• The world was provided definitive proof on Friday night that there are giants among us, as multiple players shattered the earth with their incredible play. Chief among them was literal giant, Joel Embiid, who dropped a career-high 50 points on 17-of-26 shooting (15-of-17 from the line), 17 rebounds, five assists, two steals, four blocks and one three. That monstrous line lifted the Sixers over the Bulls 112-105 and pushed Embiid’s season scoring average to 30.5 points per game. If he holds that pace, he’ll be the first center to average over 30 points in a season since Moses Malone in 1981-1982.

    Jamal Murray served up a 50-piece of his own as the Nuggets dealt the Cavs yet another blowout, 120-103. Murray’s shooting was astounding, as he knocked down 21-of-25 shots and went 8-of-10 from deep. If those numbers aren’t mind-boggling enough for you, he also made history by going 0-of-0 from the line. That’s right, he didn’t need a single free throw attempt to get to 50 points, a first for the NBA. Murray’s been playing much better lately and ranks as a top-10 player in 8/9-cat over the past week, but we might need to chalk up tonight’s historic outing to playing against the feeble Cavs, who’ve suffered eight blowouts in their last nine games.

    The third giant of the night was Chris Paul, who uncorked a vintage 19 assists on two turnovers. Seven of those dimes came during the fourth quarter, in which the Suns outscored the Pelicans 41-12 on their way to a 132-114 victory. It’s doubtful anyone will top this superb playmaking performance from Paul for the rest of the season.

    Lastly, let’s not forget Nikola Vucevic, who notched a 30-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in a 124-120 win against the Warriors. Vucevic, maybe more than any player in the league, has a massive load to carry on the offensive end every night and he’s risen to the occasion, averaging the highest points per game of his career (23.6). He’s garnering All-Star consideration once again and can’t be faulted for the Magic’s 12-18 record.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Willy Hernangomez, C, New Orleans Pelicans – Advanced Ownership: 44%

    Hernangomez got bumped into the starting lineup tonight as Steven Adams was sidelined with a sprained ankle. He played 23 minutes and registered nine points (4-of-8 shooting), 13 rebounds, one assist and one steal. The playing time here is a tad disappointing, but when Adams initially suffered the injury in Wednesday’s game against the Blazers, Hernangomez got 29 minutes and finished with 11 & 17. He could be unreliable but while Adams is out, he’s got great upside.

    For more intel on tonight’s standout players, take a scroll through Pickups of the Night.

    Drop Zone

    Theo Maledon, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder – Advanced Ownership: 66%

    The theory behind holding Maledon right now, that he and his role will continue to solidify as the Thunder lean into the tank, is sound enough. But it’s difficult to see how a point guard with minuscule usage is going to post 12-team value consistently. He’s averaging 14.8% usage over the past month, with his only worthwhile games in that period coming on outlier shooting performances. He also had a big, six-steal outing against the Rockets on February 3rd and he can certainly be a solid streaming option in that regard, as he’s averaging 1.3 steals per game over the last two weeks. But in my eyes, Maledon is a luxury stash. If you’re sitting pretty near the top of the standings, feel free to disregard this section, but if you’re still fighting your way to playoffs, don’t get too attached to the Thunder’s rookie point guard.

    Injury List

    The Clippers’ cavalry arrived tonight as Paul George (right foot bone edema), Kawhi Leonard (left leg contusion) and Nicolas Batum (concussion) all returned for the team’s 116-112 win over the Jazz.

    Jrue Holiday (health and safety protocols) missed his seventh straight game on Friday, as the Bucks blew out the Thunder 98-85.

    Victor Oladipo (right foot strain) went through an individual workout on Friday, but is doubtful for the Rockets’ next game on Monday. His teammate P. J. Tucker (left thigh bruise) participated in practice and is questionable for Monday. The Rockets’ game against the Pacers on Saturday has been postponed due to the severe winter weather in Houston.

    Ben Simmons (illness) was a game-time call but ultimately sat out tonight’s game, while Shake Milton (left ankle sprain) was ruled out earlier in the evening.

    Mike Conley (right hamstring) was back in action after a six-game absence, scoring 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting (2-of-5 from three) in 25 minutes as the Jazz fell to the Clippers 112-116. Joe Ingles moved back to the bench and had an unremarkable line through 24 minutes of playing time.

    Kyle Lowry (left thumb sprain) was ruled out for the second leg of the Raptors’ back-to-back set tonight. OG Anunoby (rest) also sat out and it appears the Raptors will have him on a load management program, at least for the time being. As a result, Chris Boucher saw his first start of the season in tonight’s 86-81 win over the Wolves.

    Harrison Barnes (left foot strain) and Richaun Holmes (right knee soreness) are questionable to face the Bulls on Saturday.

    Delon Wright (right groin strain) played 25 minutes against the Grizzlies tonight before suffering the injury. He limped to the locker room and didn’t return.

    Devonte’ Graham (left knee patella femoral discomfort) is questionable for Saturday’s matchup with the Warriors, while Gordon Hayward (lower back) and P.J. Washington (health and safety protocols) will return to action tomorrow.

    Jaylen Brown (left knee soreness) was initially questionable but did ultimately end up playing against the Hawks tonight.

    Steven Adams (right ankle sprain) was held out tonight after suffering the injury during the Pelicans’ game against the Blazers on Wednesday.

    The Warriors hope to get James Wiseman (left wrist sprain) and Kevon Looney (left ankle) back during their current road trip, but have ruled both out for Saturday’s matchup with the Hornets. Draymond Green (ankle soreness) missed Wednesday’s game against the Heat but was ready to go tonight after testing his ankle pregame.

    Ahead of Saturday’s NBA Finals rematch with the Heat, LeBron James (left ankle) is on the injury report as usual, but will presumably play. Dennis Schröder (health and safety protocols) didn’t practice today as he has yet to clear the league’s protocols.

    De’Anthony Melton (left shoulder) returned for the Grizzlies’ 109-95 win against the Pistons tonight after missing the last six games. He played 17 minutes and had a stellar defensive outing with four steals and one block. Dillon Brooks (right thigh soreness) was a game-time decision but was ultimately ruled out, and Desmond Bane (personal) was back on the court after missing four games.

    JaMychal Green (left shoulder strain) came into tonight’s game against the Cavs with a shoulder strain but suffered a separate shoulder contusion mid-game and didn’t return. He was starting for Paul Millsap (left knee), who has missed the last three games. Will Barton (personal) returned tonight from his own three-game absence.

    Defense Comes in All Sizes

    In fantasy, the two best defensive specialists are the lithe Matisse Thybulle and the big man Robert Williams. Thybulle had one steal with three blocks tonight and has averaged 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per game over the last two weeks. In the same timeframe, Williams is logging 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game and nabbed two steals while blocking four shots in the Celtics’ 121-109 blowout win over the Hawks tonight. Those averages have lifted both inside the top-100 in 9-category leagues through these last two weeks.

    Neither comes close to averaging double-digits in any other category, yet the strength of their defensive numbers has granted them both 12-team value in the second half of this season. However, both are currently rostered in under 25% of competitive leagues. For newer players, it can be difficult to wrap your head around rostering players whose stat lines often look barren outside one or two categories.

    And certainly, there are caveats to consider before adding Thybulle or Williams to your roster. First, ensure they’re playing an adequate number of games that week. This is something to keep in mind for all short-term adds, but especially for specialists like these two. You’ll often have to settle for three-game weeks, but they’re especially lethal on four-game weeks. Secondly, make sure you’re not already getting destroyed in the defensive categories. If you’re at a huge deficit in steals or blocks, it’s best to focus on winning other, closer categories instead of gambling on Thybulle or Williams delivering a five-steal or four-block game.

    But once you work through those kinks, these are two of the very few players who can single-handedly swing a category for you off the wire. Both are producing very well at the moment too (though Thybulle is getting a boost from Ben Simmons’ absence) and should be on the radar of any team looking to tighten up their play on the defensive end.

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