I've always heard that this period of the year, from New Year until the All-Star break, is considered to be the "dog days" portion of the NBA season. The season is very long, stretching from October to at least April, and as late as June for contending teams. This is the point when the season is no longer fresh and new, but there's still a long way to go until the finish. Thus, ex-NBA players have said that this is the most difficult time to "get up" for a game.
While that may be true, I certainly couldn't tell on Wednesday night, which was absolutely littered with huge performances. Every day in this article I pick a few outstanding games to highlight, but there were so many monster lines on Wednesday that the section was just overstuffed. A bunch of games that would have easily made the "highlights" cut on Tuesday couldn't even be considered on Wednesday. So, let's lead off today with some of those overflow performances, in order to expand the number of huge games that we can highlight.
Last week, we discussed whether or not Wall could still be a top-15 player this season. The consensus was no, because he's too far behind to attain that level for the season as a whole, but that he absolutely could be a top-15 player for the rest of the year. He's picked up the pace of late, and Wednesday's game was one of his best this season.
There are plenty of trade rumors surrounding Nikola Mirotic, and many are pondering how a Mirotic deal could benefit the fantasy prospects of Bobby Portis. Don't forget about Markkanen, though, who is already having a very strong rookie season and could be ready to step things up in the second half of the year.
Earlier this week, we discussed the benefits to the other Rockets of having Paul inhabit the "James Harden role" for a few weeks. Still, Paul can absolutely score himself when he has it going, so on days like Wednesday, he has the capacity to closely replicate a Beard-like line.
The Thunder need Westbrook to be Westbrook and for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to be finishers. Westbrook has embraced that concept, but the other two have backslid to more iso-ball over the last few games, as represented by the season-low 13 assists for Oklahoma City on Wednesday. That said, Westbrook has firmly re-established his "beast mode" from last season, which is why he's been back at the top of the rest-of-the-season rankings for the last two weeks.
Durant came into this game needing 25 points to reach 20,000 for his career, and he achieved that milestone before halftime. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both sat (see below), which essentially gave Durant the green light to "fire at will" on Wednesday, ultimately tying his best scoring performance in a Warriors uniform.
The Bulls-Knicks game went to double-OT in an offensive friendly game, leading to big numbers on the scoreboard from both teams. We discussed Markannen earlier, but the Bulls also got surprising 20-point performances from Denzel Valentine (20 points, 8-14 FG, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 3-pointers) and Robin Lopez (20 points, 9-14 FG, 2-2 FT, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks). The Knicks not only got that triple-double from Jack -- who is now averaging 11.2 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1 steal in his last five games -- but they also got a team-high 26 points (10-22 FG, 5-7 FT), 12 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block from Michael Beasley in his return from an ankle injury. Kristaps Porzingis dropped in 24 points on 24 shots, Courtney Lee scored 16 points with 4 3-pointers, and Enes Kanter contributed 15 points and 7 rebounds.
Lou Williams is going nuts right now, playing the best basketball of his career for the second season in a row. He has scored 30-plus points in four of his last six games (and six of his last 10), while also taking on more of a distributor role with both Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic out. The only potential gray cloud on the horizon is the possibility that he gets moved at the trade deadline. That would be a shame, as he's currently in the absolute perfect situation for him to produce as much as possible.
The Heat keep winning, and they do it through balance. They only played eight players on Wednesday, but every one of them scored at least eight points with seven players posting double-figures. Goran Dragic led the way with 20 points and 9 assists, Hassan Whiteside had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks, and Josh Richardson turned in 14 points with 4 assists and 4 treys. The surprises came off the bench, where Bam Adebayo (available in 97.6 percent of ESPN leagues) was strong again with 15 points and 5 assists, Tyler Johnson played through injury (see below) to score 15 points with 5 rebounds and 3 treys, and Wayne Ellington scored 15 points with 5 rebounds and 4 treys.
Rodney Hood doesn't care about your phone:
NOPE. �� pic.twitter.com/5Fy10TXl1B
- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 11, 2018
Yogi Ferrell (94.6 percent availability) started and scored 22 points (7-10 FG, 1-2 FT) with 7 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 36 minutes of action on Wednesday. Harrison Barnes produced a strong 25 point/11 rebound double-double, and old man Dirk Nowitzki just keeps plugging away with a 19 point, 3 3-pointer effort in 23 minutes.
Injuries of note
Anthony Davis sat on Wednesday with a sprained ankle. He is not expected to miss much time, though, and is currently questionable for Friday.
Stephen Curry sprained an ankle at the end of Wednesday's shootaround and subsequently sat out the game. Klay Thompson had already been scheduled to take a rest day on Wednesday, so he went ahead and also stayed on the bench. Thompson is fine and will be back for the Warriors' next game. Curry is questionable, but his injury isn't considered serious. He could potentially be back as well.
Tyler Johnson was able to play on Wednesday, but revealed after the game that he has a pinched nerve in his neck that makes him questionable for Sunday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Analytics advantage for Thursday
The Los Angeles Lakers play at the fastest pace in the NBA (101.6 possessions per game) while the San Antonio Spurs showcase the fourth-slowest pace at 94.6 possessions per game. If they meet in the middle for this game, it would suggest that the Spurs should get more opportunities to produce than normal on Thursday -- and they'd be doing so against a relatively weak Lakers defense, allowing the second-most points per game of any team in the league (111.1). The Lakers also features a frontline of either undersized or disinterested defensive players.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been going nuts since Kawhi Leonard (shoulder) went back down, and he has a great matchup against which to have a field day on Thursday. Also, in the last few games that he's played in, old man Manu Ginobili (97 percent availability) has put together some very impressive performances. Also throw in Kyle Anderson (88.8 percent availability) as another streamable player that could be worth a look.
Top players to watch tonight
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are playing in London on Thursday in a rare overseas game. Both teams are full of young talent, so how will Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum respond to playing on the international stage?
Kyle Lowry is listed as questionable with his back injury, but Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said that he's unlikely to play. Thus, Delon Wright is likely to get another start, and both he and DeMar DeRozan are worthy of attention against the Cleveland Cavaliers.