March 31, 2021, 3:43 am
There were but four games on Tuesday Night’s slate and there were hardly any surprises, well, save for one.
The Magic’s second unit woke up and spearheaded a fourth-quarter run to stun the Clippers for a 103-96 win.
Sure, you could say that while the Clippers were favored to win this one, they were also missing some of their best defenders outside of Kawhi Leonard. Sidelined tonight were Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Serge Ibaka and even Marcus Morris Sr. emerged as a late scratch. As good as Ivica Zubac is as a rebounder and as a serviceable big man with some post moves in the paint, he’s not really known for his work as a rim protector. And with that, newly minted Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. was able to provide the visitors with the lead thanks to a putback off a James Ennis III missed shot.
At the end of the day though, credit has to go to Chuma Okeke, who kept his team within striking distance thanks to a great two-way performance of 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with one 3-pointer and three steals. He’s one special player, a must-stash in dynasty and undoubtedly going to be one of the market movers come the 2021-22 fantasy draft.
The Clippers shouldn’t be losing to rebuilding teams like the Magic, not considering they’re supposedly “title contenders” – even if they’re severely shorthanded. They are that deep. Consider it a lesson learned and that they shouldn’t rest on their laurels even with just a few minutes remaining in regulation. Surely that’s something coach Ty Lue will hammer in the team’s next practice.
The Hornets are now 19-0 when they lead after three quarters, an interesting statistic. They even overcame an impressive 30-point effort from Rui Hachimua as well as yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double. Credit goes to the duo of 2020-21 Comeback Kings, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, who had 27 and 26 points, respectively. Cody Zeller was also a pleasant surprise off the bench with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double.
The Nuggets easily dispatched with the Embiid-less Sixers, 114-104. Definitely no surprises there.
Lastly, the scorching hot Suns managed to singe the Hawks’ wings on Tuesday night 117-110 in a game that could have gone either way.
Add(s) of the Night
Luke Kennard, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Kennard has now had back-to-back games where he’s scored in double figures for the Clippers. Not coincidentally, Paul George was out for both games. That said, there could be more in store for Kennard, even when George returns from his bout with a sore foot.
The Clippers traded away Lou Williams for Rajon Rondo at the trade deadline, for defensive and playoff-experience reasons. However, the loss of Williams means that the Clippers are now in need of 3-point shooting off the bench, something that Kennard, who has hit eight 3-pointers in his last two games, can clearly provide. While he’s still mostly someone to be considered as a short-term add, it’s highly possible that Kennard can provide some ROS value, albeit not as good as he’s been over the last couple of games.
Will Barton, SG/SF, Denver Nuggets
Barton shot 0-for-7 from the field tonight and he shot 0-for-8 against the Raptors just a few games back. That’s now a total of four straight games where Barton has not just underwhelmed but was outright terrible. Such outcomes are not only intolerable but also unacceptable for fantasy teams vying for playoff berths. Barton can be let go or at least is now a must-bench player until further notice.
Malik Monk missed tonight’s game with right foot soreness.
The Wizards were without their best player, Bradley Beal, due to a right hip contusion. Newcomer Daniel Gafford was also on the sidelines with a right ankle sprain. Raul Neto was ruled out due to a left rib contusion.
Monte Morris missed yet another game for the Nuggets due to his left quadriceps strain.
George Hill, whom the Sixers do not intend to rush back, was still unable to make his debut for his new team on Tuesday as he recovers from right thumb surgery. Again, still no Joel Embiid, who was still out with his left knee bone bruise.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari and Onyeka Okongwu were all listed as available for the Hawks and all of them were able to play tonight. De’Andre Hunter (right knee soreness) was eventually ruled out of the game after appearing to be nearing a return. There was still no sign of Cam Reddish, who is still dealing with Achilles soreness. Unfortunately, John Collins sprained an ankle late in the first half of the game and was ruled out for its remainder. Solomon Hill started the second half in his place.
Cameron Payne and Jalen Smith were cleared to play tonight but only Payne was able to see action with Smith getting a DNP-CD, which was not too surprising considering he’s been out of the rotation for some time now.
The Clippers had to deal with the absences of Patrick Beverley (right knee soreness), Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness), Rajon Rondo (right adductor soreness) and Paul George (right foot soreness). Add to that, Marcus Morris Sr., who was a late scratch due to a right calf contusion. Nicolas Batum started in his place.
Terrence Ross (sore right knee) finally made his return for the Magic, an old face making his way back to a new-looking team. Karim Mane was ruled out due to a sore right hamstring.
The Suns currently have the second-best record in the Western Conference – a position at this stage in the season no one would have predicted five months ago.
They defeated a stacked yet still shorthanded Hawks club 117-110.
As good as the Suns have been they’re not without their issues. Both Chris Paul and Jae Crowder spoke after the game about the team’s issues with the way they perform in crunch time. The two seasoned veterans have been vocal about the team’s deficiencies. They could have, should have put the game away earlier but ended up leaving the door open for the Hawks to threaten them for the win – an injury to John Collins notwithstanding.
The Suns had a comfortable 14-point lead midway through the third quarter but the Hawks were able to cull the lead down to two points just before it ended.
On the fantasy basketball front, Chris Paul was quiet with 12 points, eight assists and two steals in 31 minutes, while Crowder was the team’s best 3-point shooter, making 5-of-8 from deep to end the night with 19 points, four rebounds three assists, one steal and one block – a quintessential good Crowder game.
So are the Suns overperforming? Are they surging in the regular season only to flare out and in the first round of the playoffs?
The answer to that question lies with is younger players. Guys like Deandre Ayton, who had a special moment in the game as he made a key shot over Clint Capela, needs to make a quantum leap in terms of his progress and development. The Suns need a power-big they can lean on to pound the rock in the low post while also able to crash the boards on the defensive end of the court. Mikal Bridges, who has already begun to push through as an emergent two-way threat at points in the season to be more consistent, to be more assertive on offense.
While the Suns have a record that’ll make anyone do a double-take, they will need to work on their late-game execution if they expect to go toe-to-toe against the tougher teams in the West like the Jazz, Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets, especially when the L.A. clubs are at full strength. Impressive regular season record aside, the Suns are still long-shots to come out of the West as title contenders. At the very least, we’re going to have fun watching them give it a go.