• It was a bittersweet double-header for tonight’s slate of TNT games.The first game featured a Celtics-Sixers matchup that generally draws a lot of excitement and fan interest, but was unmistakably dampened following earlier news that Joel Embiid (ligament damage, left hand) would be sidelined for at least the next 1-to-2 weeks. That didn’t stop the Sixers from not just putting up a fight, but winning outright over the Celtics 109-98. The Sixers managed to achieve what they had so often struggled in doing all season long: they outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter. Josh Richardson led the offensive push, while the Sixers also received inspired defensive performances out of Al Horford and rookie Norvel Pelle, all culminating in a surprise victory over their Eastern Conference rival. The Sixers are going to need to Richardson and Horford specifically to step up and keep the team afloat while Embiid is sidelined.  

    Meanwhile in the second game, Russell Westbrook received a hero’s welcome in OKC. He amped up the crowd before, during and after the game, basking in their adoration as they sang MVP chants upon him. The reception was in stark contrast to the one given to the city’s former favorite son, Kevin Durant, a distinction many across social media were quick to make note of. The crowd’s cheers, however, were soon filtered into supporting their new leader at the helm, as Chris Paul sliced and diced the Rockets defense all night en route to a 113-93 victory. While the moment was meant to belong to Westbrook, CP3 took the spotlight by reminding us all that he still has something to prove. He took a beating all summer about how he had one of the most undesirable contracts in the NBA, and that he was destined to be castoff to what many predicted would be a depressing season in Oklahoma City during the twilight of his career. What has transpired since has been nothing of the sort, as Paul has gone on what feels like a season-long revenge tour with his ragtag bunch of underdog teammates. The Thunder now sit at 22-16 with a clear shot at the playoffs in the loaded West. This will likely not be the last time Paul and Co. steal the show.

    Adds of the Night

    Bruce Brown Jr., G, Detroit Pistons

    Brown continues to rumble along over his last couple of weeks. The second-year guard was recently promoted to starting PG duties and his assists have sky-rocketed as a result, collecting a total of 15 assists over his last two games. Even before the promotion, Brown had been excelling in the open space created by Luke Kennard’s (bilateral knee soreness) absence, playing at a 5th round level in the eight games without him. Kennard doesn’t seem like he’s close to returning (we were supposed to receive a status update on his recovery on Jan. 7th and never did), which means Brown has all the runway necessary to continue this streak. He makes for an appealing standard league add for teams in need of steals and assists.

    Darius Garland, G, Cleveland Cavaliers

    There hasn’t been many positives to write about Garland throughout the start to his NBA career, but he has to be credited for the strides he’s appeared to have made over the last two weeks. He’s been on a bit of a heater, scoring in double-figures rather efficiently over his last seven games, while also resembling an actual point guard with a solid uptick in assists. In that seven game span, Garland has averaged 16 points, 4.9 assists and 2.3 triples while shooting an impressive 47 percent from the floor. All of that is good enough to plug him in just inside the top-110, which is borderline usable in standard settings. He’s worth a look to see if he’s at the start of truly turning the corner,

    Drop Zone

    Christian Wood, F/C, Detroit Pistons

    This is a weird spot to include Wood because the main reason he is on rosters right now is because he possesses theoretical huge upside. Though a lot of time has opened up for his services with Blake Griffin (knee surgery) and Markieff Morris (sore foot) out indefinitely, Dwane Casey just appears to have no appetite for giving Wood anything more than minutes in the teens. You can still feel free to stash him if you have room, but the fact that he’s struggling to crack meaningful rotations minutes NOW with pretty much nobody outside Andre Drummond ahead of him really diminishes my optimism about his future with this squad.

    Danuel House, F, Houston Rockets

    House has been in an utter freefall ever since he returned from that oddly long absence due to illness. His defensive stats have completely evaporated, and his already low-volume shot attempts has gotten even smaller. He’s just not doing anything to help your team, and should be on wires in most settings as long as this is what he’s bringing to the table.

    Injury Report

    Joel Embiid (left hand) did not play Thursday due to surgery to fix a torn ligament. He is out for at least the next 1-to-2 weeks.

    Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle) was slapped with a 4-to-6 week timetable on the sidelines earlier this afternoon. Carter missed the second half of his rookie season last year after tearing ligaments in his thumb, marking two years in a row that he has suffered a serious injury.

    Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) came into this one as a game-time decision but was ruled out for his 12th consecutive ballgame 

    Hassan Whiteside (illness) came into Thursday’s game with a questionable tag but was ultimately able to suit up.

    Clint Capela (heel) may have re-aggravated his heel injury from earlier in the year, and is currently uncertain to suit up for Houston’s next game on Saturday.

    Danilo Gallinari (calf) was able to return to action following a one game absence. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel (ankle) missed his third straight game.

    Eric Gordon (knee) was ruled out hours before Thursday’s game. He just got back from knee surgery, and seeing how this was the second night of a back-to-back this could become a common occurrence moving forward. 

    Paul George (hamstring) has been ruled out for tomorrow’s game against the Warriors. This was the same hamstring that made him miss a game last week, and it’s quite possible that the Clippers are utilizing their 2-game week to give him some extended rest. This situation is still worth monitoring moving forward, however.

    Jrue Holiday (elbow) has been ruled out for Friday’s contest and still has no concrete return date.

    Bradley Beal (leg) is questionable for Friday’s game. Should he sit it would be his fifth consecutive game in street clothes.

    Davis Bertans (quad) will be available to make his return from a nine game absence on Friday.

    Julius Randle (personal) will not play Friday.

    Richaun Holmes (shoulder) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (ankle) have been ruled out for tomorrow’s game, while Marvin Bagley (foot) has been upgraded to questionable after going through a full practice on Thursday.

    Draymond Green (ankle) and D’Angelo Russell (shoulder) are both listed as questionable for Friday’s game.

    KAT Got Their Tongue

    Karl-Anthony Towns has been sidelined since Dec. 13th, meaning that the Timberwolves are officially two games away from having miss an entire month’s worth of games. The information about what exactly is wrong with his knee has been maddingly missing, and the time for answers is long past overdue. He has been listed as “questionable” leading into every single game he’s been gone aside from today’s, where he was listed as a “game-time-decision”. That distinction basically meant nothing, however, as he was ruled out nearly two-hours before tip-off. 

    I’m not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to opine about how the Wolves have handled this situation. They owe it to the fans of the league to be more upfront and transparent about what is going on with one of the league’s brightest stars. Fans of this team lose their incentive to stay plugged in when they have no idea what is happening with their most important player on a day-to-day basis. From the Wolves, perspective, perhaps creating faux optimism through “questionable” tags is better for maintaining home-support than simply coming out a month ago and saying that Towns is out indefinitely. From the fan’s perspective, however, the team’s unreliable updates only alienate them further from the franchise, lowering morale that’s critical for a fanbase who could be seeing their once promising rebuild unravel before their eyes. It’s a bad look for the T-Wolves, and on the league as a whole. Perhaps the team will disclose what actually happened with Towns and his knee over this period of uncertainty once it’s finally over. If their track record thus far is anything to go off of, however, I too would consider that “questionable”.

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