Joel Embiid had a huge day in a lot of ways on Thursday. The action started before the games last night, when he was named the starting center on his first All Star team ...
Fantastic day!!!! We got a great win and I became an ALL STAR.... I wanna thank all of you guys out there and the organization for the support.. We've been through so much but this is for you guys so THANK YOU #TheProcess pic.twitter.com/8PjJre90KZ
- Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) January 19, 2018
Embiid entered this season as a hyper-talented but risky proposition, having played only 31 games over the first three seasons of his career. This made him slide in fantasy drafts, and caused many to wonder if he would ever live up to his potential. Thus, his being named to his first All-Star team is a massive accomplishment. After the announcement, Embiid then went out and did this one the court ...
Joel Embiid had 26 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists Thursday.
It's the first time in 63 career games he led all players from both teams in points, rebounds and assists.
- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 19, 2018
Embiid led the 76ers, as he characteristically does now that Ben Simmons has cooled from his scorching start, and on Thursday, they took out the first-place Boston Celtics. Embiid then finished the night in a unique way, getting the chance to shout out to a very famous singer in his post-game interview. Years ago, Embiid mentioned in an interview that he had tried to get at Rihanna, only to get curved for not having made an All-Star team. Now that he is an All-Star, the interviewer gave him the chance to shoot his shot again. Instead, he decided to work in the signature catch phrase that he's adopted for his own:
Embiid is on to the next one. �� pic.twitter.com/dejNHsLbXK
- ESPN (@espn) January 19, 2018
As I mentioned yesterday, Embiid has been my favorite player to have on my fantasy teams thus far this season. Nights like Thursday are why.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: 26 points (10-19 FG, 6-7 FT), 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 4 TO
James Harden, Houston Rockets: 10 points (3-15 FG, 3-3 FT), 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 2 TO
Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves: 6 points (3-8 FG, 0-1 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 TO
Outside of Embiid, T.J. McConnell (available in 87 percent of ESPN leagues) had a strong night off the bench with 15 points, 3 steals, 2 3-pointers and 2 assists in 25 minutes. With JJ Redick injured, McConnell is back in a role that should get him picked up in more leagues.
Harden's appearance on the lowlights is likely a one-off due to rust and a minutes restriction, as he made his return to the court after missing several games with a hamstring injury. Gordon picked up the scoring slack for him on Thursday. Luc Mbah a Moute (available in 98.6 percent of leagues) got the start in place of the suspended Trevor Ariza and took advantage with 14 points (5-9 FG, 5 rebounds, 4 3-pointers, 2 assists and 1 steal in 32 minutes). PJ Tucker (available in 97 percent of leagues) also got more run than usual, scoring 5 points with 9 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 3-pointer in 34 minutes off the bench. Both likely have one more game with extended minutes on Saturday on the second suspension game for Ariza and Green before things return to normal.
With Harden so rusty, it was surprising that the Rockets were able to just blow the Timberwolves off the floor on Thursday. Towns was the only Timberwolves starter to have a stronger game than usual. Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins were both solid but slightly below average, while Teague was just ineffective.
James made the case for his being on the lowlights himself on Thursday night:
Man was I garbage tonight! ��������!!!! Thank God for teammates. Appreciate it fellas ✊������#StriveForGreatness��
- LeBron James (@KingJames) January 19, 2018
The Cavaliers were blowing out the Orlando Magic, winning by 22 at the half, before blowing the lead and barely holding on for a one-point win. As expected, Isaiah Thomas had his best game in a Cavaliers uniform on Thursday, scoring 21 points with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 3-pointers and 2 steals in 30 minutes of action. Derrick Rose also got back on the court for the first time since early November, scoring 9 points with 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 blocked shot in 13 minutes off the bench.
Injuries of note
Kyrie Irving did not play on Thursday due to a sore left shoulder that also kept him out of practice on Wednesday. Irving is the engine of the Celtics' offense, so his absence was uniformly bad for the entire team on Thursday. The team managed only 80 points on 40.5 FG% and 24.1 3FG%, with no one scoring more than 14 points or turning in more than four assists. Marcus Smart (available in percent of leagues) started in his place on Thursday, and turned in 13 points (6-11 FG) with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 3-pointer and 4 TO against the 76ers. Terry Rozier was expected to play a larger role, but managed only 4 points (2-7 FG) with 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal and 2 TO in 20 minutes off the bench.
Analytics advantage for Friday
Of the seven games on Friday night, five of them feature at least one team that is in the top nine in defensive rating (San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons), the top five in slowest pace (Memphis Grizzlies, Spurs, Utah Jazz, Heat, Sacramento Kings), or both. Thus, two games stand out as the most likely candidates for players to produce more than average across the board:
The Phoenix Suns (worst defensive rating, fifth-fastest pace) at the Denver Nuggets (T13th-worst DRTG, 18th-fastest pace) and the Indiana Pacers (ninth-worst DRTG, 17th-fastest pace) at the Los Angeles Lakers (17th-worst DRTG, fastest pace) both feature bad defenses and fast paces, especially compared to the other games on the docket. Plus, the Pacers are on the second half of a back-to-back, and their net rating (e.g., average margin of victory) drops by 8.7 points on the second half of a back-to-back compared to when rested, so their defensive performance is likely to be worse than the above-stated average on Friday.
Top players to watch tonight
The entire perimeter unit of the Lakers are on the injury report for Friday. Lonzo Ball (knee) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Achilles) are both listed as out, and Brandon Ingram (ankle) and Kyle Kuzma (finger) are listed as questionable. Players like Josh Hart, Jordan Clarkson or Tyler Ennis could be in for bigger roles. If either/both of the forwards sit, players like Larry Nance Jr. or Julius Randle could also see more action than usual.
The Heat are scorching as they head into Brooklyn to face the Nets. They've been doing it with excellent team work and defense, but if any Heat players are most likely to explode against a weak defense, it would be Hassan Whiteside and/or Goran Dragic.
Rudy Gobert is probable to make his return on Friday against the New York Knicks, after his second extended injury absence of the season. He will likely be on a minutes restriction, but his return itself will be newsworthy.