• Friday night brought tons of action and some monster lines, from faces both familiar and foreign to fantasy’s upper echelon. That unpredictability is what makes the fantasy world so stomach-churningly fun and there are undoubtedly some pleasantly surprised people reading this right now. Unfortunately, we do have to go through some of the day’s news, including some unpleasant injury news. Let’s dive in.

    Out East: The Sixers said that Joel Embiid will sit out Saturday’s game against the Cavs but return for Sunday’s contest. The Process hasn’t gotten the green light on back-to-backs yet, but those days are hopefully coming soon… the Magic have ruled Evan Fournier out for a couple of games, and given the looks of his ankle sprain he might miss more than that… Dion Waiters was sporting an elbow brace this morning but says he’ll be playing on Saturday. He’s got a bonus for hitting 70 games this season and has already sat out two, so look for Waiters to fight through anything short of a lost limb… John Wall has been ruled out of Saturday’s game but appears to be nearing a return after working out with coaches and upping his participation in practices… Derrick Rose is dealing with bone spurs and could be looking at surgery if his rehab doesn’t do the job. He’s got no fantasy appeal anyway and Isaiah Thomas is set to return in a couple weeks, but you can’t help but feel for the guy. They’ll also be without Tristan Thompson for the next little while as he experienced some calf soreness after a scrimmage. He was supposed to return this weekend, but alas…

    Out West: Kawhi Leonard is now targeting Tuesday’s game for his return after earlier speculation had him thinking about Saturday. The plan was a final workout on Thursday and then a check on Friday but apparently he wasn’t feeling 100 percent. Regardless, he’s almost there… Nerlens Noel had surgery on a torn thumb ligament and is going to be out indefinitely. Maybe next year, Nerlens… Milos Teodosic went through a full-contact practice and is getting close to returning, though the Clippers aren’t expecting to activate him for tomorrow. It’s probably time to add the Clippers’ next starting point guard… Nikola Jokic got a post-shootaround workout in but said he still can’t jump off his left leg. That’s concerning, but he’s making progress and the Nuggets are still hoping to have him back on their current road trip… The Thunder have listed Paul George and Jerami Grant as questionable for Saturday. There’s no real winners on that bench and OKC really needs PG if they want to get things turned around quickly… Dennis Smith Jr. will miss two games to rest his sore hip. J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell should be on your mind… The Blazers have ruled Maurice Harkless questionable and Jusuf Nurkic out for Saturday. There haven’t been many Nurk Alerts this year and he might spend a little bit on the shelf here. Portland’s season is very close to becoming a lost cause… and lastly, the torturous rotation in Phoenix could have some clarity for a night. Tyson Chandler and Alex Len are both questionable on Saturday, which should mean extra run for Greg Monroe. You don’t want any part of this nightmare but any one of the trio could be productive if the other two sat out. Hell, it might only take one absence to make it work for two guys. Please, Suns, just pick two guys and move on.

    Now, onto the games.

    Denver Nuggets 103 @ Orlando Magic 89

    The Nuggets picked up a win without their frontcourt stars and with some poor nights from their starting backcourt. Gary Harris was limited to just 24 minutes thanks to early foul trouble, but he’ll bounce back. Jamal Murray stunk it up in 17 minutes before leaving with a leg injury, allowing Emmanuel Mudiay to play 31 minutes and finish with 18-5-5 and a pair apiece of steals and triples. Even Malik Beasley shook loose for 29 minutes and 12-4-3 with two longballs. Mudiay is probably on the table as a pickup if Murray misses any time. Will Barton came as advertised in this one, absolutely filling it up with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocks and a triple. The big men saw what the backcourt did, and Kenneth Faried played 30 minutes off the bench and easily outplayed the starters. He picked up 20 and 10 with two swats while starters Mason Plumlee and Wilson Chandler were quiet in 18 and 26 minutes, repectively. PlumDog had three blocks of his own, but Faried is the guy to own of the two.

    Orlando is reeling and are nearing rock bottom after their mirage of a hot start. D.J. Augustin (25 minutes, six points) and Jonathon Simmons (34 minutes, 21 points) split the time at shooting guard with Fournier out but neither is all that appealing. Simmons has the minutes on his side and should definitely be owned but he’s got some stat set issues to work through before he becomes a serious fantasy threat. Arron Afflalo did nothing in a start and can remain ignored, though there should be more minutes for everyone in the next one if Aaron Gordon can’t get through the concussion protocol. He left after 29 minutes and a hollow 17 points but his health is concern number one here. Elfrid Payton was alright despite a 3-of-10 shooting line, picking up 11 points, six dimes, a steal and two threes and we’ll see how the two PG looks affect his game. Nikola Vucevic remained excellent with 21 points, 17 rebounds, a steal, four blocks and a triple on 10-of-19 shooting and will cruise past his ADP this season.

    Chicago Bulls 119 @ Charlotte Hornets 111

    The return of Nikola Mirotic was the story coming into this one, and he definitely looked a little rusty. Despite this game getting into overtime, he picked up just 15 minutes but did collect six points, three rebounds, a block and a 3-pointer on 2-of-7 shooting. He wasn’t exactly shy about shooting and that bodes well for his fantasy appeal. Miro should be picked up for his late-round floor and he already (and unsurprisingly) proved more worthwhile than Bobby Portis, who also played just 15 minutes. Neither player will touch Lauri Markkanen, who snatched a 24 and 12 double-double with three triples. Robin Lopez also double-doubled with 19 and 10 and really capitalized on the extra minutes that came with Dwight Duty. David Nwaba went for 11-6-4 with three blocks off the bench while Justin Holiday went for 17-8-2 with five cash counters himself. Despite the nice numbers here, the big performer was Kris Dunn. His defensive upside has always been apparent but he had everything working tonight besides his wonky shot. Dunn went 8-of-24 from the field but picked up 20 points, six rebounds and 12 assists in 41 minutes. The starting job is his and if he can ever pair this kind of playmaking with his usual defensive numbers, look out.

    The Hornets dragged this one into overtime despite mostly mediocre lines. Kemba Walker couldn’t repeat his outburst from the last time these two faced off and totaled 20 points, five assists and three triples. Nicolas Batum went for 9-6-10 and a triple-one line while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist picked up 15 points, seven boards and a block. Marvin Williams came to life a bit and notched 17 points, nine rebounds, a steal, a block and three triples but has some more work to do before hitting the standard league radar again. Dwight Howard was a beast with 25 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks. That’s what you’re hoping for with Howard, and his 3-of-8 from the stripe don’t take too much shine off considering your expectations. The injury bug hit Jeremy Lamb in this one, who left after just eight minutes with a shin contusion. Treveon Graham played 19 minutes and picked up 12 points off the bench but isn’t worth tracking outside of deep leagues. Hopefully Lamb gets back out there soon, as he’s in the midst of a strong fantasy season.

    Cleveland Cavaliers 102 @ Indiana Pacers 106

    The Cavs dropped a decision to the surprisingly effective Pacers, but it’s not hard to see why considering the state of their depth. Their most productive bench guy was Dwyane Wade, who scored nine points and dropped four dimes. It didn’t get much better in the starting five, as the ghost of Jae Crowder pitched in his customary six points. J.R. Smith knocked down five threes for his 15 points but he’s liable to disappear in the next one. Kevin Love struggled with his shot (6-of-16 from the field, 2-of-7 from deep, 6-of-10 from the charity stripe) but still picked up 20 points and seven rebounds while LeBron James couldn’t drag his teammates across the finish line in this one. Bron was good for 29-10-8 with a steal, a triple and two blocks and is just as good as ever. Maybe the Cavs will be a more interesting fantasy squad when IT comes back, but for now there certainly won’t be anyone jumping out from the shadows to deliver fantasy value.

    The Pacers defended home court thanks to a massive 20-point third quarter from Victor Oladipo, who is in the midst of a true breakout year. He was sensational yet again with 33 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal and six triples. His 5-of-10 from the free throw line was out of character but he’ll be better than that and you can’t complain about the rest of his night. Darren Collison played only 22 minutes and Cory Joseph played in crunch time in a situation that’s inching closer to timeshare territory. Bojan Bogdanovic shot 3-of-11 and is cooling off but hit a timely triple, so at least he had that. Thaddeus Young had a nice game, as did Myles Turner, who was questionable to play in this one. Young picked up 13 points, eight rebounds and five cash counters while Turner went for 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. While there was some value to mine here, everyone more or less let Oladipo do the heavy lifting and just made sure to get what they could.

    Golden State Warriors 102 @ Detroit Pistons 98

    Like the Cavs, the Warriors are actually pretty boring from a fantasy perspective. Kevin Durant was a monster in Detroit, stuffing the stat sheet for 36 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, five blocks and three triples. Draymond Green had a rough night on offense with just two points but filled it up elsewhere as he is wont to do, orchestrating a win with six rebounds, 13 assists, three steals and a half dozen blocks of his own. These two were terrors and the fact that the Warriors continue to roll without one of the best players on the planet should tell you all you need to know. Klay Thompson was his steady self with 21 points, though he was a disappointing 2-of-9 from deep. Shaun Livingston scored 10 points in a start and just isn’t going to produce enough to make sense in standard leagues. Golden State’s big names are as elite as they come but nobody else is really going to move the needle as the rotation currently stands.

    The Pistons continue to fight every single night but came up short against the champs tonight despite the best efforts of Avery Bradley. The shooting guard scored a team-high 25 with four triples and is a solid middle-round performer. It’s actually impressive that Detroit hung in there considering their usual suspects were subpar — Tobias Harris scored 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting (but did have two threes and a block) while Andre Drummond was just 2-of-9 from the floor. He was 4-of-10 from the line and the regression might be on its way in that department. Still, Dre picked up 17 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block and continues to crush expectations. Reggie Jackson was solid if unspectacular in his 27 minutes, picking up a fairly hollow 16 points. And while this doesn’t have much bearing on fantasy circles, cult hero Boban Marjanovic got dusted off for 14 minutes and produced 10 points and four rebounds. Maybe one day, Boban, when the playing time is consistent.

    Toronto Raptors 116 @ Memphis Grizzlies 107

    The Raptors stunk up the gym early in this one and made life hard on themselves by loafing their way to a 17-point deficit. In classic Raptor fashion they screwed around but still wound up okay thanks to some strong play from all over the roster. Serge Ibaka got hot early with 18 first-half points en route to 21, adding four threes and a block. He’s not an exciting asset but middle-round numbers are still on the table and he has looked more energetic lately, at least. Fred VanVleet was terrific and played the final 15 minutes. It was a well-earned opportunity as he was scrapping for loose balls, commanding the offense and creating open looks all night. He picked up 12 points, a steal, a block and three triples and should be on rosters in 16-team leagues and on watch lists in shallower formats. The Raps bought enough time for DeMar DeRozan (26-7-6, 14-of-14 free throws) and Kyle Lowry (16-8-6, two steals and four triples) to put the finishing touches on another win. Toronto weathered a tough early schedule and would do well to string some wins together now that the seas aren’t so choppy.

    The Grizz are in a bad way right now, and they’re not getting much from most of the roster. Tyreke Evans remained resurgent with 27 points, three boards, four dimes, three triples and a steal which is nice work considering he was questionable as of this afternoon. Marc Gasol was just okay with 20-7-4, and his minus-18 really underscores how much Memphis collapsed after building their early lead. Chandler Parsons played well with 15 points and two more triples off the bench and could be worth using while he’s hot, and surprise starter Andrew Harrison picked up seven assists. Dillon Brooks continued his disappearing act while Ben McLemore got too cute and botched a 360 dunk in the first half. He’s lucky that Memphis didn’t lose by three or less. JaMychal Green was brutal with four points and five boards on 2-of-9 shooting, but at least he picked up two defensive stats. Green’s got no competition for minutes (32 tonight, though he was largely invisible) and should be a top-125 player so some buy low offers might be in order while he’s struggling.

    Sacramento Kings 116 @ New Orleans Pelicans 109

    For all the (correct) talk about Zach Randolph‘s oversized role in Sacramento, he has been one of the better statistical performers on the season and led the team to a big win tonight. Z-Bo had an out of body experience in this one, clicking along for 14-of-22 and 5-of-9 from deep to collect 35 points and 13 rebounds. If Randolph could hit threes like this every night then we’d have something serious, but his general lack of output beyond points and rebounds relegates him to the fringes of standard leagues. He was the best starter in this one, though the competition wasn’t exactly fierce with De’Aaron Fox‘s 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting coming in a clear second. George Hill was pretty silent in only 19 minutes and is quickly falling off the fantasy radar. JaKarr Sampson couldn’t follow through on his huge game against Cleveland with three points and two rebounds in 12 minutes, and it was fun while it lasted. Frank Mason continued his strong play and notched 12 points, five boards and three assists off the bench and is quite frankly challenging Hill’s minutes. Buddy Hield canned four triples and had a nice night with 18 points, seven boards and a steal while Bogdan Bogdanovic committed four thefts of his own. Bogie remains a strong long-term play.

    This game stings for the Pelicans and it’s a result that’s going to absolutely kill them late in the season. If (or when) they miss out on the playoffs by a game or two, this ugly one could stick out. Anthony Davis made his return from a strained adductor and surpassed his supposed minute limit, logging 31 minutes and posting 18 points, six rebounds and two assists. That’s one of AD’s more boring lines on the year, which should tell you what you need to know. DeMarcus Cousins posted another huge line with a few warts, namely 14-of-30 shooting and a whopping eight turnovers. You’ll take that if it means 38-11-4 with three steals and four triples every night, but it’s the sort of stuff that keeps Boogie from being elite elite. Jrue Holiday predictably cooled off with a still-passable 14-5-5 and a block and Ian Clark got hot in a spot start for Rajon Rondo. Glad you could see that, since it’s about as rare as a shooting star.

    Dallas Mavericks 102 @ Milwaukee Bucks 109

    The Mavs needed someone else to step up in the backcourt with Dennis Smith sidelined, and it wasn’t J.J. Barea (eight points, four boards, six assists and two steals) or replacement starter Yogi Ferrell (five points, four assists) but rather Wesley Matthews. Wes was scorching in this one and connected on 11-of-15 from the field and 5-of-7 from deep en route to 29 points. The rest of his box score left a lot to be desired but you need to be thankful any time he can fill it up without tanking your percentages. Harrison Barnes did his usual thing and picked up 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists while Dwight Powell collected 15 points of his own off the bench. Unfortunately, the end of the line is nearing for Dirk Nowitzki. German Moses shot just 3-of-10 in 28 minutes tonight to post 11 points, five rebounds and two steals. Fantasy owners can sadly do better at this stage of Dirk’s legendary career.

    Milwaukee leaned heavily on their smaller players (if you can refer to Giannis Antetokounmpo as a small guy, anyway), resulting in big minutes for their best fantasy names. Eric Bledsoe converted 11-of-12 freebies and delivered a well-rounded line of 24 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks, one 3-pointer and just one turnover in 35 minutes. Malcolm Brogdon played 41 minutes off the bench and was no doubt aided by the absence of Tony Snell. He’s still a solid fantasy guy even in a reserve role though his 14 points and six assists tonight won’t wow anybody. Giannis played 43 minutes and picked up another monster line of 27 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks but perhaps the most impressive thing was his 11-of-12 mark from the charity stripe. The Greek Freak is an adequate .769 from the free throw line this season and is a slam dunk top-5 player, so you can only imagine what even a marginal improvement there could do. Khris Middleton played hero in this one, however, connecting on five threes as part of his 31-point outburst. Middleton’s box score was pretty empty otherwise but he’s been a top-35 guy so far and shows no signs of slowing down.

    Boston Celtics 102 @ San Antonio Spurs 105

    The Celtics rolled into San Antonio on a tear but were felled against the shorthanded Spurs. It’s a fate that many others have experienced over the years, but the C’s will probably be kicking themselves for letting a fourth quarter lead slip away. Jayson Tatum joined the team late after being excused for a personal matter but still produced, picking up 20 points, two threes, eight rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes. Jaylen Brown was sporting goggles and looked good doing so, shooting 7-of-10 en route to 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a 3-pointer. Marcus Morris was the other Celtic with some questions about his availability before the game. He played but maybe should’ve sat this one out, as he shot just 2-of-9 in 25 minutes. He’s still a late-round fantasy guy though. Al Horford was stifled offensively and shot just 1-of-6 in 35 minutes, finishing with two points, nine rebounds and three assists. Al has been phenomenal through the first 27 games of the year and has earned a ton of slack, so chalk this one up to an off night and a tough opponent and move on. Kyrie Irving dropped 36 and six triples but didn’t do anything else worth mentioning. It’s nice that he shot 13-of-21 on the night but some other stats would’ve been nice. These are the nits you wind up picking with top-15 players.

    The ageless Manu Ginobili played hero in this one, knocking down the game-winning triple with five seconds to go. Not bad for a 40-year-old who banged knees in his last game. While it was a great moment for him, he remains a non-factor in fantasy leagues of sane depth, as his 11 points can attest. Danny Green left early and that’s one to keep an eye on. Guys like Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans would benefit the most but it’s probably not enough to be worth your while in fantasy leagues. Pau Gasol notched a hollow 14 and 11, Rudy Gay delivered an equally hollow 15 and eight rebounds while Tony Parker was quietly serviceable with 11-5-4. Steer clear of Parker in fantasy, as it’s been a few years since he’s been a positive contributor for our make-believe endeavors. LaMarcus Aldridge continued his renaissance with 27 points and 10 rebounds but things might change when Kawhi returns. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later, as his patient owners have been forced to tread water for far longer than they were hoping for. You might be able to work a sell high deal for LMA but your time is running out. The Spurs have played over a quarter of the season without their best player and sit at 18-8. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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