March 20, 2021, 1:45 am
On Friday night, starting lineups for the Rockets and the Raptors were finally reunited. With John Wall’s return from a four-game absence, Houston’s core was on the court together for the first time since February 1st. They’ve lost 20 of 22 games in that timespan and have ridden an 18-game losing streak down to the second-worst record in the league. They extended that streak to 19 games in a 113-100 loss to the Pistons tonight. Wall recorded mediocre shooting splits (43.8 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from the line), turned the ball over six times and ended with a team-worst minus-14 plus-minus. A healthy roster probably doesn’t mean much for a Rockets team locked into orbit around the draft lottery.
It means a lot more for Toronto, who welcomed back OG Anunoby in a 112-115 loss to the Jazz tonight. Anunoby had been out for the past six games and was the last of the Raptors’ five players to be cleared by the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He played his best game since January, swiping four steals and blocking one shot while scoring 15 points with three triples. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet also returned on Wednesday; thus, the Raptors are finally at full strength.
Without their full starting lineup, they’d lost six straight games, mostly to Eastern Conference teams with whom they’re directly competing for playoff spots. That losing streak was the spark that reignited Kyle Lowry trade speculation. With the March 25th trade deadline imminent, Masai Ujiri and the rest of the organization need to make a call on Lowry and the team’s immediate future. In turn, whether Siakam, VanVleet and Anunoby can arrest the team’s decline over the next week may have massive implications for the whole league in the lead up to next Thursday.
Add(s) of the Night
Jordan Poole, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors
Poole started at point guard tonight for an injured Steph Curry (tailbone) and went off for 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He was already impressing before Curry went down, ranking inside the top-75 in 9-cat leagues over the past two weeks on per-game averages of 18.8 points, 3.0 triples, 2.4 assists and 0.6 steals. An undeniable caveat being he is also knocking down an absurd 54.8 percent of his shots on 12.4 attempts per game. Curry is already doubtful to play tomorrow, so Poole should remain in the starting lineup for one more night. His obscene efficiency could fall off at any moment, but you can’t leave a player this hot on the wire.
Gary Trent Jr., SG/SF, Portland Trailblazers
Since C.J. McCollum’s return three games ago, Trent’s playing time has declined below 30 minutes and his production has totally fallen off. We have to chock some of that up to disastrous shooting, as he shot under 10 percent from the field on Thursday and only hit 2-of-7 shots in the Blazers’ 125-119 win over the Mavs tonight. But with McCollum back, his overall suite of opportunities is going to be shrunk down. Even after his extended run in the starting lineup, Trent has been unable to crack the top-100 in 8- or 9-cat formats, so there’s little reason to hold onto him in standard leagues now that he’s coming off the bench.
John Wall’s presence was even more devastating than we could have imagined for Kevin Porter Jr, who left tonight’s loss to the Pistons at halftime and was ruled out for the remainder of the game due to right quad soreness. He finished with just two points in nine minutes of action. The Rockets have yet to elaborate on the severity of his injury. There has been a lot of debate over whether or not Porter Jr. was a sell-high player, but anyone who decided to move him will be patting themselves on the back tonight.
Steph Curry (tailbone) did not play against the Grizzlies tonight and has already been labeled doubtful to play on Saturday. Kelly Oubre Jr. (right foot) was initially doubtful to play as well, but ultimately took the court for a mediocre outing.
Hawks interim coach Nate McMillian said today that De’Andre Hunter (right knee surgery) is expected to return to action during the team’s upcoming eight-game road trip. Hunter last played on January 29th and currently ranks just outside the top-60/50 per game (8/9-cat) on the season.
Terrence Ross (sore right knee) and Michael Carter-Williams (illness) both sat out tonight’s 121-113 win over the Nets, while Evan Fournier (left groin strain) was initially probable but ended up playing and dropping 31 points with six 3-pointers.
Rudy Gobert (left hip contusion) was a game-time decision ahead of the Jazz’s 115-112 victory over the Raptors tonight but was good to go when the game kicked off.
DeMar DeRozan (personal) returned from a four-game absence tonight and helped the Spurs to a 116-110 victory against the Cavs with 20 points and seven assists.
Davis Bertans was diagnosed with a calf strain today and is set to miss two weeks as a result. He’s averaged 24.7 minutes and 8.2 field goal attempts per game this season. Those should be absorbed by Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews, though that won’t push either player into standard-league consideration.
Jeremy Lamb (left knee) was back on the court tonight after missing the Pacers’ last three games. He scored 12 points with three triples, a steal and a block in a 137-110 blowout win over the Heat.
The Bucks announced that P.J. Tucker (trade) will make his Milwaukee debut on Saturday against the Spurs.
Cameron Johnson (health and safety protocols) did not suit up for tonight’s 113-101 win over the Wolves.
Cody Zeller (left shoulder bursitis) will sit out the Hornets’ game against the Clippers on Saturday.
Seth Curry (sprained left ankle) has already been ruled out for both of the Sixers’ games this weekend. Without him, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz could see slight bumps to their playing time.
The New Center
An emerging narrative in the second half of the season is the rise of talented young centers. The Celtics’ Robert Williams III is the main protagonist of this storyline as he’s ascended inside the top-12 per-game over the last two weeks. In a 96-107 loss to the Kings tonight he logged 22 minutes and produced 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks. A lot has been said about the disparity between Williams’ excellent counting stats and his actual contribution to winning games, but he was entrusted to play a key stretch of the fourth quarter tonight. Through no fault of his own, the Celtics did ultimately end up losing as De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield ripped off back-to-back-to-back clutch threes to take a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Despite the disappointing result, coach Brad Stevens has obviously gained more confidence in Williams’ abilities and that’s paying massive dividends in the fantasy world.
Aside from Williams, Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart and Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton have started making a lot of noise too. In the Pistons’ 113-100 win over the Rockets tonight, Stewart played 25 minutes, four more than starting center Mason Plumlee, and put up 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and one three. Trade whispers have swirled around Plumlee in the lead up to the deadline and were he to be moved, Stewart’s upside would be fully unlocked. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, the rookie big is already putting up 12-team value in just 22.5 minutes a night. After tonight’s game, I feel comfortable saying Stewart should be on a roster in all standard leagues.
In Brooklyn, Claxton has taken over Jarrett Allen’s role as “the center everyone knows should be playing over DeAndre Jordan, but isn’t”. Jordan played 23 minutes tonight while Claxton got 22 and scored seven points with four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. The playing time gap between them has begun closing in the last two games, but there’s no real indication Steve Nash intends to further elevate the younger of the two. Claxton isn’t yet a must-add player, but he should certainly be piquing your interest.
Though they didn’t play tonight, the Thunder are also home to a rising young center in Moses Brown. Erik Ong covered Brown’s impressive 20-point, 16-rebound performance in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Dish.
At the same time that the NBA approaches its trade deadline, many fantasy leagues will also be nearing the cut-off day to swap players. In light of that, I thought I should highlight some players who presented some great opportunities to buy low or sell high tonight.
Buy Low: Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton has been absolutely brutal following the All-Star break. He’s ranked outside the top-100 over the past two weeks while averaging a shockingly low 7.6 points per game on 31.7 percent shooting from the field. Luke Walton continues to reiterate that Haliburton is on a minutes restriction, but he was still allowed to play 32 minutes against the Wizards on Wednesday and 33 against the Celtics tonight. The time is now to try and snap up a player who is ranked 50th overall in 9-cat leagues this season and could easily push above that mark if he gets his groove back.
Sell High: Keldon Johnson
An enormous 23-point, 21-rebound performance against the Cavs tonight marks Johnson as a pressing sell-high. After an excellent start to his sophomore season, he’d slowed down but continued to play well enough to remain on most standard-league rosters. He will probably never have a game as good as tonight’s for the remainder of the season, so strike while the iron is very hot and root out a sell-high trade that brings in a top-80 asset.
Buy High: Evan Fournier
Fournier knocked down six 3-pointers against the Nets tonight and finished with a season-high 31 points. He also recorded a solid 23-point outing on Thursday in his return from a four-game absence due to a left groin injury. Most of the talk around Fournier will label him as a sell-high, but on the contrary, I think he just might be the rare case of a buy-high player. Every single one of Fournier’s managers will be searching out a sell-high trade after tonight’s game, but they will also be acutely aware that he’s missed 18 of the season’s 41 games due to injury. They won’t have much, if any, faith in him and will be hurriedly looking to get something for him. Combine that with the fact that Fournier is the type of player who totally lacks in name brand value and you have a recipe for a buy-high opportunity. Fournier has, for the majority of his time in the NBA, been a top-100 player per game and that remains the case this season. Take advantage of his managers’ desire to offload him and dangle a fringe top-100 or top-90 player in front of them. Hope they take the bait and don’t push your offers much further than that.