The game of the night in the NBA on Thursday was, without doubt, the matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets. It was full of big performances and, per ESPN Stats and Information, this was just the second game in NBA history featuring a triple-double, a 40-point game and a 20-assist game -- all by different players. The last time that happened was back in 1960, when Wilt Chamberlain, Guy Rodgers and Elgin Baylor accomplished the feat. Yeah, that's pretty rare.
The finish was epic, with the Thunder coming all the way back from a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 1.4 seconds left in regulation -- only to then have this happen:
- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 2, 2018
So, yes, the game was a classic and both teams are extremely fantasy-friendly -- but let's take a closer look at the Nuggets. Denver is full of fantasy storylines, starting in the middle with their center:
OKC had gone 152 games without allowing a triple-double ... then Nikola Jokic showed up. �� pic.twitter.com/SpWQEFrYIw
- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 2, 2018
Nikola Jokic is arguably the best passing center in the NBA, averaging 5.5 assists per game on the season, 7.3 assists during the last month, and 9.5 assists during the last week. The Nuggets run their entire offense through him. He's the main decision-maker on many of their possessions from either the post or from out-top. As a result, their backcourt is freed up to concentrate more on scoring than having to distribute.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are pure scorers, and proved it again on Thursday with a combined 58 points (23-39 FG, 2-2 FT),10 3-pointers, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 1 steal between them. These two guards make up one of the better scoring backcourts in the league and, at age 20 and 23, respectively, are considered the future perimeter core around the 22-year-old Jokic.
Will Barton has joined the starting lineup, providing a third perimeter scoring threat who can do everything, as epitomized by his 15 points (6-11 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 3-pointers, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot on Thursday. He was one of the more valuable sixth-men in the league, but his value remains similar as a starter in this secondary role.
Denver's fifth starter is currently Wilson Chandler (4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks on Thursday) with Trey Lyles (3 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks on Thursday) and Kenneth Faried (4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block on Thursday) sharing those power forward minutes while both Paul Millsap (wrist) and Mason Plumlee (calf) are out. Millsap is expected to return after the All-Star break. When he does, his ability to score from both the inside and out, while also contributing on the boards, should fit in nicely with the other Nuggets in a way that will allow all five starters get their fantasy numbers.
As a whole, the Nuggets have a chance to be pretty formidable. This is a young team on the rise, in both fantasy and real-life, heading into the second half of the season.
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder: 43 points (19-26 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 3-pointers, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 20 points (7-18 FG, 4-4 FT), 21 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 3-pointers, 1 block, 3 TO
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: 29 points (11-18 FG, 5-6 FT), 14 assists, 13 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 2 TO
The Timberwolves jumped on the Bucks on Thursday for a blowout win, with only two players in double-figures in scoring. Jimmy Butler led the way with 28 points (8-15 FG, 10-11 FT), 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 1 steal while Karl-Anthony Towns went for 24 points (10-13 FG, 3-3 FT), 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 3-pointer. However, Towns had the moment of the night when he was interviewed at halftime of the game, and clearly had no idea that the Timberwolves were winning the game quite so easily:
My favorite part of this clip is that @KarlTowns has to double-check the scoreboard at the other end of the court just in case the first one was wrong. Priceless reaction from the Big KAT https://t.co/HfRAAkXqA7
- Andre Snellings (@ProfessorDrz) February 2, 2018
Westbrook had a monster game on the court, but his "moment of the night" came right after the game ended when a fan approached him on the court. In my opinion, he showed a pretty solid amount of restraint in only lightly shoving the guy, and the guy was awfully bold to walk up on the "angriest man in the NBA" after a close loss.
A fan got in Russell Westbrook's face on the court after the Thunder loss. pic.twitter.com/AwsPKPUYNu
- ESPN (@espn) February 2, 2018
The "Blake Griffin Era" began in Detroit on Thursday, with Griffin leading an otherwise balanced effort with 24 points (6-12 FG, 11-13 FT), 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 1 3-pointer in 35 minutes. Andre Drummond was good for 14 points, 15 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot on a night where they were both very effective working together. Griffin led the team in assists, and Drummond tied for third, and they project to do a lot of interior passing going forward. They also project to do a lot of this:
Lob City 2.0? pic.twitter.com/eK9FUex9fP
- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 2, 2018
The Washington Wizards won their second straight game since John Wall's decision to undergo knee surgery, once again beating a strong opponent (this time the Toronto Raptors), and once again with a balanced, team effort. The Wizards got eight double-digit scoring performances on Thursday, including all five starters, led by Bradley Beal's 27 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 3-pointers, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot. Otto Porter Jr. (16 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 3-pointer and 1 steal) and Markieff Morris (15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 3-pointer) were both strong. Tomas Satoransky (10 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) once again started at point guard and outplayed backup Tim Frazier (3 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 3-pointer, 17 minutes off the bench).
Injuries of note
Giannis Antetokounmpo twisted his left ankle late in Thursday's contest, and was seen limping after the game. While no announcement has been made, it is at least questionable that he will play in the second half of the back-to-back on Friday against the New York Knicks. Malcolm Brogdon strained his left quad on Thursday, and was seen with crutches and a cast on his leg after the game, which would certainly suggest that he may be out for some time.
Both of those injuries come the day before Jabari Parker is scheduled to make his season debut for Milwaukee. Parker is only scheduled to play around 15 minutes, but he should be a jolt of talent for the Bucks going forward.
Analytics advantage for Friday
The Phoenix Suns are a regular in this spot, as they rank last in the NBA in defensive rating with 112.0 points allowed per 100 possessions. They also play at the third-highest pace (99.6 possessions per game), which is why they allow the most points in the league at 111.8 points per game.
The Utah Jazz are typically a low-scoring team, ranked 25th in the NBA at 102.0 points per game, while also playing at the 25th-slowest pace (95.3 possessions per game). However, the Jazz are coming off a points explosion, having dropped 129 points on the Golden State Warriors in their last outing. That output coincided with a 23-point, 11-assist gem from point guard Ricky Rubio, who quietly has averaged 16.0 points, 7.3 assists and 7.0 rebounds in his last three outings.
Top players to watch tonight
New York's Enes Kanter has 37 points and 37 rebounds in his last two games, and is averaging 19.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals during his last four contests.