• As the Sixers lock down in the Big Apple and the league wades deeper into a sea of contact tracing and health and safety protocols, it was mostly business as usual for the teams on tonight’s 10-game slate.

    The Hornets and Pelicans pitted brother against brother in the first bi-annual Ball Brawl. The matchup went LaMelo Ball’s way as his team took the win; he nearly notched a triple-double and he hit a highlight step-back three over his brother’s fingertips. In the past two weeks LaMelo is performing as the 64th ranked overall player in just 25 minutes a night. If he starts getting 30 minutes or more, he could easily finish inside the top-50.

    The Pistons upset the Suns in overtime as Jerami Grant continued his quest for the Most Improved Player trophy. Grant was widely panned in the offseason for moving teams and believing he could be a number one option, but he’s proving the haters wrong. He racked up 31 & 10 tonight and has become a top-30 player. Many were looking to Grant’s teammate Delon Wright as a potential pickup after Killian Hayes (labral tear) was slated to be sidelined for a few weeks. Wright started and put up some nice numbers, but don’t jump the gun on him just yet. He’d been unimpressive prior to tonight and even in a game that went to overtime Dwane Casey only opted to play Wright 33 minutes. Josh Jackson (ankle) also returned tonight and he may eat into Wright’s playing time once he ramps back up. If you can afford it, wait until Wright manages to do this twice in a row before scooping him up.

    Nerlens Noel returned to the court after missing two games with an ankle injury and while he was away Mitchell Robinson started to play. Robinson hit a career-high 41 minutes played in the Knicks’ last game but dropped back to 26 minutes tonight. Noel saw 11 minutes on the court and while he’s obviously going to eat into Robinson’s time, it does appear the team has settled on the latter as their primary big man.

    Markelle Fultz (torn ACL) will miss the remainder of the season and that means all eyes were on Cole Anthony as he stepped into the starting lineup against the Rockets tonight. He played 28 minutes and produced a solid line with 15 points and two steals. Earlier in the day Magic coach Steve Clifford implied that Anthony wasn’t physically ready to play over 30 minutes and that the rookie was hurting after playing 32 minutes in the team’s last game. So, it could be a little while before his minutes ramp up. But he should have all the opportunity he can handle in the second half of this season and congratulations if you were quick enough to swipe him off the wire.

    Caris LeVert dropped 43 against the Grizzlies with Kyrie Irving (personal) and Kevin Durant (health and safety protocols) unable to make an appearance. But the most notable event from this game happened at half time, when Jonas Valanciunas was pulled from the floor because of, say it with me now, health and safety protocols. The Grizzlies clarified that Valanciunas did not test positive for COVID, so we don’t quite know what is going on with the Lithuanian big man.

    With Kyle Lowry (personal) out for the night, the Raptors rallied for a much-needed win over the Kings. Chris Boucher nearly hit a new career high, while Pascal Siakam dished out a career best 11 dimes. Siakam also racked up five fouls, which has been a source of frustration for him this season and part of what led to his suspension last week. Hopefully he cleans things up on that end, but everything else about his performance tonight was efficient. On the Kings’ side of things, Tyrese Haliburton got 29 minutes even with De’Aaron Fox (hamstring) back in the lineup. It seems like the Kings are on the verge of fully unleashing their new rookie.

    Reports of the Warriors’ demise may have been exaggerated as their win over the Clippers tonight leaves them tied for fifth in the Western Conference with a 5-4 record. Steph Curry had to go nuclear once again to get them there, dropping 38 with nine threes. Bad news for Kelly Oubre Jr.’s managers however, as Steve Kerr seems to be growing weary of the former Valley Boy’s struggles and benched him down the stretch in favor of a lineup featuring Draymond Green at center. Considering that lineup helped them pull back into this game and secure the win, Oubre may be on thin ice going forward.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Daniel Theis, C, Boston Celtics

    Theis may have already been scooped up in many leagues after today’s news that Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams will both be facing a week-long quarantine period. If he’s still available, any team in need of a big man should look to stream him in until the rest of the team’s frontcourt returns. He played 28 minutes tonight and put up one of his better lines of the season, tallying 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block.

    Khem Birch, C, Orlando Magic

    If you’re in the market for a big and Theis isn’t available, look to Birch to fill your needs. His playing time has noticeably notched up recently and he’s played over 20 minutes in three straight games. He’s grabbed double-digit rebounds in two of those three and 11 & 5 tonight. Ultimately, he’s still just a streaming option, but he’s certainly been playing well lately.

    Drop Zone

    DeMarcus Cousins, C, Houston Rockets

    Cousins filled it up in the Rockets’ last game while Christian Wood was sidelined, but tonight things looked dire once again. His minutes dropped back below 20 and his production in that time hasn’t been enough to justify standard league value. You could certainly hold on and hope for brighter days if you’re doing well in the standings, but if there’s a solid free agent available don’t feel guilty leaving Cousins by the wayside.

    Injury Report

    The Sixers are locked down in New York City, with seven players listed questionable as a result of Seth Curry’s positive COVID test. Those seven are Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Vincent Poirier and Paul Reed. The team will need eight players available for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets, or else the league will have its second cancelled game of the season.

    Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams & Grant Williams (COVID protocols) are facing seven-day quarantine. Robert Williams tested positive for the virus, while the other two are likely out for contact tracing.

    Josh Richardson along with Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith will all be out for Saturday’s game against the Magic due to health and safety protocols.

    Karl-Anthony Towns (wrist) has been listed questionable for Saturday.

    Kemba Walker (knee) was cleared to start practicing today. Some Celtics beat writers speculate he may be back as early as next Friday.

    Anthony Davis (adductor) was out tonight and has now missed one leg of both the Lakers’ back-to-back sets this season.

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ankle) missed his fourth game in a row due to a left ankle sprain.

    Colin Sexton (ankle) is listed as questionable for Saturday, while Darius Garland (shoulder) remains out. The Cavs seem to expect Garland will be back on the court by next week.

    Kyrie Irving (personal) did not play and his status for Sunday’s game is unknown.

    Kyle Lowry (personal) was out tonight.

    Joe Ingles (Achilles) was ruled out prior to tonight’s game.

    Ben McLemore (conditioning) played in his first game of the season but requested to leave the game near the end of the fourth. Coach Stephen Silas said afterwards he didn’t know why exactly McLemore requested to come out of the game early.

    Aaron Gordon (left hamstring) was ruled out prior to tonight’s game, while Evan Fournier (back) was a game-time decision but ended up sitting out once again.

    Doug McDermott (ankle) is expected to play on Saturday against the Suns.

    The Cost of Winning Basketball

    The Suns fell to 6-3 tonight, but they still sit in second place in the Western Conference on the back of their best start in a while. They’ve accomplished that feat without a single fantasy player ranked inside the top-40. Mikal Bridges is the Suns’ highest ranked player in 9-cat at rank 50, while the team’s three stars, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, have all fallen well short of their ADP. This is the cost of playing winning basketball, which asks individuals to make sacrifices for the sake of the team. Playing good team defense means not chasing blocks and a good offense requires players to pass up shots in favor of making the extra pass. The Suns have a top-10 defense, but Ayton’s steal and block rates have declined significantly from last season. Booker and Paul are posting their lowest scoring numbers in years, yet the Suns have the third ranked offense in the league. They’ve exchanged fantasy value for real world success.

    All that said, those three players are still buy-low candidates. Booker’s free throw percentage has been unsustainably poor, as has Paul’s shooting from the field. Ayton’s scoring has been inconsistent and he’s certainly capable of swiping more than 0.4 steals per game. But a large part of their decline in fantasy is explained by the team’s new style of on-court play. So, if you’re looking to acquire any of the three, use the Suns’ new play style as part of your negotiation strategy in trade talks. Just be aware that while the team continues to succeed, that new style won’t be going anywhere.

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