When we moved from California to Wisconsin last October, we knew it would be hard. Catching the tail end of fall was the final gasp of good air before the dual jaws of winter and the pandemic clamped down on us. From there, we just had to ride it out. Hiding indoors, online, and in the NBA calendar was all there was to do. As the days got darker — in every sense — we were subjected, over and over again, to the Milwaukee mantra: Summers make winters worth it. Having no experience to draw on, we had to take these hearty midwesterners at their word. 

They were right. 

Ice thawed and snow melted. Patches of terra firma sprouted and then turned green. The Bucks exercised Miami demons in Game 1 of the Playoffs and squeaked past the Nets by the margin of a single shoe size. The Hawks were feisty but underseasoned, and then there was the block and the steal and the alley-oop over Phoenix. “Bucks in six” was the song of the summer. Flowers for The Good Land. 

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Fun fact: There are only three players returning from last season for the Chicago Bulls. That would be Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Patrick Williams. The entire rest of the roster has been turned over and the Windy City faithful are prepping Grant Park as we speak. There are a lot of varying opinions about where the Bulls will end up in the standings, a lot of them that have me like:

Me: “Hey Son, can we play ‘Bulls on Parade’ on repeat on my Chicago Bulls preview?”

Son: “No…. No, I don’t think so.”

Sorry guys.

Regardless of where they wind up in the standings, it won’t really affect their fantasy stock all that much. The Bulls are all in on this lineup in their attempt to earn the city a legitimate playoff berth for the first time in the last six seasons. That means the big dogs are here to play and they should get significant minutes throughout the season.

The Bulls put a competitive group on the floor around all-star Zach LaVine and didn’t even mortgage the future, so it’s safe to say that Arturas Karnisovas has a place at my table any time. Still, there are questions about their defense and their “fit” since they won’t be playing a traditional power forward (as if that were necessary in the modern NBA).

With so many mouths to feed on offense, will that hurt the value of guys like perennial all-star Nikola Vucevic? Will DeMar DeRozan still have a prominent role? Let’s break it down by position.

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I’m the big, fat loser this year in our 9-cat league’s championship game. Am I happy I made it this far in a totally insane season? Yep. Am I upset I lost? It always stings, but one week can make or break you and I don’t feel bad losing to a team I lost to the only time I faced them in the regular season. It feels like the right team won.

All that said, this season was completely wackadoodle and probably the most benefit you’ll get from reading these words is this introduction where I’m going to attempt to break down my thinking on the season and how we all got here.

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The Hornets were buzzing to have LaMelo back and that showed on the court with their victory over a Detroit Pistons team that is already officially out of playoff contention and without their best player in Jerami Grant. 

Frank Jackson surprisingly led the way for the Pistons off the bench with 25 points, seven rebounds, and three assists while he shot. 42.1% from the field and hit six triples. Rookie Killian Hayes played nearly 32 minutes as he continues to progress back from that hip injury and to prove to the many doubters that he is not a bust. You cannot call someone a bust when he has barely played. Last night he put up 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists as well as two steals. “Beef Stew” Isaiah Stewart had an underwhelming game with only nine points and two rebounds while playing the bulk of the minutes in the stead of Mason Plumlee who was held out for rest purposes. 

For the Hornets, LaMelo Ball was up to his usual shenanigans, as he returned to action and made Hornets announcer Eric Collins lose his cool and go bananas in his booth. His full-court passes were in full effect as shown through his eight total assists that went along with seven rebounds and 11 points. Malik Monk also returned to action and scored 11 points, stole the ball once, and grabbed two boards in 22 minutes of action. Meanwhile, LaMelo’s best bud on the team was flying even higher than usual to throw down his passes. Miles Bridges scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Miles has really come into his own this season and one upside of Hayward’s unfortunate injury is that now Miles has an even bigger opportunity to do so. We cannot forget about Scary Terry Rozier, who scored a game-high 29 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out four assists. An excellent season as well for Rozier. These Hornets are fighting and LaMelo’s return may now be that extra punch they need to stay in a play-in spot. 

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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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An extremely encouraging pattern is beginning to emerge with my every-other-week recapping of the Wednesday night games: Happy returns that are highlighted in the lede. You see, it was my distinct pleasure to highlight KAT’s return from his early season wrist + Covid absence, and I was the one who placed Kevin Durant in this place of prominence when he came back from the extended hammy vacation. Now, I’m due up for the recap on the night Jaren Jackson Jr. returned and you know damn well that I’m going to make him the lede. Welcome back, Jar—

Ah. Actually not. Sorry JJJ, I’m breaking up the welcome party and going with the 40 piece instead. We’ll see you later in the recap, because this lede (and maybe all of the Western world) belongs to…

Julius Randle

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
40 11 6 1 0 6 11/21 12/13 4

This is second time in the last week that Julius has gone 40+/10+/6+ with 6 made threes. Wut. That’s just unspeakable heat from New York’s Caesar, who led the Knicks to an OT win against the Hawks last night. Woe to those of you having wrestle this monster in head-to-head playoffs. It might be better just to simply bend the knee when Randle is going like this.

Here’s what else stood out on another busy Wednesday in the Association…

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The fantasy hoops world is one of diversity, danger, and drip. Some parts of the world are in constant drought with bricks raining down from the heavens. In others, there are only waterfalls that splash to the rhythm of a metronome. Tucked on the highest peak in the most remote part of the world lies a pantheon of extraordinary magnitude: The Nikola Pantheon. Nikola Jokic has been sitting on its iron throne for much of the season, as he has been the numero uno player in fantasy hoops. Nikola Vucevic has been valiantly trying to unseat Jokic. While he’s been a tier below Jokic for much of the season, there have been moments when the guardians of the Nikola Pantheon have discussed making it a timeshare. Last night, Vucevic went for 32 points, 17 boards, five dimes, and one block while shooting 14-for-29 from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown. Jokic went for 27 points, eight boards, 11 dimes, one steal, and one block in only 27 minutes. What a Jokic! Vucevic is the number 11 player for fantasy and has been narrowing the gap somewhat, but the divide is still a massive one. The iron throne on the Nikola Pantheon is no joke as it will be inhabited by Jokic for the foreseeable future.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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It was tough to write this one until I was absolutely sure we could beat a Nets team without Kevin Durant or James Harden. The Bulls beat the Nets on Sunday 115-107, where they controlled the game from tip to the buzzer. I’m happy to report that I don’t have to commit fandom seppuku, and the Bulls still are very much relevant in the NBA playoff race this season.

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Just an overall tough night as a basketball fan in terms of the level of competitiveness in the NBA last night. Only one game was decided by ten points or less. We had blowouts ranging anywhere from 12 points all the way to a whopping 53 points! But with blowouts comes a handful of big-time performances and some nice performances by some bench guys that do not typically see a lot of playing time. So with that in mind, here are the Friday Night Primetime Performers from last night’s games across the league.

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