I remember watching an older (but still spry) Dr. J play against young upstart Larry Bird. I remember watching young Michael Jordan squaring off against older (but still MVP-caliber) Magic Johnson. I remember late-peak Hakeem Olajuwon against young Shaquille O'Neal, and veteran Karl Malone against young Tim Duncan. There was post-first-retirement Michael Jordan against young Kobe Bryant and Celtics-era Kevin Garnett against young LeBron James.
When the GOATs start to get older, and have to face off against the next generation of up-and-comers, it's absolutely riveting. That's the good stuff. That's what the game is all about. It's for this reason that watching age-defying LeBron match-up with the next stage of evolution, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is always must-see TV for me."The King" against "The Greek Freak": Every time it happens, I'm in.
On Monday, we got to see history again with the two titans squaring off for the fourth time this regular season. They absolutely did not disappoint:
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 37 points (13-20 FG, 11-11 FT), 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 TO
LeBron James: 40 points (16-29 FG, 5-8 FT), 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 3-pointers, 2 steals, 1 block, 6 TO
While the youngster had the more efficient statistical footprint, LeBron's team got the win and the veteran scored another historic triple-double milestone:
- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2018
Of course, the game was about more than just LeBron vs. Giannis. The biggest news for the Cleveland Cavaliers on the night was the return of Kevin Love from his hand injury. Love wasn't expected to return until Friday, but he came out and scored 18 points (5-13 FG, 4-4 FT) with 7 rebounds, 4 3-pointers, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 TO in 25 minutes of action. Jeff Green stayed in the starting lineup, but that likely changes when Larry Nance Jr. and/or Tristan Thompson are ready to return. Kyle Korver (93.3 percent available) was solid in his starting role with 12 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 FT), 6 rebounds and 3 3-pointers. Jordan Clarkson (48.5 percent available) was also solid in his role with 17 points (5-11 FG, 4-4 FT), 3 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 28 minutes off the bench.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, Khris Middleton was the second star of the night with 30 points (11-16 FG, 3-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 3-pointers, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 3 TO. Eric Bledsoe's shot was off, but he still contributed 13 points (5-15 FG, 2-3 FT) with 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 5 TO. Jabari Parker (47.4 percent available) was the primary contributor off the bench with 12 points (5-10 FG, 1-1 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 3-pointer and 4 TO.
This was the last meeting of the Cavaliers and the Bucks this regular season. So...
Until we meet again... pic.twitter.com/SwbbL3WjR2
- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 20, 2018
On most nights, the top story would have been about the monster scoring game between the Nuggets and the Heat. I should take a moment to point out that the Nuggets-Heat and Cavaliers-Bucks were two of the three games that I featured in yesterday's Analytics Advantage section -- and both of them actually overshot my prediction. The Nuggets and Heat combined for a whopping 290 total points in two overtimes, including a Heat franchise-record 149 points. The Nuggets were led by Jokic's huge effort, but had four players score over 20 and six players in double-figures overall. The Heat had two players score 30-plus, four score 20-plus, and six in double-figures.
While Jokic was the best player, the most interesting Nuggets player from a fantasy perspective was Wilson Chandler, because he's only rostered in 35.6 percent of leagues. Nevertheless, he turned in 26 points (11-17 FG, 1-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 2 steals, 1 block and 1 TO in 47 minutes of action. On the Heat side, James Johnson (46.1 percent available) was the highlight and Kelly Olynyk (65.4 percent available) was right there with him, scoring 30 points (11-16 FG, 4-5 FT) with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 3-pointers, 4 blocks, 1 steal and 2 TO.
JaMychal Green (62.0 percent available) got his third double-double in his last five games for Memphis, with 16 rebounds, 14 points (7-8 FG, 0-1 FT), 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 block and 3 TO. Andrew Harrison (94.5 percent owned) was also strong for the Grizzlies with 19 points (7-16 FG, 4-8 FT), 8 assists, 1 rebound, 1 block and 1 3-pointer.
Caris LeVert (72.0 percent owned) is back on the rise for Brooklyn, scoring double-figures for the eighth straight game with 22 points (7-9 FG, 4-6 FT), 4 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 4 TO.
Injuries of note
Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence as head coach of the Cavaliers to work on his health. It isn't clear what tangible effect, if any, it might have on the team's play. However, presumably LeBron James will look to step into even more of a leader role in his absence. This could speak to LeBron's monster triple-double on Monday night, though to be fair he's been playing at this level for quite some time.
Draymond Green left Monday's game due to a "pelvic contusion" that he suffered in the second quarter of the game. X-rays came back negative, but he should still be considered questionable for Golden State's game on Friday.
Tyreke Evans was a surprise scratch on Monday for undisclosed reasons, after he wasn't even listed on Memphis' injury report. There's a chance that he was just rested, and with his recent history of sitting this season, there is no guarantee that Evans will be available to play on any given night. Marc Gasol was also ruled out of Monday's game with an illness, but all reports are that he was indeed suffering from flu-like symptoms.
Analytics advantage for Tuesday
There are two games on Tuesday that pit Western powerhouses against each other in games that should produce fireworks -- the LA Clippers-Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets-Portland Trail Blazers. For the Clippers-Timberwolves game in particular, the pertinent numbers are: 6, as in the number of teams that will fill the Nos. 3-8 slots in the playoffs; 8, as in the number of teams within a couple of games of those spots; and 1, as in the number of losses that separate the currently No. 8-seed Timberwolves and the current No.9-seed Clippers. This game, in particular, should get maximum effort out of absolutely everyone involved.
Top players to watch tonight
James Harden and Chris Paul going up against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is my matchup of the night, but don't forget about big men Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela going heads-up as well. The Rockets and Trail Blazers are the two hottest teams in the NBA, and this game should have a playoff feel to it.