Around the Association: Towns, Morant Return, Nembhard Shines, Bulls Tumble + More From Wednesday's Slate

Around the Association: Towns, Morant Return, Nembhard Shines, Bulls Tumble + More From Wednesday's Slate

This article is part of our NBA Daily Recap series.

Welcome back to another edition of Around the Association. It felt almost relaxing to have a massive night of just NBA basketball before March Madness returns, and Wednesday's 10-game slate did not disappoint. The night across the league was one of the best all season, bringing us the returns of multiple All-Stars, close finishes and impressive rookie performances. Without further ado, let's dive into one wacky night: 

Nightly Notables 

Towns Comes up Clutch in Return

  • You could not have drawn up a better return for Karl-Anthony Towns. After missing 52 straight games for Minnesota due to a calf issue, Towns rejoined Minnesota's starting lineup for Wednesday's matchup against the Hawks. After the Timberwolves were able to rally back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, Towns found himself at the free-throw line down 124-125 with under four seconds left.
  • The 27-year-old big calmly drilled two free throws to take a 125-124 lead which ultimately sealed the victory for the Timberwolves. Towns looked fresh in his return, ending with 22 points (8-18 FG, 2-3 3Pt, 4-4 FT), four rebounds, three assists and two steals over 26 minutes. While Towns figures to continue to be on a minutes limit moving forward, this game serves to prove that fantasy managers should have no second thoughts when it comes to inserting Towns back into lineups.
  • With Anthony Edwards' (ankle) impending return to the court, things are looking up for the Timberwolves who currently sit 37-37, good for the seventh seed in the tightly-packed Western Conference standings.
    • While much of the attention deservedly is going towards Towns' return, Jaden McDaniels impressed on the offensive end once again. Just three games after setting a career-high of 25 points, McDaniels matched that total Wednesday, ending with 25 points (9-17 FG. 6-7 FT, 1-3 3Pt, 6-7 FT), six rebounds, four assists and two blocks over 35 minutes. With McDaniels already being one of the best wing defenders in the league, this type of offensive development is key for his next steps as a player. Minnesota has a real gem here. 

Reaves Mania

  • Just one game after erupting for a career-high 35 points, the Lakers opted to move Austin Reaves into the team's starting lineup for Wednesday's crucial game against Phoenix. Reaves showed no signs of slowing down in his new rule, scoring a team-best 10 points in the first quarter while ending with 25 points (6-10 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 12-13 FT), four rebounds, 11 assists and one steal over 39 minutes during Wednesday's 122-111. The second-year pro has now produced at least 20 points in three out of his past four appearances, averaging 25.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists across 32.0 minutes per game while ranking as the No. 30 overall nine-category fantasy option over that span.
  • With LeBron James (foot) still on the sidelines, fantasy managers should have no reserves riding this hot streak out with Reaves. This win combined with Utah's loss to Portland, now has the Lakers sitting at the No. 10 seed in the West by just a 0.5 game. Buckle up for a wild end to the year!

Morant Returns, JJJ Steals the Show

  • After missing nine consecutive games due to a personal matter, Ja Morant was able to make his return to the court during Memphis' thrilling 125-120 win over Houston.  Coming off the bench for the first time in his career, Morant ended the win with 17 points (6-13 FG, 0-2 3PT, 5-6 FT), four rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block over 24 minutes of play. It did not take him long to add yet another poster to his vast collection. While it is encouraging to see Morant back on the floor it may take some time for the Grizzlies to get their All-Star guard back his usual workload. Head coach Taylor Jenkins indicated that Morant might come off the bench for Memphis' next few games. However, similar to Towns, even with Morant playing in the mid-to-low 20 minutes, that should still be enough time for him to put up a respectable fantasy stat line. 
  • In addition to getting Morant back in the lineup, Memphis was also able to celebrate a new career-high out of Jaren Jackson as he continues to shine on the offensive end. JJJ erupted for a personal-best 37 points (14-20 FG, 1-5 3Pt, 8-11 FT), 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks over 35 minutes of action. The Michigan State product was unguardable in the paint, finishing 12-14 from that region. Jackson has now topped 25 points in five consecutive games, averaging 29.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.4 blocks across 31.6 minutes per game while ranking as the No. 9 nine-category asset over that stretch. This type of offensive explosion is massive for the Grizzlies as they gear up for a hopeful deep playoff run.

Dubs Squeak Past Mavericks 

  • In what was perhaps the best matchup of the night, the Warriors were able to pull away to a 126-122 crucial victory over the Mavericks. With the game tied at 120 in the final two minutes, Draymond Green was able to convert an and-one finish to help Golden State take the lead which ultimately ended up being the difference maker for the Warriors. The veteran forward did a little bit of everything for the Warriors in the win, ending with 14 points (6-10 FG, 1-4 3Pt), four rebounds, eight assists, three steals and four blocks over 25 minutes. This marked Green's highest-scoring outing over his past six appearances.
    • Jonathan Kuminga was the X-factor for Golden State in this one. The second-year pro recorded a team-best 22 points (9-11 FG, 2-3 3Pt), three rebounds, one assist and two steals over 30 minutes of play. Kuminga is starting to pick his play up a notch, averaging 21.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steals across 28.7 minutes per game over his past three showings. It is encouraging to see Kuminga figuring it out on the offensive end with the playoffs rapidly approaching. With Kuminga's improved play and Andrew Wiggins' (personal) postseason status still murky, the 20-year-old is bound to see more meaningful playoff minutes than he did during last year's championship run.
  • Although Dallas came up short, Luka Doncic put on an absolute show with his no-look dimes and impressive post-finishes in what was his first game back after missing five straight outings due to a thigh injury. Doncic ended the loss with a game-high 30 points (11-27 FG, 2-10 3Pt, 6-10 FT), seven rebounds, 17 assists and one steal over 41 minutes. It almost looks just effortless for him out there sometimes. Doncic's return is obviously massive for both Dallas' playoffs seeding and for fantasy managers' final push to a championship. This loss has Dallas standing at 36-37, currently ninth in the West.
    • Even with Doncic back in the lineup, the Jaden Hardy show continues to roll on for Dallas. The rookie guard ended Wednesday's defeat with 27 points (10-18 FG, 6-9 3Pt, 1-2 FT), five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block over 25 minutes of play. Hardy has now gone for over 20 points in five out of his past six appearances, averaging 20.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists over 27.7 minutes over that stretch. While it is encouraging to see Hardy see success on the offensive end, his more one-dimensional role as a scorer this season does limit his fantasy upside. The rookie guard ranks as the 112th fantasy option over his recent impressive six-game stretch. 

Bulls Disaster Class 

  • Things started ugly for the Bulls and finished even uglier during their second consecutive contest against the 76ers. Even without James Harden (Achilles), Philadelphia was able to storm ahead to a 21-1 lead Just five minutes into the contest. The Bulls were never able to recover and walked away with a 116-91 home defeat.  With Harden on the sidelines, De'Anthony Melton was the difference maker in this one, ending the win with 25 points (8-16 FG, 4-9 3Pt, 5-6 FT), four rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block over 33 minutes. Melton has now started for Harden in two out of the 76ers' past three contests, averaging 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.5 steals across 33.5 minutes during those outings. The first-year 76er is proving to be a trustworthy fantasy option with Harden out of the lineup.
  • As if the blowout loss wasn't enough for the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan suffered a right quad strain and exited without return. This is the same injury that forced DeRozan to miss two consecutive games before the All-Star break earlier this season. This is injury is determinantal to Chicago which is currently on the cusp of making the play-in tournament. If DeRozan is ultimately ruled out moving forward, the likes of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic figure to receive additional usage down the stretch for Chicago. 

Rookies Carry Pacers

  • After producing perhaps the worst outing of his rookie season, scoring just two points across 29 minutes during Monday's loss to Charlotte, Andrew Nembard responded with a masterful showing during Indiana's crucial 118-114 win over the Raptors. The Gonzaga product finished with 25 points (11-17 FG, 3-5 3Pt), two rebounds and 10 assists over 35 minutes while also drilling a tough step-back three to seal the game for Indiana in the final minute. With Tyrese Haliburton out with a knee injury for the Pacers' past six games, Nembhard has averaged 17.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists over 33.0 minutes per outing. This win for Indiana now puts them at 33-40, just 1.5 games behind the Bulls for the final play-in seed in the East.
    • Nembhard wasn't the only Indiana rookie to show out Wednesday. Bennedict Mathurin added in his own 15 points (3-5 FG, 3-3 3Pt, 6-6 FT), two rebounds, one steal and one ridiculous block. Mathruin has now appeared in two consecutive games after missing four straight contests due to an ankle injury. 
  • Pascal Siakam tried to will his team to victory during the back-and-forth battle, scoring 18 points in the final frame while ending with 31 points (11-17 FG, 0-2 3Pt, 9-11 FT), 10 rebounds, seven assists and one block over 39 minutes of action. Siakam now has recorded four straight double-doubles, averaging 24.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists across 36.8 minutes while ranking as the No. 30 nine-category fantasy option over that four-game span. The Raptors now find themselves at a 35-38 record, good for ninth in the East. 

Heat, Butler Keep Rolling

  • Jimmy Butler is starting to turn it up to another gear as the playoffs rapidly approach. In what was a tight contest throughout, Butler carried the Heat to a 127-120 win over the Heat, dropping a team-high 35 points (11-19 FG, 2-2 3Pt, 11-14 FT), four rebounds, nine assists and four steals over 37 minutes. The Heat have now won seven out of their past 10 contests while Butler is averaging 27.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.6 steals over 34.0 minutes per game over that stretch. This was an extremely important win for the Heat who now move just a 0.5 game behind the Nets for the sixth and final guaranteed spot in the Eastern Conference. 
    • Tyler Herro shined late, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter while converting on four out of his five attempts from deep. The Kentucky product ended the game with 22 points (8-13 FG, 4-7 3Pt, 2-2 FT), three rebounds and four assists over 32 minutes. This marked Herro's 32nd 20-point outing of the season.
  • Quentin Grimes had one of the best offensive outings of his season during the loss, going off for 22 points (7-12 FG, 6-10 3Pt, 2-2 FT),  two rebounds and one assist over 25 minutes of play. While it is encouraging to see the young guard find success on the offensive end, Grimes should not be on any manager's fantasy radar moving forward. Entering Wednesday, Grimes had failed to reach double-digit scoring in five consecutive outings. 

Quick Hitters

  • By starting Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin and Oshae Brissett, the Indiana Pacers made NBA history by being the first team ever to start three players from Canada. Fittingly the game in Toronto against the Raptors. 
  • The Milwaukee Bucks steamrolled the San Antonio Wembyamas 130-94 behind a solid team outing. Giannis Antetokounmpo was unguardable, totaling 31 points (14-23 FG, 1-4 3Pt, 4-4 FT), 14 rebounds, two assists and one block in just three quarters. Khris Middleton produced yet another solid performance, totaling 19 points (8-15 FG, 1-6 3PT, 2-2 FT), three rebounds, 10 assists, one steal and six turnovers over 29 minutes. Middleton is really starting to get back into his rhythm, averaging 20.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.0 steals across 31.7 minutes over his last seven showings. 
  • In an otherwise forgetful game for San Antonio, Sandro Mamukelashvili finished with 12 points (6-13 FG, 0-4 3Pt), seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks over 27 minutes against his former team. The recently acquired forward has been productive when seeing the court for the Spurs, averaging 7.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists across 22.6 minutes per game over his past five appearances. With San Antonio clearly not vying for a playoff spot, one should keep an eye on Mamukelashvili as the season winds down.
  • While it has been a bit of a bumpy first season for Shaedon Sharpe, the high-flying rookie put together his best performance yet during Portland's 127-115 win over Utah. Sharpe finished with a career-high 24 points (9-19 FG, 4-7 3Pt, 2-3 FT), nine rebounds, three assists and four steals over 40 minutes. While the 19-year-old threw down some impressive jams that he is quickly making a name for himself for, I continue to be impressed by his recent three-point shooting. Over Portland's last five games, Sharpe is averaging 2.0 threes made while shooting at a 52.6 percent clip from deep. Things are certainly trending upward regarding the No. 7 selection of the 2022 draft.
  • Utah may have come up short to Portland, but Lauri Markkanen produced yet another standout performance in the defeat. The Most Improved Player of the Year favorite finished the outing with 40 points (14-23 FG, 4-12 3Pt, 8-9 FT), 12 rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. After entering this season with a career-high of 35 points, Markkanen has now topped the 40-point threshold three times this year!  
  • Aaron Gordon had one of his better shooting days as of recently, finishing with 12 points (4-6 FG, 2-3 3Pt, 2-2 FT), one rebound, one assist and one steal over 31 minutes during Denver's 118-104 over a short-handed Wizards team. Entering Wednesday's game, Gordon had failed to make a three in his previous four matchups, going 0-7 over that stretch. 
  • Johnny Davis continues to see the floor more for Washington, playing a season-high 23 minutes while finishing with seven points (3-6 FG, 0-3 3Pt, 1-2 FT), three rebounds and one steal. Davis has now recorded at least 13 minutes in four out of his past five games, averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds over that span. While it has not been a very pretty rookie season for the lottery pick, it is encouraging to see Davis start to get more opportunities with the season winding down.
  • There have not been many opportunities to talk about the Rockets in a positive light for most of the season, but Wednesday's close loss to Memphis does continue to give me optimism for the team's future outlook. Jalen Green led the way in the defeat with an efficient 32 points (10-18 FG, 3-6 3Pt, 9-9 FT), three rebounds and three assists across 37 minutes. The second-year pro has been struggling with inconsistency all year, but Green has now strung together four straight 20 points outings, averaging 29.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists over 39.3 minutes per game across that stretch. While it is clear how talented Green is on the offensive end, it is all about putting it together on a nightly basis for the 21-year-old going forward.
    • Green was not the only young Rocket who impressed me in the defeat. Kenyon Martin exploded for a season-best 31 points (12-18 FG, 2-5 3Pt, 5-8 FT), six rebounds and two blocks in 39 minutes. Alperen Sengun (illness) dominated down low in his return from a one-game absence, ending with 25 points (11-15 FG) to go with eight rebounds. Kevin Porter got into the mix dropping his first triple-double of the season. The Rockets' youngsters may have come up just short Wednesday, but that loss is about as encouraging as it gets for a rebuilding team like Houston.  

Best and Worst of the Night 

  • Stud of the Night: Jaren Jackson - 37 points (14-20 FG, 1-5 3Pt, 8-11 FT), 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks over 35 minutes.
  • Rookie of the Night: Andrew Nembhard - 25 points (11-17 FG, 3-5 3Pt), two rebounds and 10 assists over 35 minutes.
  • Dud of the Night: Klay Thompson - nine points (4-9 FG, 1-4 3Pt), five rebounds, one assist and one block over 34 minutes. 

A Look Ahead to Thursday Night

  • The Knicks look to bounce back from Wednesday's loss to Miami while facing the Magic in Orlando.
  • The Nets and Cavs square off in Brooklyn.
  • The Paul George-less (knee) Clippers face off against the Thunder in a meaningful game regarding Western Conference standings. 

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Michael Spero
Michael writes in the NBA and NCAAF departments for RotoWire. He is a big-time fan of both the Bulls and Nuggets. Michael spends his time playing pick-up or anxiously rooting for his fantasy teams.
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