The Brooklyn Nets are back for another Friday night, so it’s only fitting that the fantasy star of the night is from the Nets. James Harden ended with 36 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists in the narrow, 115-113 win over the Magic. We got a glimpse of the Nets with just one superstar on Friday as Kevin Durant was out with injury. Whenever one of these superstars plays alone, they will have immense upside and control the offense entirely. Harden continues to have more upside when both are on the court together because of his high assist numbers.

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No, no not THAT The Used, though we could certainly chat about them a bit if you’re into it. No? Not here for that? Fine.

Well, I wanted to talk about “the used” in the NBA, as in the guys who have seen their usage climb in the past two weeks compared to the first two weeks of the season, and whether or not that’s sustainable for them. Cool with you, bro? Sweet, let’s begin.

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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.

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Before the Bucks took on the Pistons in Detroit on Tuesday night, the matchup read a bit like one of those torturous “two trains are three hundred miles apart, traveling at two different speeds…” puzzles that I never learned how to solve in school. Yes, the Pistons are one of the worst teams in professional basketball, but they were catching an extremely shorthanded Milwaukee team in Motown, so it felt like there was a chance that they’d be able to steal one against the banged up Bucks. The reigning champs were without their starting center (Brook Lopez remained on the side lines with a bad back), starting point guard (Jrue Holiday was out with a turned ankle), starting wing (Khris Middleton tested positive for Covid and will be away from the team for a couple of weeks), and last year’s starting two-guard (Donte DiVincenzo’s rehab and recovery from ankle surgery continues), so there was a chance, after accounting for all these caveats, that the Little Engine That Could would turn into the Little Engine That Did, at least for the night.

Or not!

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The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Sacramento Kings 105-99 in the Sunday matinee game. Viewers were treated to the full  “Luka Doncic Experience,” as he had a near triple-double, 23 points (10-21 FG, 1-7 3PT), eight rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, one block, and three turnovers. Doncic also picked up a technical foul midway through the third quarter after an expletive-filled barrage, that followed three-quarters of Doncic’s patented palms up, pouty-face routine. Oh, and he made this ridiculous, back-breaking three-pointer to round out the experience:

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As an homage to Son, the fearless leader of Razzball Hoops, we’re kicking the 2021-22 season off by celebrating the traditional way. Play the music, DJ!

Hell yeah. It feels official now. The NBA and our fantasy hoop dreams are back, baby! It was a light schedule last night — the defending champion Bucks hosted the Nets to start, followed by a Warriors/Lakers nightcap — but even dipping a toe in felt good. I’ll say that it was an especially nice night for yours truly, as tickets for the hometown Bucks and the ring ceremony that prefaced the start of the season fell into ole Mr. Hooper’s hands. Not a bad way to get the season rolling. Speaking of good beginnings, this Giannis fellow doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all from the last time he’s been around…

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The Good Land indeed. It has been a magic time on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Winter became a distant memory, Summerfest returned, and after 50 years, the Milwaukee Bucks are NBA Champions. Though fall is in the air, everything is still glowy up here. This kind of joy will do that to a place: 

I’m not crying, you’re crying!

Now, Kevin Durant really did hit that Game 7 jumper and the Nets really were a toe’s length away from the ECF and maybe more. Personally, I find the championship asterisk conversation to be tired and fruitless. However you feel about it, the Milwaukee Bucks are the reigning champs and their title defense begins with the third best odds at repeating, as Vegas likes Brookyln and LA more than the Cream City Champs (the Warriors and the Bucks both begin the season at +900.) With an improved Eastern Conference, there’s no reason to think that the path back will be without challenges.

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This is where the men get separated from the boys. True decisions have to be made. Do you draft for need or best player available? Do you take a shot at that rookie, even though historically, it hasn’t been a good bet? What about the good players who have fallen due to injury concerns? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Speaking of decisions, there have been around 10% of NBA players who are choosing not to get vaccinated. Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Jonathan Isaac are the most known out of the group. Irving and Wiggins are in danger of not being allowed to play in their home arenas due to protocols. So be wary of drafting these players.

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The NBA regular season is quickly coming to a close with only a week left of games. The urgency across the league is truly starting to show as teams make their late-season postseason push. Every single game matters and every outcome influences a different storyline. Some teams are trying to control their playoff destiny by fighting to maintain their Top-6 seed. Other teams are jockeying for position within the Play-In tournament picture. At the end of the day, the fight for a spot in the postseason is underway and every night could have a serious impact on the Eastern and Western Conference standings.

On the second to last slate of Friday Night NBA regular-season games, we got some premiere matchups along with some interesting Playoff/Play-In implications. So, with that being said here are our top performers from last night’s matchups!

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