• Well, Sunday only had two postponements, so the week ended on the same milquetoast note that every week has for the last year or so. Catch the spirit!

    Sunday’s action also had some real bittersweet moments, including some young stars absolutely popping off in ultimately futile efforts.

    The Nuggets fell to the Jazz in a playoff rematch and Denver got production from their two young guns and nobody else. Nikola Jokic stayed en fuego with 35 points on 14-for-23 shooting, 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block and three 3-pointers. Jamal Murray had 30 points on 11-of-27 shooting with five rebounds, four assists, a block and four triples. Denver’s next-best scorer was PJ Dozier, who had nine points. Stack that up with Utah, who had one 20-point scorer and five double-digit scorers, and it’s not hard to see why the Nuggets came away with a four-point L.

    Luka Doncic tried to drag the shorthanded Mavs past the lowly Bulls but came up short in a 16-point loss. One wonders what he might’ve finished with had the game been close, as he dropped 36 points, 16 rebounds, 15 assists, two steals and four blocks while going 13-for-30 from the field (which is better than it looks at first blush) and 4-of-6 from the line (which is worse than it looks at first blush). He was responsible for Dallas’ first 16 points of the day through either his own buckets or assists and still played 38 minutes despite Chicago grabbing control of the game early.

    And somehow, that’s not the line of the night. That honor goes to De’Aaron Fox, who rocked the Pelicans for 43 points on an absurd 17-for-27 shooting to go with four rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and two 3-pointers. Fox was simply incredible tonight and was a plus-18 in 39 minutes in a game that the Kings lost by five.

    *Looks at Cory Joseph going minus-23 in nine minutes*

    The Kings remain a mess and can’t defend a lick. Someone check the temperature on the hot seat for Luke Walton.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Xavier Tillman & Gorgui Dieng, F/C, Memphis Grizzlies

    A bit of an off-the-board pick considering the Grizzlies didn’t play today, but Jonas Valanciunas entered the league’s health and safety protocols and will miss Monday’s game at minimum. We’ve seen a few players only miss a single game after entering protocol, but most have missed multiple, and a handful have missed 10-14 days. There could be a huge void in the Grizzlies’ rotation for a full week or more.

    Tillman is surprisingly the safer of the two choices, as the rookie has earned an increasingly large slice of the pie in recent games. His return to the court coincided with Dieng being cut from the rotation entirely, and Tillman is posting top-140/100 value (8/9-cat) thanks to averages of 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks on .551 from the field in 19.6 mpg. Valanciunas is getting 26.7 mpg that need to be filled somehow, and Tillman is the guy whose upside you want to explore.

    Dieng, as mentioned, has fallen out of the rotation but he has a tremendous fantasy stat set and is basically a lock for late-round value at minimum if he’s playing something like 15 mpg consistently. Last year he was a middle-round force while Karl-Anthony Towns was out indefinitely, and although Tillman is blocking his path a little bit it wouldn’t be surprising to see him approach 20 mpg while JV is on the shelf. Dieng would easily be the priority add if he hadn’t been cut from the rotation. We’ll see how things look on Monday, hopefully, but both guys are great adds even with a lack of clarity as things stand now.

    Drop Zone

    Lou Williams, G, LA Clippers

    Williams didn’t play tonight because of a hip injury, so it’s not like tonight was the final straw or anything. Instead this is just a case of a formerly reliable player fading hard. Lou Will is barely a top-250 player in fantasy so far and is still rostered in 47% of Yahoo leagues and 56% of ESPN leagues. Last season he was only worth deploying in 8-cat formats, and even if he gets back on track a little bit he’s still going to share some of his previous responsibilities with Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson. Williams simply doesn’t have access to the same workload that previously supported his fantasy value. It’s time to give up the ghost if you haven’t already.

    Injury Report

    Kemba Walker returned after a left knee stem cell injection, scoring nine points and playing 20 minutes in his season debut. He also got a stiff shot to the ribs on a box-out and left the game but he was at his minutes limit anyway so that might not amount to anything.

    Mitchell Robinson (heel) and Nerlens Noel (back) played through probable tags though Robinson was notably hobbled throughout the game, particularly after taking a hard fall in the first half. He was able to gut it out but it’s something to monitor.

    Myles Turner (right hand soreness) was a surprise scratch on Sunday, but it happened earlier in the day so it wasn’t a last-minute thing. Seems minor, but you never know.

    Otto Porter (back) played and hit 7-of-10 shots as his quiet comeback campaign rolls on.

    Kristaps Porzingis played through a probable tag for a sprained left ankle, and as long as he’s not on the injury report for his knees we’re good with whatever. Let’s see if he goes tomorrow in a B2B. Tim Hardaway Jr. (groin) sat out but is said to be day-to-day, so he’s got a shot at suiting up against the Raptors in Tampa.

    Al Horford would’ve missed tonight’s game for personal reasons had the Sixers not gotten into the contact tracing mess again.

    The Clippers were short Serge Ibaka due to a non-COVID illness so hopefully he’s back soon.

    CJ McCollum, unsurprisingly, will not play on Monday with his left foot sprain. No word on a timeline yet but a negative MRI and X-ray are positive signs.

    Kyrie Irving (personal) is questionable tomorrow so we’ll be waiting up til lineup lock to see if we’ll get Brooklyn’s new unstoppable offense or just their likely-unstoppable offense.

    DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) and Eric Gordon (leg) are probable while John Wall (knee) is out for tomorrow. At least Victor Oladipo won’t have to share those backcourt touches in his Rockets debut.

    The Magic ruled Evan Fournier (back) out a full day ahead of time again but he’s at least with the team on their road trip so maybe he’ll be back soon-ish.

    Danilo Gallinari (ankle) is doubtful while Cam Reddish (left knee contusion) is questionable for Atlanta on Monday.

    The Wolves will be without Ricky Rubio, Juan Hernangomez and Karl-Anthony Towns due to the health and safety protocols. We wish a speedy recovery to all involved.

    Miami is in a similar predicament with Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley out again. Tyler Herro (neck spasms) is questionable after sitting out the last game.

    Jonas Valanciunas has also entered the health and safety protocols and will miss Monday, and possible more.

    LeBron James (ankle) is questionable but if he ends up sitting at any point we’ll bet on it being disguised rest so the Lakers don’t get fined.

    Kemba Walker’s Return

    Kemba Walker’s not 100%, but he looked as close as he’s been in a long while during his season debut on Sunday. After the game he spoke about feeling tentative in the bubble, making every move with his balky left knee in mind. Though he was laying bricks today, Walker looked a lot more like his typical self and was quick and decisive with his movements. Some rust was to be expected, and seeing Kemba leave the game after getting hit in the side wasn’t the most reassuring sight in the world, but all in all this was a solid debut on tape.

    Now, shooting 3-for-13 for nine points in 20 minutes isn’t great, but Walker did immediately jump into the starting five and also added four assists and three steals to help make up for the shaky scoring. As for what this all means in fantasy…

    Firstly, getting Walker back in mid-January has to feel like the best-case scenario for fantasy GMs. There’s still many hurdles to clear, mainly the minutes limit he’ll be working with for an indeterminate period of time, but things could’ve been a lot worse after the Celtics ruled out Walker through January 1 before preseason even began. Given how far he fell in most drafts, there’s more than enough time for Walker to surpass his ADP, even with some ramp-up built it. Keep in mind that postponed games are going to be made up later in the year too, so Walker will get off missing less time than you’d think. He’s not a guy that you need to get back into lineups right now, since that minutes limit will cap his ceiling significantly and there’s some obvious rust, but Walker is definitely someone to track closely in the coming days.

    The rest of the Celtics guards, however, are on notice. Jeff Teague hasn’t done much since a big opening night anyway and he faded completely with 14 scoreless minutes tonight. Rookie Payton Pritchard had a must-start run when Boston was at its most shorthanded and is sitting at top-145 value on the full year. Today, however, he had three points and five boards in 17 minutes off the pine. Pritchard is definitely the preferred option to Teague but this could be a three-way split of minutes until Walker can play without restrictions. It’s hard to see how anyone other than Kemba approaches legit standard-league value in that scenario.

    Schedule Check

    We got another pair of postponements today, and at this point it’s worth reassessing where each of the league’s teams stand.

    The Sixers vs. Thunder tilt on Sunday was postponed because the Sixers, who were actually warming up on the court prior to the game, had enough players in contact tracing protocols that they wouldn’t have been able to field in active roster. It’s worth pointing out the Philly already left four guys off their current road trip — Joel Embiid (knee), Mike Scott (knee), Seth Curry (health and safety) and Vincent Poirier (health and safety) — so that means at least five of the 13 players with the team got wrapped up in this latest situation.

    Philadelphia’s next game is at home against the Celtics on Wednesday, and while it likely won’t be played if there are multiple positive tests, at least Embiid and Scott should be available to help the team meet the roster minimums. Hopefully, anyway. The Sixers also play the Celtics on Friday before heading to Detroit on Saturday.

    The Suns submitted their injury report and have three absences — Dario Saric, Jalen Smith and Damian Jones — due to health and safety protocols. It looks like they’re going to be able to give it a go tomorrow, with a weekly schedule that sees them play Memphis on Monday, Houston on Wednesday and Denver on Friday and Saturday. Fingers crossed.

    The Wizards’ game on Monday was postponed a few days back and it seems unlikely that they’ll be playing any time soon with six players testing positive for COVID-19. The rest of their schedule is still on for now, which featured dates with Charlotte on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday. If you roster any Hornets, Bucks or Spurs, it might be wise to anticipate a cancellation.

    The Wolves have three guys out for COVID protocol reasons — Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and Juan Hernangomez. It seems like their games aren’t in jeopardy just yet but you’ll need to keep a close watch on things. They’re expected to face Atlanta on Monday, Orlando on Wednesday, Atlanta again on Friday and New Orleans on Saturday.

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