory, it was Wagner who got the last laugh, at least for now. Mo Bamba and Gary Harris each scored 10 points.
Luka Doncic looks to be all the way back to his best self and he had another strong game in this matchup. He did a little messing around and finished the game with 34 points (13-22 FG, 4-9 3PT), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and one steal–though he did tally six turnovers. Jalen Brunson finished the game with 15 points (6-11 FG, 2-3 3PT), four rebounds, and two assists. Marquese Chriss, who signed a two-year deal with the Mavericks about two weeks ago, notched 14 points (6-12 FG, 0-2 3PT), four rebounds, one assist, four steals, and two blocks. Dwight Powell played 21 minutes, while Chriss played just under 19 minutes. The divvying up of minutes at the center position is something to monitor. Kristaps Porzingis is currently sidelined, providing more runway for both players, but one wonders if Chriss can overtake Powell in the rotation. Josh Green (11), Dorian Finney-Smith (10), and Reggie Bullock (10) also scored in double figures.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The Atlanta Hawks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 129-121 to secure their seventh straight victory. The Hawks are now the tenth seed in the Eastern Conference and only three games back of the Charlotte Hornets in the seventh seed. After the Hawks turned in a strong defensive performance in a Friday night victory, where they held the Boston Celtics to just 92 points, they were forced to outscore the red hot Lakers in this game. The Hawks were led by Trae Young, who finished the afternoon with a game-high 36 points ( 12-22 FG, 4-10 3PT) and added five rebounds, and 12 assists. His stellar performance did include six turnovers, however. John Collins also had a strong game, posting a final stat line of 20 points (10-13 FG, 0-1 3PT), 11 rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Clint Capela added 15 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, of his own. Of note, Capela played just under 24 minutes and his sophomore backup played just over 22 minutes. If the center minutes are being split up in this fashion Onyeka Okongwu has massive value, especially in deeper leagues. Okongwu finished the game with 16 points, five rebounds, and one steal. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, and one steal in just his third game back after missing five games due to knee issues.
The Lakers shot 54% from the field in this game. Unfortunately for them, the Hawks shot 58% from the field. Malik Monk fell short in the battle against Trae Young, but he had his moments—both players exchanged pullup, stepback threes in each other’s faces throughout the game. Monk finished the game with a team-high 33 points (12-19 FG, 8-14 3PT), 10 rebounds, and five assists. Anthony Davis had a nice game after sitting out the Lakers’ previous game against the Charlotte Hornets with a wrist injury. Davis finished this game with 27 points (10-20 FG, 1-3 3PT), five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. Russell Westbrook was also efficient and effective in this game. He finished the contest with 20 points (8-15 FG, 2-4 3PT), seven rebounds, 12 assists, and one steal. Westbrook can’t seem to avoid the turnovers, but he’s played better in recent games. In the Lakers’ last five games Westbrook is averaging 22.8 points, six rebounds, and six assists, with shooting splits of 54/36/70. The shooting percentages and points per game are all higher than his season averages. Carmelo Anthony (11) and Stanley Johnson (10) also scored in double figures. LeBron James missed his third straight game with left knee soreness.
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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Charlotte Hornets
The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Charlotte Hornets 115-90 and we co-led in scoring by Reggie Jackson and rookie Brandon Boston Jr. Jackson finished the game with 19 points, four rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Boston Jr. finished the game with 19 points (8-14 FG, 1-3 3PT), five rebounds, and two assists. Boston looked surprisingly comfortable operating out of the pick and roll and pulling up from midrange. It was a balanced scoring attack with three other Clippers finishing the game in double digits. Marcus Morris Sr. tallied 16 points, three rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Luke Kennard added 14 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Finally, Justise Winslow finished the game with 13 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and three blocks. Ivica Zubac did not reach 10 points, but he did finish the game with seven points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and one block. After a slow start, Zubac has rounded into form rather nicely this season.
The loss to the Clippers snaps a two-game winning streak for the Hornets and puts the streaking Atlanta Hawks hot on their heels in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hawks may very well be able to sneak into the sixth seed, overtaking the Brooklyn Nets while Kevin Durant is sidelined due to injury. Though they are currently just two games back of the sixth seed, I’m not all that confident that the Hornets could manage such a feat, especially with Gordon Hayward (foot), Kelly Oubre (ankle), and Jalen McDaniels (ankle) all sidelined at the moment. The Buzz City crew would do well to hold on to the seventh or eighth seed, however. In a game where six Hornets’ players scored in double figures, LaMelo Ball led the way with 23 points (8-19 FG, 1-6 3PT), six rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal. After shooting 40% from three for much of the season, Ball is all the way down to 35% from deep—likely the fate sealing dampener on his All-Star game chances. It’s not all bad, however, over his last five games Ball is averaging 23 points and six free-throw attempts a game. For the season, he’s averaging 19 points and just 3 free-throw attempts a game. Getting to the free-throw line with increased frequency would be important for Ball’s long-term improvement and a necessary and effective counter to his current shooting regression. Miles Bridges added 18 points (6-19 FG, 0-6 3PT), nine rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks. Mason Plumlee tallied 10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Terry Rozier finished the game with 10 points (4-14 FG, 2-6 3PT), five rebounds, and three assists. James Bouknight and P.J. Washington also scored exactly 10 points. Bouknight has played double-digit minutes in four out of the last five games and he’s averaged 18 minutes a game during that same stretch.
Chicago Bulls vs. Portland Trail Blazers
The Chicago Bulls defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 130-116, behind a balanced scoring attack that saw four starters score in double figures. Nikola Vucevic led the charge for the Bulls with 24 points (11-15 FG, 1-2 3PT), 14 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block. DeMar DeRozan added 23 points (9-13 FG, 1-1 3PT), four rebounds, 10 assists, and two steals. DeRozan’s fantastic season continues and with both Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out of the lineup he took on more of a playmaking role in this game. Zach LaVine tallied 20 points (7-18 FG, 3-9 3PT), two rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Coby White added 18 points, three rebounds, and six assist off the bench and Javonte Green chipped in with 16 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block as a fill-in starter. Ayo Dosunmu was the only starter not to score in double figures, but he did tally seven points, six rebounds, a career-high 11 assists, and two steals. The rookie has been one of the more reliable contributors for the Bulls and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t keep up this solid versatile play for the rest of the season. Tony Bradley, the only other Bull to score in double figures, tallied 10 points, six rebounds, and three steals.
Portland Trail Blazers
As evident by the final score, the Blazers had a strong offensive night, but they just couldn’t get enough stops to come away with the victory. The Bulls outscored them 52-38 in the paint and though the Blazers shot 51% from the field, the Bulls shot 55%. They also turned the ball over 12 times to just seven for the Bulls. CJ McCollum led the way for the Blazers, finishing the game with 29 points (13-23 FG, 2-7 3PT), five rebounds, and four assists. McCollum has played well since returning from a collapsed lung. Norman Powell added 22 points (7-10 FG, 5-6 3PT), four rebounds, and one assist. Anfernee Simons tallied 21 points (7-18 FG, 5-10 3PT), three rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Jusuf Nurkic, who I’ve maligned plenty this season, didn’t have a spectacular game, but he has been playing well of late. He finished the game with 11 points, four rebounds, and one assist. Robert Covington also tallied 11 points and added seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Trendon Watford (10) was the other Blazers player in double figures. The Blazers are playing quite shorthanded with Damian Lillard (abdominal surgery), Larry Nance (right knee bone bruise), Cody Zeller (patellar), and Nassir Little (left shoulder labral tear) all out. Little’s injury immediately ends all the positive momentum he built up this season, but he should nonetheless be a reliable rotation piece for the Blazers next season.
Detroit Pistons vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Detroit Pistons executed an impressive comeback victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers by a score of 115-105. The Pistons trailed the entire game until there were about five minutes left in the fourth quarter when they secured a 99-98 lead. They never trailed the rest of the way. Saddiq Bey scored a game-high 31 points (11-20 FG, 3-9 3PT) and added one rebound, three assists, one steal, and one block. Cade Cunningham was 0-7 from the field in the first quarter, but was 6-11 in the second half and finished the game with 19 points (6-21 FG, 2-4 3PT), 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and one block. Cunningham seems to be improving week to week and, in games I’ve watched, he has a flair for the dramatic. He routinely hits timely buckets and makes big plays on the defensive end late in games. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, for example, he was blocked by Dean Wade on a turnaround jumper in this game and he’s not particularly explosive when he attempts to finish at the rim, but his shooting, playmaking, and feel for the game should allow him to solve all kinds of problems and make steady improvements as his career progresses. Frank Jackson tallied 19 points (7-10 FG, 3-6 3PT), three rebounds, and one assist. Isaiah Stewart finished the game with 14 points (7-12 FG), 12 rebounds, and one assist. Trey Lyles added 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks. Lyles had a nice game and was involved in a number of important plays down the stretch, but I’m appalled by the fact the referees fall for his head-snap foul-drawing technique. Derrick Rose mastered this in 2010, then James Harden re-mixed it and played it out so hard the league changed the rules. And in terms of acting prowess, Lyles is so many rungs below those elite perpetrators, and yet, it’s working! Make it make sense!?
The Cavaliers were never ever to regain control of the game after losing their twelve-point lead in the third quarter. They stopped scoring and struggled to get stopped and the offensive flow seemed to break down. The lack of another reliable perimeter playmaker alongside Darius Garland reared its ugly head in this game. Garland led the Cavs in scoring, finishing the game with 24 points (9-18 FG, 5-10 3PT), four rebounds, and seven assists. Evan Mobley added 18 points (7-12 FG, 0-1 3PT), nine rebounds, two assists, and three blocks. Jarret Allen tallied 15 points (4-11 FG, 0-1 3PT), nine rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Mobley and Allen were unable to put their stamp on this game once the Pistons took the lead in the fourth quarter. Dean Wade, who started for Lauri Markkanen, finished the game with 14 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Cedi Osman (13) also scored in double figures.
Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Denver Nuggets defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 136-100, behind strong performances from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic. Gordon finished the game with 24 points (10-17 FG, 4-8 3PT), seven rebounds, one steal, and one block. Jokic tallied 18 points, nine rebounds, 15 assists, three steals, and one block. Monte Morris finished the game with 18 points (7-8 FG, 4-5 3PT), two rebounds, and seven assists. Morris has been a solid option for low-end, steady production at the point guard position with minimal turnovers all year. You’d have to expect to see his playing time and role diminished whenever Jamal Murray returns, but that return might be after most fantasy seasons are over. Morris is definitely rosterable in 14-team leagues and should be a solid streaming option in smaller leagues. Will Barton added 15 points, three rebounds, five assists, and one block. Bones Hyland added 13 points, five rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Bryn Forbes also scored in double figures, tallying 14 points.
I’m not yet worried about the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, but these sorts of losses do give you pause. Nikola Jokic is a legitimate MVP candidate and in the middle of maybe the best season of his career, so there’s no shame in losing to any team led by the Joker. However, the Nuggets’ second and third-best players are injured and they typically are lost without Jokic on the floor. A loss like this and other losses to teams like the Charlotte Hornets, and especially the Detroit Pistons, leave you wondering: How vulnerable are the Bucks with Brook Lopez sidelined? Can they win another title if they don’t find a reliable replacement for Lopez? Maybe the dog days of the pre-All-Star break regular season are to blame and there’s nothing else to it. It would be nice not to have to play the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, however. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks, finishing the game with 29 points (9-19 FG, 1-5 3PT), nine rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. Jrue Holiday added 14 points (6-9 FG, 1-4 3PT) five rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and one block. Bobby Portis tallied 11 points and five rebounds and Grayson Allen notched 11 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Khris Middleton failed to score in double digits, finishing the game with 9 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.
Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Phoenix Suns overcame a 12-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 115-110. Usually, the Suns spend their Sundays blowing out inferior teams, but the Spurs gave them all they could handle in this one. Devin Booker scored a game-high 28 points (12-24 FG, 4-9 3PT) and added four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Mikal Bridges added 26 points (11-16 FG, 2-5 3PT), eight rebounds, one assist, and one block. Chris Paul finished the game with 20 points (9-16 FG 1-3 3PT), eight rebounds, 19 assists, one steal, and one block. Cameron Johnson tallied 11 points (5-10 FG, 1-5 3PT), four rebounds, and one assist. Johnson’s night also included a thunderous dunk. Bismack Biyombo started and finished the game with 10 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, and one block. Biyombo has been the better streaming option with Ayton sidelined, as he played 22 minutes to JaVale McGee’s 14. Biyombo is averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, and one block, while shooting 61% from the field in his last five games. Though it should be noted that the Suns played much of clutch time in this game without either big man on the floor. Ish Wainright also scored in double figures and he was the center option for some of the Suns’ late-game centerless minutes. He finished the game with 10 points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks.
They say there are no moral victories in sports, but I’m not quite sure that’s true. Though they fell short of victory in a game they led most of the way and by as many as 12 points early in the fourth quarter, there were a number of positive signs in this defeat. Doug McDermott had a strong performance, finishing the game with 24 points (9-15 FG, 6-9 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Lonnie Walker notched 22 points (10-21 FG, 0-5 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, and two steals off the bench in this game. I’d love to see Walker get a fat check this summer and then light it up as a sixth man on a more exciting team than this version of the Spurs—sorry San Antonio. I would not be surprised if Walker experienced a Jordan Clarkson-type glow-up, in the right situation. It’s also possible he never shoots the three-pointer well enough to experience such a glow-up, but I’m hoping! Keldon Johnson tallied 16 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Tre Jones finished the game with 15 points, three rebounds, and nine assists as a fill-in starter. Rookie Josh Primo also had a solid game, notching 13 points, three rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. The Spurs were without three starters—Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Utah Jazz
The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the short-hand Utah Jazz 126-106, behind yet another strong Karl-Anthony Towns performance. Towns finished the game with his second career triple-double, tallying 31 points (10-17 FG, 3-4 3PT), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and two steals. Towns is a deserving All-Star and one of the best offensive big men in the game. He’s not as good as Nikola Jokic, or Joel Embiid, but there are few other centers who are capable of blending size and skill the way he does. Jaden McDaniels was perfect from the floor as he tallied 22 points (9-9 FG, 3-3 3PT), two rebounds, and four assists off the bench. Anthony Edwards notched 15 points (6-16 FG, 2-9 3PT), three rebounds, four assists, and one steal. If you watch the highlights of this game you’ll see a number of strong Edwards drives and a couple of canned three-pointers You won’t see the ten missed shots (six missed threes). Both are a part of Edwards’ story. He needs to continue to refine his shot selection, improve his feel as a scorer and playmaker, and draw more fouls. Nonetheless, it does feel like Edwards’ drive game is growing and improving. In his last five games, he’s averaging 26 points and shooting six free throws a game. For the season, he averages 22 points and shoots just under four free throws a game. Assuming that Edwards’ passing skills will be slower to develop, his ability to score efficiently at the basket and at the free-throw line are the skeleton keys to improving his efficiency. Jarred Vanderbilt finished the game with five points, nine rebounds, one assist, two steals, and two blocks. Jordan McLaughlin (12), Jaylen Nowell (10), and Taurean Prince (10) also scored in double figures.
The Jazz aren’t a very good team when they’re missing their two best players, few teams are. Not everyone can be the Miami Heat. That was the situation in this game as both Donovan Mitchell (concussion) and Rudy Gobert (calf) and head coach Quin Snyder (covid protocols) were all sidelined. During the game, Joe Ingles appeared to suffer a serious left knee injury. Bojan Bogdanovic led the Jazz in scoring with 23 points (7-11 FG, 4-5 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Mike Conley added 22 points (8-17 FG, 3-4 3PT), four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Jordan Clarkson chipped in 17 points (5-13 FG, 2-9 3PT), two rebounds, five assists, and one steal off the bench. No other Jazz player scored in double figures, but Royce O’Neale, Jared Butler, and Eric Paschall each tallied nine points. Hassan Whiteside added seven points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. The Jazz’s hot start this season has softened the blow of this current five-game losing streak, but there has to be some concern. Both concussion and calf injuries are tricky. If Ingles is out for the rest of the season, what do the Jazz do next? Does that make a trade more or less likely? I imagine something drastic would have to happen for the Jazz to start shifting their focus to future seasons. The age and experience of the group mean they’ve got to be pushing for a championship even if all they have is a puncher’s chance. Hopefully, Mitchell and Gobert can return and help right the ship as soon as possible.