One team in this matchup projects to be a difficult and gritty playoff opponent and a sneaky conference finals contender; the other team in this matchup is the Brooklyn Nets. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 126-120, behind a historic 54-point performance from Jayson Tatum. It was Tatum’s fourth 5o-point game, tying him with Larry Bird for the most 50-point games in Celtics history. Tatum finished the night with 54 points (16-30 FG, 8-15 3PT), five rebounds, three assists, and it was his hockey assist that led to a dagger Jaylen Brown three to stamp out all hope for the Nets. Jaylen Brown added 21 points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Marcus Smart finished the game with 14 points, three rebounds, nine assists, and one steal. Al Horford finished the game with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Robert Williams III tallied 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and five blocks.

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The Miami Heat took home the nervy, 113-107 victory, but the Lakers nearly caught them slipping. In a game the Heat led almost the entire way and by as many as 26 points, the Lakers put together a fierce fourth quarter and nearly stole the victory. For three quarters, however, the Heat played the basketball version of “the beautiful game.” Offensive production was spread across the lineup and they were flowing into good looks. Jimmy Butler led the charge in Kyle Lowry’s absence (personal reasons) and he finished the game with a triple-double: 20 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, two steals, and one block. Butler’s 10th triple-double moved him into the first place on the Heat’s all-time list, surpassing LeBron James. Duncan Robinson was hot early and even scored some important points in the fourth quarter; he finished the game with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Bam Adebayo had a decent, but uneven game. He was stifled a fair amount by LeBron’s defense, as he was LeBron’s primary cover when the Lakers went small. Adebayo finished the game with 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. Gabe Vincent filled in admirably, once again, for Lowry and finished the game with 11 points, one rebound, six assists, and two steals. Caleb Martin also notched eleven points and further cemented his “best two-way player in the league status”—a dubious honor, he’d no doubt like to be rid of as soon as possible.

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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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After some significant in-season shuffling, the Nuggets came into this offseason having more or less locked themselves into a core of Murray/Joker/AG and then threw Michael Porter Jr. into the nucleus as well with a five-year, $172M max deal. As such, they didn’t have much of a hand to play in this summer’s free agency and the roster changes here are minimal. Jeff Green inked a two-year deal worth $9M and is tasked with picking up the big man minutes left behind by Paul Millsap, now in Brooklyn, and three-time NBA Champion JaVale McGee, who is wearing a shirt that says ‘Phoenix’ on it this year. Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland was Denver’s selection at pick 26 in this summer’s draft, and he showed out in their first preseason game. As long as Jamal Murray is on the shelf, there is definitely a need for good guard play, cracking open the door for Bones.  

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Steve Urkel and CJ McCollum have so much in common. Just look at them. Both are underappreciated and often get brushed aside. In Urkel’s case, he’s got an annoying, nasally voice, the style is juvenile, and he’s just a straight-up nerd. McCollum plays alongside Damian Lillard, who spits hot fire off the court and goes NBA Jam He’s Heating Up on it. But man, both are ballers on the hardwood. Here’s Urkel:

McCollum had his own heroics last night:

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
23 7 5 2 3 1 1/7 9/18 4/4

Yes, he did that. He rarely is a maven on defense but he got busy last night. In his career, that was the eighth time in his career that he’s notched at least two steals and two blocks in the same game. Since returning from injury, McCollum has played eight games, scored at least 20 points in four with two of those over 30, and garnered a usage rate over 30 in four of those contests. Last night, the usage rate was 22. With Norman Powell now in the mix, it will be interesting to see how the pie is spliced between Lillard, McCollum, and Powell. Regardless, McCollum gonna get his and could finish as a top 40 player in fantasy.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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….More solid than reinforced concrete. Plays lots of tricks and provides plenty of treats. Is not indiscreet when he provides the latent heat. Fills up most of the stat sheet. Is not from the main street. Yet remained upbeat. Put in the time until he became elite. This did not happen in a heartbeat. No conceit. Just a regular athlete who kept all the receipts to make the haters obsolete. Last night, turned the Bucks into mincemeat. 

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Apologies for last week’s DNP. I had a bit of a breakdown after digging out of almost a foot of snow and decided it was time to take matters into my own hands by driving to Punxsutawney to strong-arm a groundhog into making it stop. When I woke up in my bed the next morning with a driveway buried in snow and not a single groundhog pelt to be found, I understood that I had failed. Resigned and bitter, I’ve come to understand that violence against large marmots is not the solution to my winter problems. Endurance is the only way.

Keeping this lesson in mind, this week’s Hangin’ looks at three shooters who have disappointed thus far. Must they also be endured or is more dramatic action required?

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Shouts to Gabe Vincent on a 20-point, 8-assist outing in a rare start, but not much to take away for Miami with several players out due to “Health & Safety Protocols” (replacing “Load Management” as the hot new phrase in DNP lingo). It might be time to re-evaluate Tyler Herro. He’s been…fine (and he was again on Thursday), but he hasn’t had the anticipated breakout that made him a top-80 selection in drafts (currently ranked No. 160 in Yahoo! leagues). It isn’t due to a lack of playing time or touches. Maybe “The Leap” is still coming this season, but if I could get draft-day value for him in a trade I’d do it.

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