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Matt Stroup

Basketball Daily Dose

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Dose: LeBron Exits Early

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


A five-game Christmas Day featured two 40-point masterpieces (Harden, Irving) and one very significant early exit due to a groin injury (James, LeBron). More on all of that in a minute, including the details on LeBron’s status. Here’s a full review of what went down — in chronological order:

Bucks 109, Knicks 95

MIL: Giannis Antetokounmpo went off for 30 points and 14 boards with three assists, four steals and two blocks. He also had no 3s and clanged a few free throws (4-of-7), but even with those well-documented flaws, he’s still the No. 10 overall player in 9-category leagues. The Bucks also got a strong game from Malcolm Brogdon, who returned from a game of rest and posted 17-6-4 with three steals and a triple. Brook Lopez scored 20 with two blocks, and Eric Bledsoe put up an 11-6-5 stat line, leaving the slumping Khris Middleton (six points on 2-of-12 shooting) as the only Xmas day disappointment for Milwaukee. Middleton is shooting 32.7 percent in December, so he makes a potentially interesting buy low.

NYK: Kevin Knox scored 21 — his third consecutive 20-plus-point game — though he had no steals or blocks, the third time in his last four games he has had goose eggs on the defensive front. Knox is certainly trending upward, but with averages of 17.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg and 2.4 3s on 41.8 percent from the field and 66.7 from the line in December, the fast-rising 19-year-old is also a long way from being a headache-free fantasy option. Speaking of which… Emmanuel Mudiay has now done the following in his last four games: 32, 11, 32, 11. Actually, come to think of it, that’s a pretty nice headache to have. Mudiay shot 5-of-14 on Tuesday with five assists and five turnovers, and will presumably go for exactly 32 in the Knicks next game on Thursday.

Noah Vonleh also put up a solid line for New York (14 and 15 with two blocks and a trey), while Tim Hardaway struggled, shooting just 4-of-18. Allonzo Trier returned to action with eight points in 18 minutes, and the Knicks backup PG shuffle continued with Trey Burke re-entering the rotation (two points in 14 minutes) while Frank Ntilikina was a DNP-CD.

Rockets 113, Thunder 109

HOU: James Harden scored 41 — his seventh game of 40 or more this season in 30 games, which means he’s hit for 40 or more in nearly a quarter of his games. That’s nuts. Clint Capela put up 16 points and 23 rebounds, Eric Gordon (17-6-4) had a strong all-around line sans Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker stayed relatively hot with 11 points, seven boards and two steals. Tucker has now hit double-digit points in five of his last six games, averaging 12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.2 spg and 2.8 3s during this latest hot streak.

Austin Rivers notably made his Rockets debut in this one, and notably played 31 minutes right away. That would in theory qualify as something for fantasy owners to act on, but Rivers only attempted six shots (10 points, one assist, two 3s), and it’s hard to envision him having value outside of deeper leagues when he’s about fifth or six in line for shots behind James Harden, James Harden, James Harden, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. Danuel House had a stat line that in theory hints at deep league intrigue (9-4-2 with a steal, a block and two 3s), but he’s averaging just 6.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg and 1.0 3s in 20 minutes a game in December.

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OKC: There really aren’t any big fantasy headlines here. The Thunder starters scored 89 out of OKC’s 109 points, led by Paul George (28 and 14) and Russell Westbrook (21-9-9). Westbrook did pick up his 10th technical of the season, leaving him six away from a one-game suspension. Jerami Grant is on an impressive run lately. He scored 15 points with nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks — his third consecutive game of seven or more rebounds and two or more blocks. His averages during that stretch: 14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.0 spg, 2.3 bpg and 1.0 3s.

Celtics 121, Sixers 114 (OT)

BOS: Kyrie Irving uncorked 40 — his second 40-point game of the season, adding a season-high 10 rebounds with five 3s. Kyrie heads toward 2019 ranked No. 7 overall in 9-category leagues, and appears to be headed for the best finish of his career if he can stay healthy (he was 11th overall in 2014-15). Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum both put up 23, while Marcus Smart and Al Horford shot a combined 4-of-18 for 10 points.

Trending downward for Boston: Jaylen Brown scored just four, and his point totals his last five games look like this: 2, 6, 21, 8, 4. Drop. Gordon Hayward also struggled to do much of anything, putting up five points with two steals and very little else in 28 minutes. Ever since his 30-point game on Dec. 1, Hayward has averaged 9.0 ppg on 37.2 percent shooting, and to me he’s right on the line between “interesting buy-low” and “player I’m avoiding at all costs.”

PHI: The Big Three hogged most of the numbers for Philly, with Joel Embiid hitting for 34 and 16, Jimmy Butler going 24-5-4 with three treys and three steals, while Ben Simmons had an 11-14-8 line (no steals or blocks). The only other stat line that jumps out a little bit as potentially fantasy-worthy news is Wilson Chandler, who had a 15-5-3 line with three 3s in 40 minutes. Chandler has now scored double digits in three of his last four, averaging 10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 apg and 2.3 3s in those games. Give him a look in deeper leagues.

In other Philly-related news, Markelle Fultz is expected to return at some point this season. So there’s that.

Lakers 127, Warriors 101

LAL: The big news from the Bay Area was that LeBron James slipped on the floor in the third quarter and strained his groin. He was limping on his way to the locker room, and apparently “felt a pop.” None of that sounds good, but on a positive note, he did say to ESPN that “the good thing is the muscle is intact.” LeBron is headed for an MRI on Wednesday, per ESPN reporter Dave McMenanin.

As of late Tuesday evening, LeBron was also leaving open the possibility of playing on Thursday, and though I basically rule nothing out when it comes to LeBron and feats of strength, it’s hard to imagine how he won’t miss any time when he was unable to finish a highly-anticipated game against the Warriors. Ultimately, if he does miss his first game (or games) in a Lakers uniform, it should mean more opportunities (though potentially less efficiency) for the entire rotation. One clear beneficiary — and a player available in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues as of this writing — would be Rajon Rondo, who took off after LeBron left and put up 15-5-10 in 23 minutes. I think you can make a case that Rondo could get the single biggest spike in value from LeBron being out — especially when you consider that Rondo had two points in 18 minutes in L.A.’s previous game. As for other players out there on waivers, it also might mean some increased volume for the hard-to-predict Josh Hart (12 points on Tuesday), and in deeper leagues, maybe even Lance Stephenson (11 points in 11 minutes). We should get more info if not multiple updates on this situation throughout the day on Wednesday.

As for the rest of the Lakers on Tuesday… L.A. put seven players in double figures, led by Kyle Kuzma with 19 points, six rebounds and two 3s. Ivica Zubac looked impressive in his third consecutive start for JaVale McGee (pneumonia), posting 18 and 11 with two blocks, and is certainly worth a short-term pickup if you have someone obvious to drop. As for Rondo’s competition at point guard, it was a forgettable night for Lonzo Ball (six points, four assists in 24 minutes), who is once again seeing his value taper off now that Rondo is back. Ball could certainly benefit from LeBron missing time in the short term, but it's hard to be optimistic about his value in the long run given that he has averaged 26 minutes a game since Rondo came back as opposed to 32 per game with Rondo out.

GSW: This game got ugly for the Warriors despite the fact that LeBron left early in the second half. Steph Curry shot just 5-of-17 for 15 points (only his fourth time under 20 points this year), and Klay Thompson went 2-of-7 for five points — his first game in single digits all season. Draymond Green fouled out with 4-5-5 and three steals, while Kevin Durant played through his sprained ankle and managed to steer clear of an ugly night with a 21-7-7 stat line. Andre Iguodala, who went scoreless in his last game, randomly got hot and scored 23 — his biggest point total since March of 2017.

Jazz 117, Blazers 96

UTA: Rudy Gobert had the stat line that stands out in this one, with 18 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks (including 4-of-9 from the free throw line). Ricky Rubio (14 points, six assists, two 3s, two steals) is hot again, having scored double digits in 10 of 12 December games so far. Joe Ingles (15-7-5) is also in the midst of a strong run, having averaged 15.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.5 spg and 3.0 3s in his last four games.

POR: There is not a ton of suspense on the Blazers side of the box score. Damian Lillard led the way with 20, while Al Farouq-Aminu had a good line with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two 3s. Aminu has been cold lately, but is a worthwhile start this week given that the Blazers are one of two teams (along with the Lakers) who have a four-game week. C.J. McCollumn (4-of-14, 11 points) is in a shooting slump, having averaged 14.0 ppg on 36.9 percent shooting — and 11.8 percent on 3s — his last four games.

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Injury Quick Hits / Wednesday Status Report: Zach LaVine (ankle) is listed as questionable, which in theory could be a positive sign that he’s progressing, though with no concrete report to that effect, it’s hard to say whether this questionable tag really means anything. LaVine was expected to miss 2-4 weeks from Dec. 13, so he’d be near the early part of that timetable if he comes back soon. … Meanwhile, Derrick Rose (ankle) practiced on Monday, while Jeff Teague as of Monday remained “a few days away” from returning… Rodney Hood (Achilles) is listed as out. … Serge Ibaka (knee) is expected to return. … Otto Porter (knee) is listed as out. … Allen Crabbe (knee) is not expected to play, which should mean more good times for Rodions Kurucs (20.0 ppg in his last two games). … Taurean Prince (ankle) is out, while John Collins (ankle) is questionable for the matchup with the Pacers. … Tyreke Evans (knee) is a game-time decision. … As always, check the Rotoworld player news page leading up to tipoff for updates on all these players and others heading into a 10-game NBA Wednesday. Happy holidays, everyone.



Matt Stroup has covered basketball for Rotoworld since 2008. You can find him on Twitter here .
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