Two closeouts and James Harden goes off




 

The NBA Playoffs resumed on Saturday, and the top seeds in their respective conferences took care of business and advanced to the second round. Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were among the standouts Saturday, and Russell Westbrook played 24 minutes in his long-awaited return to the Rockets lineup.

Bucks 118, Magic 104 (Milwaukee wins, 4-1)

Orlando was once again without Aaron Gordon (hamstring) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot), and those absences made the task of extending their season that much more difficult for the Magic. Nikola Vucevic (22/15/5/1 with three 3-pointers in 40 minutes) shot just 9-of-25 from the field, but that's understandable given how much attention he received from the Bucks defensively. There are some question marks with this roster for the 2020-21 season, most notably that backup point guard role, but there should be no concerns regarding Vucevic. He should be a first/second round player in standard leagues heading into next season, as he's a near-guarantee to post a double-double regardless of who's on the court with him.

Evan Fournier (18/4/3/1/1 with three 3-pointers) struggled for much of this series, and it's worth noting that he has a player option worth $17 million for next season. The market for free agent shooting guards isn't all that deep, but the salary cap (especially if it decreases) will likely limit the number of teams capable of shelling out a significant amount of money in free agency. We'll see if that factors into Fournier's decision, but he has until mid-October to decide whether or not to pick up his team option. If Fournier remains with the Magic he's likely a mid-round option in standard leagues. Markelle Fultz (14/1/5/1 block and one 3-pointer) still has work to do as a perimeter shooter, but he's made strides since joining the Magic. But at best he's a late-round pick because of those shooting issues.

Looking at Orlando's backup point guard situation, both Carter-Williams and D.J. Augustin (15/1/3 with two 3-pointers in 24 minutes) will be unrestricted free agents. MCW is the more versatile of the two from a positional standpoint, as he can be used either on or off the ball, but Augustin's experience and production can't be ignored, either. It will be interesting to see who the Magic bring back (or if they move on from both), but there could be some late-round value to be had in deeper leagues when taking Fultz's medical history into account.

Milwaukee moves on to the second round where Miami, which won two of the three regular season meetings, awaits. Giannis Antetokounmpo (28/17/3/1 block and three 3-pointers) struggled with foul trouble during the second half but was still dominant. For the series he averaged 30.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, making him the first player to average at least 30 points and 15 rebounds per game in a series since Dirk Nowitzki in 2002. Miami doesn't lack for options when it comes to defending Giannis, which was not the case for Orlando, but the key to that series will likely be how Milwaukee's supporting cast plays.

Khris Middleton (21/10/7/1 with three 3-pointers) shot 7-of-16 from the field and Brook Lopez (16/7/1/1/1 with one 3-pointer) was 7-of-12, but Eric Bledsoe (10/3/8/1 with two 3-pointers) shot 3-of-7 and Wesley Matthews was even worse with his 1-of-9 afternoon. If Middleton and Bledsoe are consistent offensively that makes things easier offensively for the Bucks as a whole, but both endured some struggles in the first round.

Rockets 114, Thunder 80 (Houston leads, 3-2)

As noted in the intro Westbrook made his return, with the plan being to limit him to 25-28 minutes. Thanks to the Rockets blowing the doors off of Oklahoma City in the third quarter he played 24 minutes, shooting 3-of-13 from the field and finishing with seven points, six rebounds, seven assists and one steal. Not the best night for Westbrook but he was active, showed no ill effects from the quadriceps injury that sidelined hm for more than two weeks, and also did not register a single turnover. Danuel House is coming off the bench as a result of Westbrook's return, and while he shot 2-of-10 from the field he did manage to contribute eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers to go along with seven points.

The Rockets reserve I like the most right now is Jeff Green, who tallied nine points, 10 rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 31 minutes. Green was just 3-of-11 from the field, but overall he's proven to be a very valuable piece off the bench for Houston. James Harden (31/2/5/1/1 with four 3-pointers) shot 11-of-15 from the field and Eric Gordon (20/4/3/2) was productive despite missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Harden doesn't have as much weight to carry when it comes to setting up his teammates with Westbrook in the lineup, making it easier for him to find (and make) quality shots.

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As for Oklahoma City this game turned when Dennis Schroder (19/1/1/1/1 with three 3-pointers in 21 minutes) was ejected for his low blow on P.J. Tucker during the third quarter. Tucker was also run thank to his head butting of Schroder in response, but the Thunder were impacted more by the ejection. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (4/3/4) shot 2-of-8 from the field and had one of the worst games of his young career, while Chris Paul (16/6/3/1 block and one 3-pointer) and Danilo Gallinari (1/6/1 steal on 0-of-5 shooting) also had rough days at the office.

Luguentz Dort (six points, one assist) also struggled, with Houston making the decision to leave him alone on offense. The rookie guard was just 1-of-9 from the field in the first quarter, and by game's end he was 3-of-16 (and 0-of-9 on 3-pointers). That will likely be the approach that Houston takes defensively in Game 6 as well; make Oklahoma City pay for keeping the player best equipped to make Harden work for his points on the court. It isn't the offseason yet for the Thunder, but perimeter shooting is an area where Dort needs a lot of work. The defensive ability gives him value within a rotation, but improved offense is what will be needed if he's to be any kind of factor in fantasy.

Lakers 131, Trail Blazers 122 (Los Angeles wins, 4-1)

Give Portland credit, as the team gave all that it could despite being shorthanded. Ultimately the absence of Damian Lillard and the Blazers' inability to string together stops proved to be too much to overcome. With Lillard out due to a knee injury C.J. McCollum played 46 of a possible 48 minutes, posting a line of 36 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal and three 3-pointers. McCollum finished the regular season providing fifth-round value in nine-category formats, and that feels about right for him when it comes to projecting his value for next season. Following the game he said that his back injury won't require surgery, but he will need six to eight weeks of rest before resuming basketball activities.

Jusuf Nurkic (16/10/6/5/1 with one 3-pointer) played 37 minutes despite dealing with shin splits in his left leg, the same one that he injured in horrific fashion during the 2018-19 campaign. He was fine, and I like him as one of the top centers in fantasy next season. In the bubble Nurkic posted averages of 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks per game (seeding games), and he also posted a double-double in three of the five games in this series. But the question to be answered this offseason is who will join Nurkic, Zach Collins and Trevor Ariza in Portland's frontcourt rotation.

Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside will both be unrestricted free agents, and while Melo (27/7/1 with three 3-pointers in 40 minutes) played well in his final game of the season Whiteside (2/7/1 in 16 minutes) struggled with foul trouble and also left the game for a brief stretch due to a dislocated finger. I'm not sure how thrilled Whiteside would be with continuing to come off the bench, which would certainly be the case for him next season if he were to return, and I'm not too sure that Portland needs him given the price tag that he'll likely command. Anthony's case may be a bit different, as he meshed well with Lillard/McCollum while also spending time at both forward positions throughout the course of this season. I'd argue that Melo has the better chance of returning for Portland next season.

And keep an eye on Gary Trent Jr. as a potential late-round option in deeper leagues, depending upon Rodney Hood's rehab from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Trent started in place of Lillard and posted a line of 16 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 40 minutes. In Portland's eight seeding games he averaged 16.9 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks and 4.3 3-pointers in 34.1 minutes per off the bench. Even if Hood is ready to go once the season begins and Anthony returns, Portland is going to need to carve out more minutes for Trent Jr.

The Lakers leaned on their best players to close out the series, and Anthony Davis and LeBron James delivered. Davis surpassed the 40-point mark in a playoff game for just the second time in his career, tallying 43 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and four 3-pointers while shooting 14-of-18 from the field and 11-of-13 from the foul line. Whiteside had no answer for Davis, and once he was saddled with foul trouble Portland had nowhere else to turn. James (36/10/10/1/1 with four 3-pointers) tallied the 25th playoff triple-double of his career, moving to within five of Magic Johnson, and he's also the first Lakers to have three straight playoff games of 30 points or more since Kobe Bryant did it in the 2010 Western Conference Finals.

Other than that the biggest positive was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knocking down four 3-pointers, scoring 14 points with five assists and three steals. Given how well he's shot the ball recently KCP will be a low-cost option worth using a roster spot on in the second round. Neither Rajon Rondo (back) nor Dion Waiters (migraine) played, but both will have some time to heal up ahead of the second round. Rondo has yet to appear in a game in the bubble.

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