San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 114-116 on Sunday night, making them 3-3 since LeBron James has been sidelined due to an abdominal injury. None of the victories have been particularly impressive, but they’re doing what they need to do—staying afloat until they get healthy. After a lackluster performance that led to a 24-point loss to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves in their previous contest, Anthony Davis set the tone early for the purple and gold in this game. Davis had 19 points (8-10 FG) in the first quarter and finished the game with 32 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and one block. It was the kind of dominating performance the Lakers will need in James’ absence as well as when he returns if the Lakers have any hope of achieving their championship goals. This game also saw Talen Horton-Tucker return from injury, pushing Kent Bazemore all the way out of the starting lineup and into a DNP (Coach’s Decision). Horton-Tucker had a solid game with 17 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Carmelo Anthony continues to shoot the ball well at home and he received a surprise start in this game. He finished the contest with 15 points (5-7 FG, 2-3 3PT) and five rebounds. He’s still shooting a ridiculous 47.3% from three on the season and an even more ridiculous 56% from three at home. Finally, Russell Westbrook had a quiet, efficient night for the Lakers. I might contend that quiet and efficient should be the goal for most of Westbrook’s contest given his rocky start to the season, but that’s a conversation for another day. Westbrook finished the game with 14 points (5-11 FG, 3-5 3PT), 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and seven turnovers.

The San Antonio Spurs are now 4-9 on the season and 13th in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Zionless New Orleans Pelicans and overwhelmingly young Houston Rockets. The Spurs’ poor win-loss record isn’t that much of a surprise, as they are quietly in rebuilding mode. But the question is becoming—how long will this rebuild have to last? That said, the Spurs are not without glimmers of hope. First, Keldon Johnson has increased his usage and scoring while maintaining similar efficiency. He’s averaging 16 points a game this season and had a strong performance against the Lakers, finishing the game with 24 points (9-18 FG 6-9 3PT), six rebounds, and two assists. Johnson looks like a player on the rise, but he’s also got the skillset to slot into a smaller role on better teams if the Spurs can manage to improve in the coming seasons. Dejounte Murray is having an underrated season as well, averaging 18 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and 0.5 blocks. Murray messed around and got a triple-double against the Lakers, finishing the game with 22 points (9-20 FG, 2-5 3PT), 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and one block. Thaddeus Young continues to age like fine wine, providing the Spurs with some necessary playmaking and veteran know-how. He finished the game with 17 points (8-14 FG), nine rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Unlike his backcourt mate, Derrick White is not having a strong start to the season. White can provide fantasy managers with solid defensive production including a fair share of out-of-position blocks, but he’s simply not making shots at a rate commensurate with his experience and skill level. On the season he’s averaging 10.8 points (38.1% FG, 31.1% 3PT), three rebounds, five assists, one steal, and 0.9 blocks a game. The subpar shooting continued for White in this game, as he ended the game with just 10 points (4-10 FG, 2-7 3PT), three rebounds, five assists, and two steals.

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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-100 to snap a six-game losing streak. The Hawks are no doubt hoping this is the start of their climb up the Eastern Conference standings, as their 5-9 record has them in 13th place at the moment. As usual, the Hawks go as Trae Young goes and Young was electric and efficient in this game. He finished the night with a near triple-double—42 points (16-26 FG, 8-13 3PT), eight rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal. The 13 three-point attempts might be the most encouraging sign for Young and fantasy managers. Young is averaging six three-point attempts a game, as he did last season, but he averaged nine attempts a game in his second season. It’s curious and confusing that Young is taking fewer threes as pretty much every team and player in the league takes more. John Collins had an efficient game to complement Young’s maestro performance, finishing with 19 points (8-15 FG, 0-2 3PT), six rebounds, one assist, and one block. Young and Collins have been the only consistent bright spots for the Hawks this season, but they were joined on the positive side of the ledger by Clint Capela on Sunday night. Capela had a steady and active game, finishing with 12 points (6-10 FG), 13 rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Capela was a huge part of the Hawks’ success last season, on both the offensive and defensive end. They’ll need him to return to form to be at their best.

The Milwaukee Bucks continue to struggle in the early part of the 2021-2022 season. They’ve been hit hard by injuries and a Khris Middleton Covid absence, therefore I’m not ready to lower my expectations for them just yet. Middleton is expected to return to action Wednesday night, but Brook Lopez remains without a clear timeline. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to action against the Hawks after missing the Bucks’ previous game with an ankle sprain. It was just a decent game for Giannis on Sunday night, as he tallied 26 points (9-21 FG, 1-5 3PT), five rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one block. Giannis will certainly be happy to see Middleton return to the lineup and take some offensive responsibilities off his shoulders. Grayson Allen continues to shoot the ball well and finished this game with 18 points (7-11 FG, 4-7 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Pat Connaughton also scored in double figures. Holiday finished the game with 19 points (8-17 FG, 1-4 3PT), one rebound, eight assists, two steals, and one block. The Bucks are only two spots ahead of the Hawks in the standings (11th) at 6-8, but given that Middleton will be back shortly, Holiday has already returned, and Allen and Portis continue to fill in admirably for Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez respectively, you have to think they’ll right the ship in short order. On the other hand, Brook Lopez might be the most important element to their defensive scheme, which forces opposing players into inefficient midrange shots and concedes only the less desirable above the break threes. Giannis is a previous Defensive Player of the Year, but forcing him to anchor the Bucks offense and defense in this way is a lot to ask of anyone.


Golden State Warriors vs. Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Golden State Warriors 106-102, avenging the beatdown they received in the Bay on November 3rd. LaMelo Ball led the charge in the first quarter with 15 quick points, Miles Bridges scored 12 points in the third quarter, and Terry Rozier scored all 20 of his points in the second half, including nine in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a perfect game for the Hornets, as they gave up 52 points in the paint, 12 second-chance points, and 15 fastbreak points. The Warriors outpaced them in all of these areas, but the Hornets only turned the ball over 11 times and their switching defense managed to muck up the game enough in the fourth quarter to secure the win. These teams are like slanted reflections of one another. They both like to play small and switch on defense and are both led by exciting, unique point guards. The Hornets unsettled the Warriors just enough to secure the victory. Ball finished this game with 21 points (8-17 FG, 4-8 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals. And maybe more importantly for the Hornets, he did a much better job defending Jordan Poole. Miles Bridges finished the game with 22 points (9-16 FG, 2-6 3PT), eight rebounds, three assists, and one steal. The full season shooting percentages have dropped for Bridges (44/33/75), but he’s still scoring a career-best 21.5 ppg.  Terry Rozier scored 20 points (7-14 FG, 3-8 3PT) and added one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Gordon Hayward faded into the background as this game progressed, finishing the matchup with 10 points (4-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), three rebounds, and four assists.

Andrew Wiggins led the Warriors in scoring with 28 points (12-19 FG, 3-7 3PT), to go along with his six rebounds and two assists. He probably should have gotten more than three shots up in the fourth quarter. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this game seemed to get away from Steve Kerr and Steph Curry. It was an inefficient night for Curry. He never seemed to get in a rhythm and couldn’t create many quality looks in the fourth quarter as the Hornets ignored the Warriors’ weaker three-pointer shooters. He finished the game with 24 points (7-22 FG, 3-13 3PT), six rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and one block. Draymond Green added 11 points (5-7 FG, 1-2 3PT), six rebounds, six assists, and two blocks. Jordan Poole continues to yo-yo the coaching staff and Warriors’ fan base between stellar and uninspiring performances and this one was more of the latter. Poole finished the game with 13 points (4-12 FG, 2-8 3PT), one rebound, three assists, and one steal. The up and down shooting nights for Poole are nothing to be alarmed about, but you’d like to see him improve his shot selection. His penchant for taking deep, quick-trigger threes in transition, even when he’s not in a good rhythm needs to be addressed.


Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets

Paragraph I: The Phoenix Suns defeated the Houston Rockets 115-89 to win their 8th straight. Just about everyone got in on the party against the young and faltering Rockets. Devin Booker led the Suns in scoring with 26 points (9-23 FG, 3-7 3PT) and added five rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Chris Paul was unusually rude in this game, finishing with 15 points (6-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), three rebounds, four assists, and seven steals—this feels like bullying. Mikal Bridges, JaVale McGee, Cameron Payne, and Cameron Johnson all scored in double figures as well. McGee added 14 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and three blocks to go along with his 19 points. Deandre Ayton missed his fifth straight game with a leg injury.

Christian Wood led the unimpressive charge for the Rockets, finishing the game with 17 points (7-12 FG, 1-5 3PT), eight rebounds, and one assist. It can’t be much fun playing for the Rockets’ at the moment because I’m getting depressed just writing about how poorly they’re playing. The team is clearly in rebuilding mode, but rebuilding with an inexperienced point guard, who’s new to the position is particularly tough. Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Eric Gordon all scored 12 points. Alperen Sengun added 10 points (4-6 FG, 0-1 3PT), 10 rebounds, four assists, and one block. Daniel Theis scored just eight points and grabbed one rebound. Jae’Sean Tate was held scoreless in this game and took only two shots—pero, like, why!? While the current results are pretty tough to watch and I imagine even harder to stomach for the players in uniform, Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun clearly have bright futures and I think Kevin Porter Jr. can be a solid player in the right role. Jae’Sean Tate is a player whose poor three-point shooting might limit his effectiveness in the playoffs, but his defense, rebounding, and playmaking could help just about every team in the regular season. Hopefully, there are better days ahead for the Rockets.


Brooklyn Nets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Brooklyn Nets took care of the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-96 on Sunday night. The Nets do not yet look like the all-time offensive juggernaut of a season ago, but they are winning games and clearly rounding into form as the season chugs along. The victory over the Thunder was their eighth win in nine contests and halted a four-game winning streak for the Thunder. Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 33 points (9-17 FG, 2-6 3PT), eight rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Durant has scored 20 points or more in every game this season and leads the NBA in scoring at 29.6 ppg. He’s one of the best scorers to ever play the game and with Kyrie Irving sidelined and James Harden needing time to round into form there’s no reason his scoring should slow down. According to Basketball Reference, Durant is shooting 64% on twos, without this particularly bonkers breakdown: 81% from 0-3 feet, 57% from 3-10 feet, 57% from 10-16 feet, and 70% from 16 feet to three-point line. Oh, and he’s shooting 43% from three. My only explanation is that he’s not human. James Harden is doing enough for the Nets to win games, but it does not yet feel like he’s returned to the peak of his powers this season. He finished this game with 16 points (5-13 FG, 1-8 3PT), six rebounds, 13 assists, three steals, and six turnovers. Joe Harris left this game and did not return due to an ankle injury, but the Nets’ other sharpshooter went off. Patty Mills scored 29 points (10-16 FG, 9-12 3PT) and added one assist and two steals. The nine made threes were a career-high for Mills. It seems unfair that the only player competing with Kevin Durant for midrange efficiency is also a member of the Brooklyn Nets—that player is none other than LaMarcus Aldridge, who is shooting 62% on twos (61% from 10-16 feet and 65% from 16 feet to the three-point line). Aldridge finished this contest with 15 points (5-11 FG, 3-5 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.

I came into this season expecting the Houston Rockets to be much more exciting than the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Thunder have been both the better and more exciting team. In Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, the Thunder have two exciting young guards and with a sprinkling of veterans, they’re competent enough to make watching them palatable on the right night. However, they were unsurprisingly overmatched in this game, but both Gilgeous-Alexander and Lugentz Dort played well. Alexander tallied 23 points (8-14 FG, 3-6 3PT), six rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Alexander is below last season’s hyper-efficient standard but is still playing well and generally trending upward after a slow start to the season. Dort is also trending upward, having scored 20 or more points and shooting at least 50% from the field in his last three games. Dort finished this game with 20 points( 8-11 FG, 3-6 3PT), three rebounds, and one steal. Giddey scored an inefficient six points (2-10 FG, 2-7 3PT), but did add five rebounds, four assists, and one steal in this game. Like Derrick White in San Antonio, Darius Bazley can’t seem to put the ball in the basket with anything approaching league-average efficiency. He tallied five points (2-13 FG, 1-6 3PT), five rebounds, and one assist in this game. For the season, Bazley is averaging 11.2 points, six rebounds, one assist, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks. Just looking at these numbers you can squint and see the makings of a productive fantasy player if not an impactful real NBA player. The problem is Bazley is carrying shooting splits of 40/28/63 and you shouldn’t expect those block and steal numbers to tick up to one a game. Bazley’s athleticism, as of now, isn’t translating to efficient scoring or major defensive playmaking. On the bright side, he should continue to get opportunities to turn things around, at least this season.


Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 124-95. The Nuggets are 3rd in the Western Conference with a 9-4 record and have won five in a row. Though they were without Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton in this game, Nikola Jokic kept the rig rolling with another masterful performance. He finished the game with 28 points (11-17 FG, 3-3 3PT), nine rebounds, and nine assists. Jokic is the second-ranked player in per-game value, according to Yahoo, and might be the MVP frontrunner in this early part of the season. It’s pretty much Jokic and “The Others” at this point for the Nuggets, but that’s been more than enough so far this season. Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green, Bones Hyland, and Facundo Campazzo all scored in double figures against the Blazers. Monte Morris continues to start and play decently well, but Bones Hyland is the most exciting guard in the non-Murray backcourt and he might be the best long-term fantasy option outside of Murray. Hyland has set a career-high in points in each of his last three games and he finished this game with 18 points (5-9 FG, 4-8 3PT), three rebounds, three assists, and two steals. He’s averaging 17 mpg this season but is averaging 22 mpg over the last three contests. Given all of their injuries, he should see a consistent 15 to 20 minutes going forward.

The Blazers were without Damian Lillard who sat out due to “lower abdominal tendinopathy.” It’s not clear at the moment whether or not this is the start of more missed games or a one-off for Lillard. CJ McCollum tallied 21 points (7-17 FG, 5-10 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, and two steals against the Nuggets. Anfernee Simons started in Lillard’s place and had a solid night with 16 points (6-11 FG, 1-5 3PT), five rebounds, four assists, and one block. It looks like Simons has finally settled into the steady score-first backup guard many expected he would be a season or two ago. Norman Powell and Nassir Little also scored in double figures. Powell tallied 13 points (5-10 FG, 1-3 3PT), two rebounds, and one assist. Jusuf Nurkic had a rather forgettable game against his former teammate. He finished the game with just four points (2-5 FG, 0-2 3PT), six rebounds, and one assist. Earlier in the season, I suggested that Larry Nance Jr. would overtake Nassir Little in the rotation, but it hasn’t happened yet and I’m growing concerned it simply won’t happen this season. The Blazers have a bit of a log jam at center, with Nurkic the clear starter and Zeller and Nance both solid backups. Nance is averaging more minutes than Zeller, but Zeller’s presence limits his opportunities all the same. A lot of the Blazers’ problems will be solved by Damian Lillard playing better, but if you zoom out, this looks like a pretty pedestrian team with a bunch of players who don’t particularly complement one another. Not to mention the multilayered mess in the front office.


Chicago Bulls vs Los Angeles Clippers

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 100-90, behind strong scoring performances from DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. DeRozan continued his strong play to start the season, finishing the game with 35 points (12-16 FG, 1-1 3PT), seven rebounds, and five assists. LaVine did his part as well, adding 29 points (11-27 FG, 6-13 3PT), eight rebounds, and two assists. LaVine hit a dagger foot-on-the-line fallaway two with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter and three Clippers in his immediate vicinity to remove all doubt. Michael Jordan isn’t on the roster so I supposed the Bulls aren’t BACK BACK, but they look pretty damn good. They secured this victory without Nikola Vucevic, who remains out due to Covid. Coby White remains out but is expected to make his season debut on Monday against the Lakers. Alex Caruso started and Tony Bradley was the starting center in this game. Neither Caruso nor Lonzo Ball were efficient from the field in this game, but they continue to provide the defense and playmaking Chicago needs. Caruso finished the game with seven points (2-11 FG, 1-5 3PT), nine rebounds, three steals, and one block. Ball finished the game with 10 points (4-14 FG, 2-6 3PT), five rebounds, three assists, and three steals.

Paul George has been spectacular to start this season. He’s the fourth-ranked player in per-game value, according to Yahoo and he’s led the charge with the Clippers winning seven in a row before last night. For the season, he’s averaging 26.5 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals, and 0.5 blocks with shooting splits of 44/35/89. I was ready to put my doubts about the Clippers to bed after their seven-game winning streak, but they did not exactly defeat a murderers’ row of opponents. Tucked in that winning streak are three wins against the Timberwolves, a win against the Thunder, and a win over the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat. Given the sorry state of the Western Conference, the Clippers are likely secure in their top-six position, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they wound up in the play-in tournament as a seven seed. George had an inefficient, but productive night, finishing the game with 27 points (7-25 FG, 2-10 3PT), eleven rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Eric Bledsoe had a surprisingly efficient night and finished the game with 21 points (7-14 FG, 2-4 3PT), six rebounds, and three assists. Reggie Jackson was the only other Clippers’ player to score in double figures, finishing the game with 13 points (4-17 FG, 3-11 3PT), three rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. You can’t count on big scoring nights from Nicolas Batum, but he’s consistently producing in other categories. He finished this game with 5 points (2-4 FG, 1-3 3PT), seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block.