Joel Embiid rolls over Orlando

Friday’s six-game NBA schedule was supposed to be headlined by the Atlantic Division battle between the Celtics and Raptors, but that game did not live up to the hype as Boston blew Toronto’s doors off. As for the other games, Joel Embiid, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday all played well, while three young Wizards managed to score at least 20 points in the same game. 

Spurs 119, Jazz 111 

To say that the Jazz lineup for Friday’s game was depleted would be an understatement. Donovan Mitchell (left leg), Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Royce O’Neale (right calf soreness) and Rudy Gobert (rest) were all sidelined, meaning that Joe Ingles would be the only available starter. Ingles didn’t even play the second half of Friday’s loss, accounting for 12 points (4-of-6 3-pointers), three rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes. The other available rotation players were Jordan Clarkson (24/2/4 with four 3-pointers), Emmanuel Mudiay (14/1/5/1), Georges Niang (7/8/2/2 with one 3-pointer) and Tony Bradley (15/11/2/1/3 with one 3-pointer). 

Friday’s efforts could be key for Ingles and Bradley when it comes to their confidence, as the former has been a reluctant shooter for much of his time in the bubble and the latter had not been particularly effective in the games prior. Clarkson and Ingles certainly have fantasy value in their respective roles when the Jazz rotation is whole, while players such as Bradley and Niang hold more value to Utah than they do fantasy players from a production standpoint. Miye Oni (14/7/1 steal and two 3-pointers) played well in a starting role, while Jarrell Brantley (8/6/3/2/1 with two 3-pointers) filled the stat sheet in 21 minutes off the bench. Neither is worth considering as a fantasy option at this point in their respective NBA careers. 

San Antonio’s rotation was largely intact, with the exception being Marco Belinelli (ankle) making his return while Patty Mills was given the day off. Belinelli played 18 minutes off the bench, finishing with eight points, two rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers. While he can provide some points and 3-pointers, the contributions aren’t enough to justify Belinelli as a low-cost fantasy option. Derrick White (24/6/4/1/1 with four 3-pointers) continues to play well, while Jakob Poeltl (15/10/2/3 blocks) posted another double-double. 

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San Antonio’s young guards have taken advantage of their opportunities in the bubble, and that includes Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson. White will likely be the Spurs guard that many angle to pick up ahead of next season, but Walker and Johnson should be under consideration as well. Johnson only scored four points Friday but he contributed in other areas, with the stat line including five rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot in 24 minutes. Walker finished with 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one 3-pointer. The Spurs still have a lot of work to do if they’re to grab the nine-spot in the West, but the playoff chase hasn’t come at the expense of giving those guards quality minutes. That should serve San Antonio well down the line. 

Grizzlies 121, Thunder 92 

Memphis was in dire need of a win entering Friday, and they got it done in impressive fashion. There was a change to the starting lineup, with the veteran Anthony Tolliver replacing Brandon Clarke. Tolliver racked up eight points, five rebounds and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes, and the swap appeared to benefit Clarke as well. He shot 6-of-6 from the field, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. Tolliver is more of a threat when it comes to perimeter shooting, and with Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) done for the year having a frontcourt player who has to be respected as a shooter in that role gives the Memphis offense a much-needed boost. Tolliver remains a points-and-threes guy, limiting his potential as a fantasy option. 

The trio of Dillon Brooks (22/6/4/1 with two 3-pointers), Jonas Valanciunas (19/11/2/1/1) and Ja Morant (19/4/9 with two 3-pointers) led the way for Memphis, with Gorgui Dieng chipping in with 12 points, seven rebounds, one block and one 3-pointer in 22 minutes off the bench. There are more minutes available to Dieng in the aftermath of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s season-ending injury, but I’m not sold on him from a fantasy standpoint. Grayson Allen (11 points, one rebound, one assist and three 3-pointers) is appealing if you’re in need of 3-pointers, but De’Anthony Melton (four points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in 24 minutes) is the better option off the Memphis bench as he brings more to the table production-wise.

Oklahoma City played its third straight game without Dennis Schroder, and he was sorely missed on a day that saw many of the team’s other bench options struggle. Darius Bazley (12/4/2/1 block with two 3-pointers) shot 4-of-14 from the field, with Hamidou Diallo (7/8/2/2 with one 3-pointer) going 3-of-11 and Abdel Nader (two points, one rebound) 1-of-7. What also hurt the second unit was the absence of starting center Steven Adams (left knee), as this moved Nerlens Noel into the starting lineup. Noel finished with 11 points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal in 27 minutes, and the combination of injuries (Adams and Mike Muscala) and his foul trouble meant minutes at the center position for Bazley. Not the best situation, especially with the rugged Valanciunas manning the paint for Memphis. 

Chris Paul (17/5/5/4 with two 3-pointers) played just 28 minutes, as the outcome wasn’t really in doubt after the third quarter, while Luguentz Dort (16/3/2/1 with four 3-pointers) finished the game one 3-pointer shy of his career-high. Dort’s value usually comes on the defensive end of the floor, which limits his ceiling with regard to fantasy, but he’s now reached double figures in each of the Thunder’s last three games. That coincides with Schroder’s departure from the bubble, so as long as he’s sidelined Dort makes sense as a low-cost DFS option.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10/3/3/1 with one 3-pointer) shot just 3-of-13 from the field, making him a combined 6-of-24 from the field over the last two games. While he was 6-of-13 in the overtime loss to Denver, spending more time as the lone point guard on the court hasn’t been easy for Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City’s last two games. 

Nets 119, Kings 106 

Friday was a good day for Brooklyn, as not only did the Nets lock up a playoff spot but the Nets also increased their lead on Orlando to 1 1/2 games. Caris LeVert shot 9-of-21 from the field, but the overall stat line (22/5/7/3 with three 3-pointers) takes away the sting. He, Joe Harris (21/4/4 with five 3-pointers) and Jarrett Allen (17/11/8/1) were all back in the starting lineup, with Allen establishing a new career-high with those eight assists. Jacque Vaughn made two changes to Brooklyn’s starting five, with Rodions Kurucs (8/7/2/3 with one 3-pointer) replacing Lance Thomas and Garrett Temple (12/1/3/2/1 with two 3-pointers) taking over for Tyler Johnson. 

Kurucs has played well in Orlando, and while there may not be as many shots available to him in the first unit he’s capable of contributing in other areas. I like him as a back-end fantasy option, and the same can be said for Johnson as he accounted for 14 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 18 points off the bench. Also playing well off the bench was Chris Chiozza, who accounted for 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, one block and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes. He’s scored in double figures in three of Brooklyn’s last four games, and given that run (in addition to the assists) he’s be worth rolling the dice on as a cheap lineup filler. 

For the Sacramento the big news was the hip injury suffered by Richaun Holmes, as he was limited to just 11 minutes and did not play at all during the second half. His absence opened up additional minutes for Alex Len (6/11/2), who is a worthwhile play should Holmes have to miss additional game time due to the injury. Nemanja Bjelica (4/6/2/2 blocks in 18 minutes) would also stand to see his fantasy value increase due to Holmes’ absence, but he did not take advantage on Friday. And with Kent Bazemore having been ruled out due to a calf injury DaQuan Jeffries jumped into the rotation, playing 25 minutes and finishing with two points, five rebounds and one assist. He isn’t worth picking up at this point. 

Bogdan Bogdanovic (27/6/2 with four 3-pointers) followed up his career-high 35 with another good showing, while De’Aaron Fox (21/2/7/1 with two 3-pointers), Buddy Hield (17/1 with three 3-pointers) and Harrison Barnes (16/6/1 with two 3-pointers) also scored in double figures. 

76ers 108, Magic 101

Philadelphia’s first game in the bubble without Ben Simmons meant a move back into the starting lineup for Al Horford, and he had himself a good night. Horford played 30 minutes, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one block and one 3-pointer. While the Horford/Joel Embiid tandem felt a bit awkward pre-stoppage, they’ve been much better together in Orlando. Embiid woke up after playing poorly in the first half Friday, finishing with 23 points, 13 rebounds and one assist in 37 minutes.

When he’s aggressive the equation changes for everyone in the 76ers offense, as Tobias Harris (23/15/4 with two 3-pointers) was far more efficient in the second half than he was the first. The reason was simple: when Embiid is rolling Harris, and others, have less work to do when it comes to creating their own shots. 

Alec Burks had his best night in the bubble, finishing with 22 points, four rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers in 28 minutes. Simmons’ absence frees up second unit scoring opportunities, even with Horford and Embiid’s minutes being staggered at certain points in the game, and Burks is the most aggressive of Philadelphia’s remaining options. Mike Scott (knee) played nine minutes in his return and isn’t a factor fantasy-wise, while Furkan Korkmaz left the game in the third due to a sprained finger on his left hand. He was available to return but did not see any action in the fourth quarter. 

Aaron Gordon’s (hamstring) absence meant a spot start for Gary Clark and he struggled, scoring three points with five rebounds, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 26 minutes. Clark doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value, but at least he made a shot. The same can’t be said for Terrence Ross, who finished the night 0-of-10 from the field. He did account for three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block, but points and 3-pointers are where Ross is most valuable fantasy-wise. He’s a bit too hot and cold for me, but the possibility of his going off on any given night is what makes Ross a player worth considering.  

With regard to Gordon’s absence, James Ennis would be the better play than Clark right now. Ennis was already a starter, and in 32 minutes Friday he contributed 14 points, nine rebounds and one 3-pointer. The usual suspects led the way for the Magic, with Evan Fournier scoring 22, Nikola Vucevic going for 21 points and 12 boards, and D.J. Augustin adding 16 points, three rebounds and five assists. Markelle Fultz (13/4/3/1 with one 3-pointer) played 22 minutes, with the majority of his playing time coming as the lone point guard on the floor due to the absence of Michael Carter-Williams (foot). 

Pelicans 118, Wizards 107

With this being the second game of a back-to-back for New Orleans, Zion Williamson was given the night off. He did play in a back-to-back before the stoppage but the circumstances were far different, as he was in a rhythm when it came to both game and practice time. The 13 days that Williamson had to spend away from the bubble changed the equation, and with the rookie still having his minutes managed having him sit out one game of a back-to-back was the plan. J.J. Redick moved into the starting lineup as a result, and in 30 minutes he tallied 15 points, two assists and three 3-pointers. Williamson is expected to play Sunday, and that will move Redick back into his sixth man role. 

Also benefitting from Williamson’s absence was Nicolo Melli, who snapped out of his recent shooting slump and finished with 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 18 minutes off the bench. In the four games prior Melli shot a combined 5-of-21 from the floor, so to say that Friday’s effort was much-needed would be an understatement. I’d hold off on grabbing him, especially with Williamson set to return to the lineup. Jrue Holiday (28/3/6/2/1 with two 3-pointers) led the way for the Pelicans, with Brandon Ingram (17/4/5/1 with two 3-pointers) shooting just 4-of-15 from the field. 

Derrick Favors (12/10/1/2) posted a double-double, while Frank Jackson and Josh Hart both played well off the bench. New Orleans is going to have to find more minutes for Hart somewhere in the rotation, but even now he makes for a decent low-cost option. 

The Wizards’ dream of forcing a play-in “tournament” for the 8-seed died Friday night, but not without three young players combining to do something that had not happened in nine years. Rui Hachimura (23/6/2 with one 3-pointer), Thomas Bryant (22/8/1/2/2 with two 3-pointers) and Troy Brown Jr. (20/10/5/2 with three 3-pointers) became the first trio of Wizards aged 23 years or younger to score 20 points or more in a game since 2011. Bryant has played very well in the bubble, and Hachimura and Brown continue to make strides as well. 

Speaking of Brown, Scott Brooks did say earlier in the week that he wants to get him at least one start at the point. With the Wizards no longer in playoff contention, even if he isn’t the starting point guard Brown will likely have the ball in his hands even more as the primary playmaker. Friday’s starting point guard, Ish Smith, added a double-double, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and two 3-pointers while Shabazz Napier (nine points, three rebounds and one 3-pointer) had a relatively quiet night off the bench. Napier stands to lose the most with regard to fantasy value if Brown is shifted to the point in any of the Wizards’ three remaining games in Orlando. 

Celtics 122, Raptors 100 

Prior to the game, Brad Stevens said that Kemba Walker (knee) would play a max of 30 minutes Friday night. Well he didn’t threaten that number, getting 23 minutes due to the fact that Boston blew the game wide-open during the second and third quarters. Walker finished with 17 points, three rebounds, four assists, one block and four 3-pointers in a game the Celtics led by as much as 40 before both teams cleared their respective benches. Jaylen Brown (20/6/2 with four 3-pointers), Jayson Tatum (18/7/4/2 with two 3-pointers and Daniel Theis (11/11/3/1 block with two 3-pointers) also played well, with Brad Wanamaker, Robert Williams and Semi Ojeleye all scoring in double figures off the bench. 

Williams played 11 minutes and Ojeleye 12, with Enes Kanter being a DNP-CD for this one. After playing at least 11 minutes in each of Boston’s first three games in Orlando, Kanter has played a total of five in the last two. Maybe that’s a minor hiccup, but it coincides with Williams playing better basketball. I don’t think either is worth gambling on right now, but that minutes split is something to keep an eye on heading into the postseason. 

This was a night to forget for the Raptors, who were led offensively by Fred VanVleet (13/4/4/2/1 with one 3-pointer). The bigger concern for Toronto was the loss of Serge Ibaka, who departed in the fourth quarter after being inadvertently poked in the eye by Gordon Hayward. Prior to the injury Ibaka struggled, shooting 1-of-9 from the field and finishing with two points and seven rebounds. Chris Boucher played 14 minutes, with the majority of them coming in the fourth quarter, so he doesn’t stand to be a fantasy option should Ibaka have to miss any game action. Kyle Lowry (11/2/2/3/1) filled his stat line, while Pascal Siakam (11/2/1 steal with one 3-pointer) shot 5-of-15 from the field. 

Toronto also bid farewell to Patrick McCaw, who left the bubble in preparation for another procedure on his left knee. A benign mass will be removed on Monday, and this is the second such procedure that he’s undergone this season.

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