• After most fantasy GMs wrote him off for the rest of the year, Kevin Love returned from his latest right calf strain on Thursday against the Sixers. And he looked… good?

    Love was limited to just 20 minutes on the night but came out firing, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and finishing with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers. It took literally three shot attempts for Love to outdo his last return from a calf strain, when he played under 12 minutes across two contests. He went right back into the starting lineup too, and the Cavs don’t look interested in a full-on shutdown without at least letting Love prove that he’s healthy and capable.

    While the odds of Love reprising his role as a standard-league option are close to 50/50 — to say nothing of the odds he returns to middle-round levels — it’s just good to see him back on the floor.

    Is Love an add in 12-team leagues? Probably not, at least not yet. The track record gives the optimistic readers some hope, but we’re so removed from seeing an effective Love that it’s hard to make that bet. If this does end up as a random renaissance, odds are that a lot of fantasy GMs are going to miss out. By the time Love builds up a large enough body of evidence to outweigh the doubt, he’s probably going to have been scooped up by a manager that’s either super aggressive or desperate.

    This may also throw a wrench into things for people hoping to see the max-ceiling versions of Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr., so while Love’s return is a feel-good story, it might not have the best effects in fantasy. We’ll see if he can build on this solid game in the next one.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Danilo Gallinari, F, Atlanta Hawks

    John Collins is going to be out for at least a week with a bone bruise, so it’s go time for Gallinari. It was disappointing to see that he wasn’t in Thursday’s starting lineup (that honor went to Solomon Hill), but it seems like a case of Nate McMillan not wanting to disrupt his rotation (and then having to disrupt it again when Collins returns), and while the merits of that thinking are up for debate, Gallo did his part with a big game in an OT win over the Spurs. Gallinari played 36 minutes and put up 16 points (5-of-12 FG), 12 rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers. As long as the playing time is up in that range, Gallinari’s going to have a good shot at 12-team usability.

    Drop Zone

    Nicolas Claxton, C, Brooklyn Nets

    This one is not a recommendation that you necessarily want to act on right away, but it is something that you’ll at least have to consider in the near-ish. LaMarcus Aldridge made his Nets debut tonight and went right into the starting lineup, logging 30 minutes and playing a key offensive role. James Harden and Kevin Durant were both out, which tilted the scales in his favor, but the Nets look ready to lean on him to some degree. Jeff Green started off hot and put up 21 points in 31 minutes, leaving Claxton just 14 minutes off the bench.

    This also came on a night where Blake Griffin, who has been playing very well of late, sat out due to injury management. Beyond all that, DeAndre Jordan, who the Nets used to start over Jarrett Allen, was a DNP-CD. Claxton brings elements that none of Brooklyn’s other centers do but it’s going to be tough for him to play enough to get the job done in standard fantasy leagues. Despite the upside, fantasy GMs should find more reliable options on the wire moving forward.

    Injury Report

    Steph Curry fell on his bruised tailbone early in Thursday’s game but stuck around to play 36 minutes. He wouldn’t commit to playing on Friday night, though.

    James Harden (hamstring) sat out against the Hornets but is considered day-to-day, while Kevin Durant (hamstring) could get a firm timeline to return sometime next week.

    Bradley Beal (right hip contusion) missed another game on Thursday, as did Daniel Gafford (right ankle sprain), who was playing very well in a small sample after his trade to Washington.

    Malik Monk (right foot soreness) needed help to get off the floor after suffering some kind of right leg injury; this after sitting out the Hornets’ last game.

    As mentioned, John Collins (left ankle) is going to miss at least a week with a bone bruise. De’Andre Hunter (right knee) sat again and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari both turned up.

    Lonzo Ball (hip) sat again, which is nothing new, but so did Zion Williamson (thumb sprain) and Brandon Ingram (right first MTP irritation). Zion’s supposed to be day-to-day and Ingram’s injury popped up out of nowhere, so we’re hoping this was just the Pels punting on Thursday’s game.

    Paul George (right foot soreness) was listed as out, then named to the starting lineup. At least he’s back.

    RJ Barrett (right ankle) and Derrick Rose (left ankle) are both questionable for Friday.

    John Wall (left knee) is questionable, and that’s a phrase you should really get used to.

    Domantas Sabonis (left quad contusion) is questionable vs. the Hornets but is expected to play.

    Andre Drummond (right toe) is out tomorrow and only expected to miss a couple games.

    Zach LaVine (right ankle sprain) is questionable to play and this could become a regular occurrence until he’s 100% again, with LaVine himself musing about the potential benefits of a short stint on the sidelines to heal up. It’s going to sting if you’re in a playoff race (like the Bulls are themselves) but it’s probably the right thing long-term.

    Gordon Going Up?

    So far, so good for the Aaron Gordon experience in Denver. After two quiet games, he popped off with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer. He shot 1-of-4 at the free throw line but that’s the only complaint on a big night. He also logged 39 minutes, well up from his mid-20s workloads in the first two Denver games. While the stats are encouraging, the context that surrounds Gordon’s big night are even more promising.

    The Nuggets were facing the Clippers on Thursday, who boast the type of player in Kawhi Leonard that was one of the driving forces of Denver’s trade for Gordon to begin with. AG came through in an ideal way, filling up the stat sheet with versatile production, guarding Kawhi and finishing as a team-best plus-15.

    He’s a natural fit with the Nuggets as a high-level complementary player rather than a featured player who needs to extend beyond his means; the type of role that made Gordon look so inconsistent in Orlando. The shots Gordon is getting are the cleanest he’s ever seen, as one would imagine given the pocket passes that Nikola Jokic can make in his sleep. The reads that Gordon can make on the roll are easier than ever, as adequate spacing and a well-designed offense have limited the scope of his playmaking. Through three games, the Nuggets’ new starting five has a plus-37.9 net rating.

    Gordon is a top-100 player in his last three games and it certainly looks like we’re getting a lot of the good with a lot less of the bad. We’ve been through this before, but enough has changed about Gordon’s setup to believe that it might be for real.

    Frontcourt Flipping

    Back in Gordon’s old haunt, the Magic continued to trot out a starting lineup bereft of the newcomers, but it sure looks like a change is coming.

    Khem Birch has started every game since the trade deadline and did so again tonight, but left after just five minutes of play since he was feeling under the weather. That cleared the runway for Wendell Carter Jr., who delivered 21 points, 12 rebounds and a block in 31 minutes of action. While Birch is a steady hand that Steve Clifford trusts and the Magic want to get a better look at Mo Bamba, Carter was one of the top pieces of the return for franchise player Nikola Vucevic and should be someone that Orlando elevates in short order.

    The three-man timeshare has been a buzzkill so far, but Carter has been getting his fair share of minutes, and we’ve seen him hold onto top-150 value in a frustrating bench role before. If he gets full-on starter minutes, which he should given his pedigree and the context under which he arrived in Orlando, then we’re looking at a serious top-100 threat. The Magic don’t figure to yank him around like the Bulls did and it’s time to make one last final check to ensure that WCJ isn’t free in any of your leagues. There were bigger lines from better players on Thursday, but Carter’s has the potential to be the start of something significant for fantasy GMs.

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