Here’s a story of a man with two first names, who hit the age of 30, an age when most players say goodbye to their primes and buckle up for the descent below. And descend the man with two first names did, playing in 58 and 58 games the next two seasons. Many called him injury-prone and swore him off for fantasy. Father Time leaned back in the La-Z-Boy chair, grabbed the bowl of popcorn and just waited. But the man with two first names spit in the face of Father Time and proceeded to play 70, 70 and 65 games in his age 34, 35 and 36 seasons. So far this season, the man with two first names has missed five of 15 games and caused much consternation for those who drafted him. “We can squeeze one more year out of him!!!”, they said. It’s akin to having one taco left with no more freshly cut limes. You rummage through the whole table and squeeze every last drop out of what’s left. Anyways, the pain that has been felt by the Chris Paul owners has been nothing but elation for the Cameron Payne truthers. Over the last five games, he’s averaged 33.5 minutes, 15.6 field goal attempts, 20 points, 3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals. On Sunday:

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Long-suffering Kings fans are back on the hopium, and since 2006 was the last time we witnessed playoff basketball in Sacramento, who can blame them? But after February’s blockbuster trade, an outstanding Summer League performance from their first round pick, and a pair of free agent guard acquisitions, there is a sense that the optimism is warranted.  On paper, the Kings have a more focused roster built around the playmaking abilities of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.  They get a fresh start to a season after shedding players who didn’t want to be there – Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III.  They have arguably more depth with Richaun Holmes shifting to the bench, Malik Monk playing significant minutes off the pine, and Davion Mitchell continuing to develop.  They have a new head coach in Mike Brown who will seek pull them out of the bottom half of the defensive rankings.  This time may be different…

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I’ll be honest, my original plan was to have this piece written and published at the end of last season, back when the failed chase for the top spot in the RazzJam was still fresh in my mind. But the NBA season is long and the Playoffs are so good, so when I fell just short of a championship, it seemed just fine to me to put this on the shelf for a bit. So, I sat on this with it being 95% completed and rested instead. Then Middleton went down and the Bucks got beat. The sun came out, the Celtics ran out of gas, and another Golden State summer onto my shores like a warm wave, even though I’ve traded in the Bay Area for Bay View. 

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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 129-98. In a rarity for this version of the Pacers, they were the more veteran team. Oshae Brissett spearheaded the Pacers’ attack, as he tallied 24 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. His day also included a highlight reveal reverse dunk in transition which came off a behind-the-back pass from Lance Stephenson. Have I mentioned that the Pacers are fun now!? Justin Anderson added 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Jalen Smith notched 17 points, five rebounds, and one block in just 17 minutes of play. I’m not sure if Smith will ever become the player the Suns hoped they were getting when he was drafted with the 10th pick in 2020, but he has at least grown into an intriguing prospect. He was 2-of-3 from behind the arc and also whipped out a Dirk-esque step-back off the dribble in the midrange. Terry Taylor (17) and Duane Washington Jr. (13) both had solid games as well. The Pacers led wire to wire and the lack of competitiveness of the game is reflected in the lower minute totals for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Hield tallied nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Finally, Lance Stephenson scored just two points, but grabbed six rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and swiped three steals.

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The trade winds are blowing! After some smaller pieces were moved over the last few days, Tuesday brought about the most significant player shuffling to date ahead of Thursday’s Trade Deadline. Indiana sent All-Star Domantas Sabonis and friends to Sacramento for a package headlined by Buddy Hield and second-year stud Tyrese Haliburton. As someone who has dipped their toes into Kings fandom, it’s hard not to feel like the Kings are screwing things up all over again. Haliburton is arguably the best draft decision the Kings have made since taking DeMarcus Cousins at pick five in the 2010 draft, and his high basketball IQ, passing prowess, and ability to sit down and defend sure seem to be things that would be valued in Sac, especially considering the defensively leaky and largely clueless roster the Kings have assembled. In shipping out Hield and Hali, the Kings have kinda nuked their three-point shooting and Sabonis’ presence largely neutralizes the value of Richaun Holmes, a player they just handed a four-year deal. But hey, with Sabonis at least there’s an All-Star on the roster now (De’Aaron Fox grimaces at this). Longtime Blazer CJ McCollum was also given his walking papers on Tuesday. He’s headed down New Orleans way to play for the Ples, who might have something cooking now, even without Zion.

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The Utah Jazz defeated the Denver Nuggets 125-102, snapping a four-game losing streak. The Jazz were just 1-4 without Rudy Gobert in the lineup and Gobert and Donovan Mitchell seemed to trade subliminal jabs in press conferences and on social media. They appear to have righted the ship, for now. The Jazz are a bit of conundrum. They are an undeniably good team that has been labeled “a regular season team” for a few years, maybe even erroneously, except it didn’t matter because they did fall short of expectations in the playoffs. This year, there is once again general indifference towards the team outside of Utah and most interested parties are just wondering when Donovan Mitchell asks for a trade because he can’t get along with Gobert. The Jazz can’t get very far without Donovan Mitchell’s scoring, but they appear even more doom-struck without Gobert’s defense. What can be done? Would Jerami Grant help? Harrison Barnes? Whatever happens, I know fans outside of Utah will watch with crazy-eyed delight if the foundation once again crumbles beneath them in the playoffs.

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The Brooklyn Nets took home the 121-119 victory in this Sunday matinee against the rebuilding, but still pesky San Antonio Spurs. In classic 2021-22 Nets fashion, they gave up a 14-point lead and allowed the Spurs to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and push the game into overtime, where Nets’ rookie Cam Thomas stole the show. Both teams struggled to score in the waning minutes of regulation and overtime, most notably Kevin Durant. As a result, when Durant was doubled on the Nets’ final possession at the elbow, with about six seconds left in the game, he rose up and fired a pass to Cam Thomas sliding up from the corner. Thomas pump-faked, took two hard dribbles and rose up for a one-legged runner fading to his left at the free-throw line. Nothing but net. Thomas’ made floater in overtime turned out to be the game-winner as Lonnie Walker was blocked on the Spurs ensuing inbound play. Even if he hadn’t been blocked, however, the shot wouldn’t have counted. Walker released the shot after the buzzer, as the Spurs had just one-point-four seconds to shoot. The narrow escape victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the Nets.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers 108-104, behind strong performances from Evan Mobley, Kevin Love, and Jarrett Allen. After finding themselves down 84-73 in the third quarter, the Cavaliers went on a 17-0 run to take the lead and never gave it up. Mobley led the Cavaliers in scoring with 24 points (11-16 FG, 0-2 3PT) and added nine rebounds and four assists. Love tallied 20 points (6-13 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Love has scored 20 points or more in five straight games. He’s played well with increased minutes as the Cavaliers have seen a number of players go down with injury or Covid absences. Allen notched 18 points (6-12 FG, 0-1 3PT), 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and three blocks. Lamar Steven added 15 points (6-13 FG, 0-4 3PT), three assists, two assists, and one steal. Lauri Markkanen finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, and one block. Isaac Okoro played just 12 minutes and had to leave the game due to an elbow injury. He finished the game with 2 points, one rebound, one assist, one steal, and one block. He was one made three, one free-throw, one turnover, and one personal foul away from a really exciting stat line. The Cavaliers were without Darius Garland and Cedi Osman as both entered the league’s health and safety protocols) while Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio are out due to season-ending knee injuries.

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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.

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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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Finally, some Tuesday night sparkle! As long as the game with oblong pigskin is being played, Tuesday nights are one of the few days on the calendar that belong solely to the NBA. Unfortunately for those of us who do our recapping of these showcase nights, the product has been a bit underwhelming to start the season. Things started picking up with last week’s Lakers/Knicks matchup, but we jumped several levels last night with an extremely competitive Battle for New York and then a clash of Western Conference contenders as the Suns played host to the Warriors.

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In a game that was billed as a mini-test for the Warriors before they matched up against the big bad Phoenix Suns, Steph Curry decided against taking the test and instead lit the exam on fire in some form of avant-garde performance art. Curry and the Warriors defeated the Clippers 105-90 on Sunday, extending their winning streak to seven games and pushing them to a league-best 18-2 on the season. A decade ago, their upcoming matchup against the Suns would have been an easy Western Conference Finals preview, but as the demands of the regular season continue to diverge from those of the playoffs, it can be hard to make projections with any sort of confidence. In any case, it will be a marquee matchup, well worth tuning in for.

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