I really do hate to admit this, but it sure looks like these Atlanta Hawks got my ass again. 

Two seasons ago, wigged out about the pandemic and in the midst of a cross-country move, I volunteered to write for Razzball hoops and agreed to participate in the RazzJam. A true noob, I spent two of my first four picks on Trae Young and John Collins and then spent the winter watching that team be ground into dust and a bottom-20 finish. Never again, I told myself. 

After confusing “never” with “just take a year off,” I once again find myself rostering Young (on another struggling RazzJam team) and Collins and living in a world of hurt. Blinded by the value of threes, points, assists, and elite free throws, I was snagging Trae at the end of the first round with an amnesia patient’s enthusiasm. Collins I was more disciplined about, passing on him in the middle rounds most of the time, but I still bought in during a 30-team dynasty start-up where I now have the privilege of rostering him for at least three years.

The season is still young, no doubt, but it’s not baby-fresh anymore. After 13 games, Collins is treading water as the 52nd-best player in 9-cat while Trae and his grotesque shooting percentage are languishing at 67th. 

Yes, my people, these Hawks got another one over on me, at least for now. But will it last? 

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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 Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 105-95, behind Jayson Tatum’s strong performance and an explosive third quarter. With the win, the Celtics extend their winning streak to eight games. Tatum had 13 points going into halftime, but he was just 5 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from three. He, and the rest of the boys from Beantown, overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and soared past the Hawks with a 42-point third quarter. Tatum finished the game with 38 points (13-27 FG, 4-10 3PT), 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks. Jaylen Brown added 17 points, nine rebounds, and three assists. The recently acquired Derrick White tallied 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block. Marcus Smart compiled 13 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and one steal. Robert Williams III also had a strong game, finishing the contest with 10 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Al Horford was 2-2 from three and finished the game with eight points, six rebounds, and one block.

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The Denver Nuggets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 124-104, behind a well-balanced scoring attack and more Nikola Jokic brilliance. Seven Nuggets’ players scored in double figures, led by the Joker, who finished the game with 27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, and one block. It was Jokic’s 14th triple-double of the season and the 71st of his career. Will Barton added 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one block. Aaron Gordon tallied 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and one steal. Monte Morris chipped in with 12 points, five rebounds, and eight assists and Jeff Green finished the game with 12 points, five rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Bryn Forbes (11) and Zeke Nnaji (10) also scored in double figures. Forbes (25), Nnaji (20), Bones Hyland (17), and DeMarcus Cousins (16) played the most minutes off the bench.

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The Pacers beat the Thunder in overtime on Friday night behind the fantasy star of the night, Domantas Sabonis, who was questionable to play coming into Friday but suited up against his former team to get revenge. He finished with 24 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, and two blocks. He found a way to get it done in almost every category. He is a top-30 player this year and should enjoy an increased role with Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner out for the foreseeable future. Justin Holiday added 22 points and five rebounds on 4-7 three-point shooting, but numbers like this are unable to be counted on in the long run. 

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Goga Bitadze is a must-add with the Pacers’ front line decimated. He’s kind of the only act in town now, and he’s got some talent. Bitadze played 31 minutes against the Warriors before getting tossed, scoring 13 points, grabbing nine boards, dishing out five assists, hitting a three, and blocking a shot. He needs to be picked up everywhere for the tremendous opportunity he’s got in front of him (21 percent rostered).

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For the first time this year, the fantasy star of the night comes from a losing team. It is well deserved as Dejounte Murray has gone from zero games with 30 or more points, to two of those games in just a week. Murray followed up his 32 point triple-double from Wednesday with a 30-point near triple-double on Friday. He finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Murray sits inside the top-20 players and has been on an absolute tear of late, but this upside may not last long as Derrick White is very close to returning from the league’s health and safety protocols. 

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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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And I’m not talking about Christmas.

Despite vaccination numbers north of 95%, a new variant of the Coronavirus has breached the walls of the NBA and is wreaking havoc on a league that is already being thinned out by non-virus injuries that stem from playing three seasons in two years. The sick are just getting sicker (Tuesday night’s Brooklyn/Washington matchup was postponed) and as a result, the NBA has thrown off some of their normal roster restrictions to ensure that teams can field full squads. Names that are normally reserved for the silly season of March and early April are now turning up before the unofficial start of the season on Christmas Day. Consider Marquese Chriss, one of the newest Dallas Mavericks, as an example. A lottery pick in 2016 who has never found his footing in the Association, Chriss was added as a reinforcement to the Mavs roster amid a Covid outbreak in Dallas. To his credit, Chriss looked springy, played well, and actually closed the game for Dallas against Minnesota before the ink dried on his contract. Chriss was joined out there by luminaries like Theo Pinson and Sterling Brown, and all across the league there were was a mix of old names and new showing up in NBA box scores. Guys like Wayne Seldon in New York and Tony Snell in Portland resurfaced after time spent in the NBA hinterland, while Marcus Garrett saw some burn in Miami, and Leandro Bolmaro and Nathan Knight popped up for the Timberwolves.

Amid these strange times in the NBA, it was good to see that Damian Lillard is still good for a bucket or two.

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Welcome to your midweek guidance for Week Eight! In competitive leagues, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to which player(s) you pick up. The goal of this post is to help you identify those players on your wire who can help win tight head-to-head matchups.  While I primarily focus on nine-category formats, there is applicability for points leagues and eight-category as well.

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There is no such thing as a dull Saturday night in the NBA. Even with a handful of injuries already plaguing the league, the talent continues to carry the torch for some exciting games. With guys like Joel Embiid, Bradley Beal, Fred VanVleet, and a few other big-time players out, we still managed to get a few down-to-the-wire games, and some players put together some unexpected clutch performances. So, from last night’s games, we’re going to celebrate the unsung heroes of the NBA who held down the fort and gave us a fun slate of Saturday night games even in spite of the lack of star power.

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