The highs and the lows of the NBA experience were on display in last night's double-overtime epic between the Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers. D'Angelo Russell and Damian Lillard engaged in a riveting showdown that saw them combine for 70 of the game's 292 points. While Portland won the game, it lost yet another crucial contributor to a serious injury, as star center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a brutal leg injury that will end his season and likely require a lengthy recovery process.
Before being carted off the court during the second overtime, Nurkic had produced his first game ever with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. One of the league's genuinely dynamic big men -- one capable of controlling the game with a rare blend of brute physicality and nuanced skill -- Nurkic rates 18th in the league in real plus-minus, with the Blazers proving stronger in nearly every key metric with him on the floor this season. For measure of his fantasy impact, Nurkic posted the highest DFS score of the entire slate on DraftKings Monday night. I hope we see Nurkic fully recover in the fashion Paul George has from a similar leg injury suffered several summers back.
Portland's Enes Kanter vaults into a larger role in the wake of Nurkic's injury and should be added in the 20 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's still available. Averaging 10.4 PPG and 7.1 RPG in just 18.5 MPG for the Blazers this season, Kanter is worth acquiring where available given an expected leap in opportunities to conclude the season. If Kanter is already rostered, Nurkic's managers can look to widely available centers such as Bam Adebayo, Larry Nance Jr. and Thomas Bryant as potential replacements.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers: 32 points (13-24 FG), 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks
D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: 39 points (16-34 FG), 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 TO
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns: 1 point (0-5 FG), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 TO
With Nurkic and CJ McCollum both injured, Lillard must somehow carry an even more significant offensive role in the games ahead. Thankfully, he seems up to the task, as Lillard tallied 31 points with 12 dimes and zero turnovers in last night's somewhat Pyrrhic victory. Lillard now has three games in his career with at least 30 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers, while no other player has more than one such game in the past 15 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Info. Already a league-winning force, Lillard might just have to go full Harden to finish the campaign.
Brooklyn's Russell turned in yet another brilliant offensive outing, with four of the six highest-scoring games of his career coming since Jan. 18. In addition to Russell, I remain intrigued by Joe Harris as a helpful shooting specialist, and in deeper formats, we can give DeMarre Carroll a look given his ability to build out diverse stat lines.
Booker's 59 points in a loss to the Jazz last night marked the fourth-highest scoring output in the NBA this season, with James Harden tallying 61 twice and Kemba Walker dropping 60 on the Sixers earlier this season. Booker scored 64.1 percent of the Suns' points, which marks the second-highest percentage of a team's points in the past 60 seasons -- Kobe Bryant registered 66.4 percent of the Lakers' points in his famous 81-point game. Booker is just the fourth player in NBA history with multiple 50-point games before his 23rd birthday, joining Rick Barry (seven times), LeBron James (three), and Kyrie Irving (twice). In a microcosm of the Suns' roster issues, Booker was the lone Phoenix player to score in double figures on Monday.
The Thunder have lost five of past six games and are now in the final playoff spot in the West after losing to a Memphis team that was missing Mike Conley (sore left thigh) last night. The Grizzlies' Bruno Caboclo was once most famous for being deemed "two years away from being two years away" by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla on draft night in 2014, but Memphis is being rewarded for playing the long game as the Brazilian big man netted 24 points and 11 rebounds for his first career 20-point game. Caboclo's teammate Delon Wright, meanwhile, has become a fantasy force whenever Conley rests, which could prove common for these final games of the season.
I told you yesterday Nikola Vucevic often has his way with the Sixers and the gifted big man delivered 28 points and 11 boards in a wire-to-wire win over Philly on Monday evening. This impressively marked his 16th performance this season with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, most by a Magic player since Dwight Howard had 29 in 2010-11. Orlando's Evan Fournier produced 24 points and seven assists and now has tallied a season-high three straight games with at least 20 points. Fournier is still floating in free agency in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues.
Injuries of note
Anthony Davis is listed as probable for tonight's visit from the Hawks, while Jrue Holiday has been ruled out. Elfrid Payton has come back to earth after his triple-double bender, but remains a strong streaming option and DFS investment with Holiday sidelined.
Analytics advantage for Tuesday
Kyrie Irving won't see the floor tonight in a return to Cleveland due to, you guessed it, load management. With Irving getting a breather, it's important to note combo guard Marcus Smart consumes the highest bump in usage rate (3.5 percent) on the team with Irving off the floor. Maybe it's a Marcus thing, because Marcus Morris rates second on the Celtics in increased usage with Irving off the court and has the most substantial bump on the roster in fantasy points per 36 in such scenarios. Streaming Smart is, well, pretty smart tonight. He's among the best sources for steal production in the league, while Irving's absence fuels what should be a rewarding uptick in opportunity rates.
Top players to watch tonight
Two names stand out to me for DFS purposes ahead of tonight's impressive 10-game slate: LaMarcus Aldridge and Lauri Markkanen. Aldridge is fresh from dropping 45 on Boston on Sunday and tonight visits a Charlotte group that is thin in frontcourt talent. Meanwhile, Markkanen leads Chicago in fantasy points per 36 with Porter and LaVine sidelined and should enjoy lead-guard-like usage at reasonable pricing.