The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 119-110 to remain ahead of the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. The two teams have identical 39-36 records, but with this win, the Hornets move to 2-1 against the Nets and secure the tiebreaker. Led by LaMelo Ball’s hot shooting, the Hornets spoiled Kyrie Irving’s home debut. Ball finished the game with 33 points (10-21 FG, 7-12 3PT), seven rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Miles Bridges added 24 points (9-24 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal. P.J. Washington tallied 18 points (8-12 FG, 2-3 3PT), 11 rebounds, and five assists. Terry Rozier notched 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal. If the Hornets are making their threes they can be tough to beat and that was the case in this game. They shot 42% from the field as a team, but they shot 53% from three (17-32). As things currently stand, the Hornets would match up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament, rather than the Nets. That’s unfortunate for us, the fans, as the pace of play and lack of defense on both sides would make a Nets vs. Hornets matchup must-see TV. Then again, there likely won’t be much defense in a Nets vs. Hawks series either.

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In this fantasy corner, besides the usual fantasy recommendations, we are all about weird and interesting stats. Some of them mean a lot for team and player performances and some of them mean absolutely nothing (remember the infamous number 2 Bane game). The stat that caught my eye this week has to do with the stumbling Lakers and the effect LeBron has on this team. Since the All-Star Break the Lakers are 0-9 when LeBron does not score 50 points or more, which you can certainly say is a bad look for his supporting cast. Of course it is common knowledge that he had a huge say on how this team is constructed and that stat alone does not describe how many points he gives up on the other end, which are truthfully a lot. Just take a lot at the following clip that summarizes the Lakers season and to an extent their superstars both on the offensive and the defensive side.

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Regarding last week’s suggestions, Isaiah Roby completely flopped and has turned from must-add to must-drop, Marvin Bagley is still holding value but Isaiah Stewart is back with the team and Immanuel Quickley had an OK, if mediocre week. All in all, I can do a lot better apparently, as even the “Sell” suggestions of Devonte’ Graham and Evan Fournier performed good last week.

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There are two obvious downsides to living in Milwaukee — winter (duh) and NBA League Pass blacking out the hometown team as they take up their championship defense. Considering the grinding nature of an 82-game regular season, it’s not the worst thing to have an excuse that allows you to check-out on February basketball, but it’s still nice to occasionally see the boys without using a VPN. Last night, the Bucks were fully visible the national stage against the Wizards and the game flow reads like regular season game where the better team wasn’t fully engaged all night.

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The Orlando Magic beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-108 in a nailbiter in the sunshine state. The vaunted Mavericks defense posed only so much resistance as seven Magic players scored in double figures, led by Chuma Okeke off the bench. Okeke finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Franz Wagner finished the game with 18 points, two rebounds, three assists, and one steal.  Cole Anthony tallied 16 points, four rebounds, and six assists. Wendell Carter Jr. notched a double-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Moritz Wagner tallied 14 points, four rebounds, and two assists off the bench. The last time these two teams played Mo Wagner and Luka Doncic got into a bit of a curfuffle. Wagner has an earned reputation as an irritant and Luka did not forget their exchange. He spent much of the first half talking trash to Wagner, growing bolder and bolder every time a Mavericks player scored on the German. However, later in the game, the Magic seemed to make point of involving Luka in the action when the Mavericks were on defense. Wagner rolled to a number of dunks in pick and roll action with Luka guarding Wagner or in the vicinity as a help defender. With the victory, it was Wagner who got the last laugh, at least for now. Mo Bamba and Gary Harris each scored 10 points.

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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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I have a Scottish co-worker who started following the NBA in 2003.  Heading into the 2003-04 season, the Lakers and Spurs had monopolized the Larry O’Brien trophy for five consecutive seasons, but the upstart Timberwolves looked poised to challenge their dominance.  Led by MVP Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell “I have a family to feed” Sprewell, the Minnesota Timberwolves posted 58 wins and made a deep playoff run.  My co-worker became one of the team’s newest followers, and although the Lakers ousted the Wolves in the Western Conference Finals, his loyalty was sealed (wait for the turn…).

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The ridiculous and predictably bad “condensed” NBA schedule has finally reared its ugly head. The injuries are rolling in faster than me when they say there’s free cake in the break room, and fantasy teams everywhere are hurting. Hopefully you have multiple IL spots. I have two in the league I run usually, but we upped it to three midseason.

If your commissioner didn’t have such foresight, RIP. But there’s good news: You don’t have to hurt anymore.

When players go out, that means other players step up to fill the void. So who should we be grabbing for the week? Who is going to win us our fantasy playoff matches?

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Pat Connaughton benefited from the absence of Donte DiVincenzo, playing 26 minutes off the bench. He hit four of his 11 threes to score 14 points, while also hauling in eight rebounds. It was Connaughton’s third straight double-digit scoring game, and he’s dropped in 11 threes in that stretch. However, he’s as streaky as they come as he finished with single-digit point totals and only three triples over his previous seven outings. If you’re desperate for threes you can stream him and hope he gets hot from deep, and he provides solid rebounding for his position as well (five percent owned in Yahoo!).

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Lauri Markkanen shot the ball exceedingly well, making eight out of 10 attempts for 18 points. Everything else about his night was concerning though, especially the minutes, which also topped out at just 18. Markkanen’s playing time has taken a hit—he’s been under 24 minutes in five of his past six outings. In those limited runs, he’s failed to corral more than six rebounds in a game, and totaled just two assists, one steal, and one block. With fantasy playoffs looming, he could be a cut candidate. Chicago just embarked upon a four-in-five-nights set, so let’s see if he can slingshot his hot shooting from last night into some real momentum.

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We have already seen a good chunk of the season and can safely see how the stats and teams are shaping up. An interesting topic every year around the NBA is the MVP race and this year it is supposedly a very ambiguous one, with Lebron being Lebron, Embiid and Jokic stepping up, and Durant returning to his pre-injury form. However, the true MVP this year in my mind up to this point is someone that is not being mentioned so often as the aforementioned players and is only ranked 7th in ESPN’s early MVP rankings.

Stephen Curry is carrying the Warriors to the playoffs by averaging 30.1 points per game on a ridiculous 66.9% True Shooting Percentage. Opposing defenses have been often helpless and left standing to watch in awe as Steph dribbles, razzles and dazzles through them, making tough shot after tough shot with insane accuracy. The most mind-boggling stat is that in 2016, Curry won the first unanimous MVP award by averaging……… 30.1 points per game, on a ridiculous 66.9% True Shooting Percentage, the exact same stats that he is currently averaging. The fact that he is only viewed as the 7th candidate for MVP is atrocious in my mind. Plus, he can casually do this at the end of games.

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