Trail Blazers at Hawks
LaMarcus Aldridge (bruised back) returned in style from his seven-game absence on Thursday, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 100-85 road win vs. the Hawks. He made 9-of-21 FGs and 7-of-7 FTs, with two assists, one steal and one block, but suggested after the game that he might not play on Friday depending upon how his back reacts. The Blazers' terrific schedule allows some wiggle room as they play their fourth and fifth games of the week on Friday and Sunday. "I didn't feel 100 percent but I did what I could do," Aldridge said, "and luckily I made shots."
Dorell Wright played 10 scoreless minutes off the bench with Aldridge back in the starting lineup, an inevitable turn of events which is still disappointing for anyone who deployed him during Portland's five-game week. He had zero stats to his credit but it at least seems that he'll keep a small role as a backup PF, which is better than the constant stream of DNPs he saw in January and early February.
Aldridge's return also took a chunk out of Robin Lopez's production, as he went from a season-best 20-point performance to Thursday's more typical 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Understated lines like that have made RoLo one of the nicest surprises of the 2013-14 fantasy season, as he's quietly built up top-50 value thanks to solid rebounds (8.5) and blocks (1.7) with low-volume, high-percentage scoring (10.9 points on 55 percent FGs and 82 percent FTs).
Schedule note: The Trail Blazers play three games in each of the next two weeks, making them one of seven NBA teams with only six total games from March 31 through April 13 -- the other teams are the Cavaliers, Clippers, Knicks, Magic, Suns and Jazz (the Clippers and Knicks play four games next week, but just two games from April 7-13). Click here for my ever-dwindling grid which displays each team's rest-of-season weekly schedule.
The Hawks' defeat was their fifth straight, and it didn't help that 35-year-old Elton Brand was forced to start at center with Pero Antic sidelined by an ankle sprain. Brand posted a solid 11 points, 12 rebounds, one steal and one block in 30 minutes of action, numbers which would be sustainable if Antic isn't ready to return for Saturday's game in D.C.
The loss of Al Horford (torn pectoral) is a primary reason why the Hawks rank 28th in the NBA in rebounds per game, and in his absence 6'8" Paul Millsap has led the team with 8.2 boards per game. The Sapper never got going vs. the Blazers, scoring 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting with six rebounds and three assists, and his lousy game shouldn't have surprised attentive fantasy owners -- the Blazers have stifled opposing PFs all season long, allowing a league-low 17.2 points per game (to starters and reserves combined). The Knicks, Spurs and Pacers are among the five stingiest teams, while the five most lenient are the Lakers, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers and Nuggets (Denver gives up a league-high 25.2 per game to PFs).
The Hawks didn't have too many other surprises in store. DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting with one 3-pointer and four rebounds, Jeff Teague stayed hot with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and Shelvin Mack returned to the starting SG spot to finish with nine points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal in 35 minutes.
Mack is worth keeping an eye on if you're in need of 3-pointers and steals, but even as a starter he's been an unreliable source of overall value in 12-team leagues. His promotion sent Mike Scott back to the bench where he failed to score in 13 minutes of action, a far cry from Wednesday's 15-point game as a starter. In case it's not clear, Scott should be dumped back onto the waiver wire by anyone who picked him up. Finally, Lou Williams kept up his unexpected hot streak with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and one steal in 30 minutes, marking his third straight game with 10+ points. His scoring outbursts this season have repeatedly proved to be unsustainable, so approach him cautiously even if you're just targeting points and 3-pointers.
Clippers at Mavericks
The Clippers prevailed in a playoff-intensity matchup with the Mavericks, winning 109-103 in Dallas behind a huge game from CP3 and a series of miscues by the Mavs down the stretch. Chris Paul erased memories of his 0-of-12 shooting performance on Wednesday, leading L.A. with 31 points, four 3-pointers, four rebounds, nine assists and three steals. DeAndre Jordan piled up 16 points and 15 rebounds, while making 7-of-9 field goals and both of his free throw attempts, and Blake Griffin recovered from a slow first half to finish with 18 points, 13 boards, four assists and two blocks.
Matt Barnes, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford also cracked double-digits as Doc Rivers tightened his rotations to pull out the close win despite losing Danny Granger after 10 minutes to a sore left hamstring. Granger is playing just 17 minutes per game since joining the Clippers, doing little beyond rebounding and knocking down the occasional 3-pointer, so fantasy owners shouldn't mind if he sits out a few games.
As much as L.A. wanted the win to stay ahead of Houston for the West's No. 3 seed, the Mavericks were even more desperate since they came in percentage points behind the Suns for the No. 8 seed. The loss is a blow to the Mavs' odds, but by no means is it fatal -- they trail the No. 6 seed Warriors by just two games with the Suns and Grizzlies packed in between them.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but he went just 6-of-10 at the FT line, missed his final four shot attempts, and committed an ugly backcourt violation on a bad pass with the game tied 101-101 and just 38 seconds remaining. The blame for the loss could be shared equally by Dallas' starters, though, as they got sub-par games from guys like Shawn Marion (four points on 2-of-8 shooting) and Monta Ellis (12 points on 4-of-19 shooting). Jose Calderon didn't score much, but his nine points all came on 3-pointers and he chipped in five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Samuel Dalembert played through a stiff back to score six points and grab 11 rebounds, and the effective play of backup Brandan Wright (eight points, two blocks) enabled coach Rick Carlisle to limited Sammy's playing time to 22 minutes. Wright wasn't the only reserve player to have an above-average night, as Jae Crowder made all five of his field goals to score 13 points with four rebounds and two steals, and Vince Carter looked more than half-amazing while pouring in 23 points on 13 shot attempts (4-of-5 from downtown). The Mavs ran numerous isolation plays for Carter on the block vs. Jamal Crawford, and they probably should have gone to the well more often since he scored on almost all of those possessions.
Lakers at Bucks
Thursday's schedule also featured a game at the opposite end of the spectrum, as the last-place Bucks squared off against the Lakers in a not-so-epic battle of cellar-dwellers. Milwaukee won the game 108-105, which might actually mean that they lost since it trimmed their 'lead' over the 76ers for the league's worst record to just one game. It's disturbing that the NBA's draft-lottery system's incentives are powerful enough to cause numerous franchises to intentionally be as poor as they can. It's understandable for multi-millionaire owners to trim their financial losses while looking forward to more lucrative and successful seasons. It's a GMs job to follow the ownership's mandates and exploit every potential advantage to build (or rebuild) a successful team, and acquiring affordable talent via the draft is an easy and obvious way to achieve those goals. It's the rules of the game that need to change, in other words, and I'm truly hopeful that commissioner Adam Silver's recent profession that teams aren't tanking was a PR-conscious soundbite and not his actual belief. Tanking is rife and it's been around for a while, and the commissioner is one of the few people with enough influence and power to push for substantial changes in the draft-lottery system. End rant.
The Lakers no longer have the West's worst record, which now belongs to the Jazz, but they certainly looked awful in Thursday's inexcusable 105-108 defeat. The fun started during the afternoon when Chris Kaman missed the team flight and instead flew commercial to join the team, leaving his status up in the air. He made it in time to start at center and finished with 13 points, four boards and two assists in just 21 minutes, a decent enough outcome for all those who gambled on him. If you plugged in Robert Sacre at the last second in the hopes that he'd earn the fill-in start for Kaman, you weren't totally disappointed since he chipped in eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 27 minutes.
Jordan Hill, meanwhile, turned in another monster game with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting, 16 rebounds and one turnover in 31 minutes vs. the Bucks' decimated frontcourt. Even Mike D'Antoni will have a hard time denying Hill reliable playing time in L.A.'s final 11 games. Pau Gasol (vertigo) is out Friday but could return as soon as Sunday's home game vs. Phoenix, but his status is a greater threat to Kaman (who would likely resume racking up DNP-CDs) than to Hill (whose streak of hot games started alongside Pau).
The Lakers' group of guards and small forwards is simply too tangled to sort out on a nightly basis, and Thursday was no exception. Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill each played 31 minutes to lead the Lakers, and D'Antoni gave at least 16 minutes to 10 players. Ryan Kelly (16) was low man on the totem pole, followed by Kent Bazemore (18), Wesley Johnson (19), Xavier Henry (20), Kaman (21), Sacre (27), Kendall Marshall (28) and Nick Young (29).
If you want to sift through L.A.'s pile of interchangeable parts and deploy some of them vs. lenient opponents, be my guest, but I'm strictly avoiding everyone besides Hill and Pau Gasol (if he returns).
Ramon Sessions' ability to draw fouls was on full display vs. the Lakers, as he used 11-of-14 free throws to finish with 22 points, one 3-pointer, three rebounds and five assists. That scoring total was second only to backcourt partner Brandon Knight's 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting, a welcome bounce-back effort after he averaged just 7.5 points in the Bucks' previous two road games.
Jeff Adrien will continue to start at PF with Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) ruled out for the season, and his line from Thursday (eight points, nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one turnover) is a good guide to expectations. He's shooting 53.8 percent in March and gets just enough rebounds, steals and blocks to help owners as long as he continues logging 30+ minutes per game. The biggest threat to his playing time is John Henson, who came off the bench on Thursday for 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block in 26 minutes. Henson has played 30+ minutes in just three games all month, and Adrien's starting PF job is a blow to his value, but with Ersan out there's at least some hope for a strong finish to the season for Henson.
Milwaukee also got strong games from Khris Middleton (14 points, two 3s, two steals) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (10 points, seven rebounds, three steals, one block in 25 minutes). It must be emphasized that these numbers came against a Lakers team which is hemorrhaging points to all of their opponents, and the Bucks' roster-wide fantasy feast is a fluke until proved otherwise. O.J. Mayo missed the game with a sore ankle but doesn't expect to be out long, which adds another element of uncertainty for Middleton and Giannis.
76ers at Rockets
The headlining story of this game, unfortunately, is that Philadelphia tied an NBA record for futility with their 26th consecutive loss. That ties the 2010-11 Cavaliers' skid, and they could take sole possession of the dubious record if they lose to the visiting Pistons on Saturday.
The loss came despite a brilliant game from under-the-radar SG James Anderson, who scored 30 points in just 29 minutes by making 11-of-18 shots with six 3-pointers. No team in the NBA gives up more points per game to opposing SGs than the Rockets (an indictment of James Harden's defense), so Anderson's outburst wasn't exactly shocking.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, the rest of the team was a combined 24-of-72 from the field (33.3 percent), weighted down by Michael Carter-Williams (2-of-11), Thaddeus Young (6-of-16) and a poor showing from their D-League cast of bench players.
The gamble for Rockets' owners was whether key players would get sufficient production before the inevitable blowout led coach Kevin McHale to bench them. Anyone who took the risk was richly rewarded. James Harden secured his second career triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in just 31 minutes. Dwight Howard made all six of his shots en route to 17 & 13 with two steals and three blocks, Chandler Parsons had 16 points with a full line, and Terrence Jones dropped in 20 points while racking up four steals and two blocks. Phew.
Jeremy Lin's 13 points and seven assists were the only noteworthy stats from the Rockets' second unit, and even he only got going because Patrick Beverley left the game early with a strained knee. He'll have a precautionary MRI on Friday but he said that he expects to play vs. the Clippers on Saturday, so it's not time to rush and pick up Lin off the waiver wire.
I did very well in FanDuel last night with the same lineup in multiple leagues and formats (tournaments, 10-team and head-to-head...all low stakes): Ramon Sessions, Damian Lillard, James Harden, James Anderson, Chandler Parsons, Jeff Adrien, Jordan Hill, Blake Griffin and Robin Lopez.
The only pick I agonized over was Lillard vs. Brandon Knight against the Lakers. Knight was only a tiny bit cheaper and the Hawks haven't exactly been locking down opposing PGs, so I went with Lillard and while he didn't have a huge game (21 points, six boards, four assists), it was good enough to match Knight's fantasy value.
I was feeling good after tallying my winnings, so I plugged a preliminary lineup in FanDuel for Friday's busy 12-game slate. In all likelihood this will change, especially if/when injuries change the equation. Here's my lineup with some notes explaining the choices:
Ricky Rubio (vs. Lakers) The Lakers are giving up the third-most points and assists to opposing PGs this season, according to HoopsStats.com. They've been even worse over the past 10 games, and on Thursday both Ramon Sessions (22 points, five assists) and Brandon Knight (30 points) carved up L.A.'s defense like warm roast beef. Rubio is a combined 2-of-14 from the field over Minnesota's past two games, but with copious assists and steals all he needs is 12+ points to be a value at $7,000.Mike Conley (at Warriors) comes with the same price tag and may be a steadier option night to night, but the matchups argue in Rubio's favor. Brandon Jennings (vs. Miami) is interesting at just $6,100 but Tony Parker (at Nuggets) is too risky in the first night of a back-to-back set.
Deron Williams (vs. Cavs) D-Will is coming off a pair of solid games, averaging 26.0 points with 4.0 triples, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists, and he's up against a Cavs' backcourt which has allowed the most points to opposing PGs over the past five games. The matchup alone makes him worth considering, and his reasonable $7,000 cost seals the deal.
Anthony Morrow (vs. Utah) Morrow's $3,600 fantasy salary is barely above the minimum, and he's scored 10+ points in each of New Orleans' past three games including a 27-point eruption on Wednesday. Eric Gordon (knee tendinitis) and Brian Roberts (knee bone bruise) are both iffy to play, and even Austin Rivers' return from an illness doesn't scare me away from Morrow as a value pick.
Dion Waiters (at Nets) The Nets have been quite lenient vs. shooting guards over the past few weeks, but that's almost beside the point. Waiters is on fire in March, averaging 19.3 points, 1.4 triples, 3.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 0.9 steals, and he's a must-start player at just $6,400 in FanDuel.
LeBron James (at Pistons) I'd prefer to take Kevin Durant ($11,900) over LeBron ($10,400), but the difference in their prices would cause too many repercussions elsewhere in this lineup. Added to which, there's more risk of a blowout with the Thunder playing the Kings, and LeBron could get a boost if Dwyane Wade sits out following his hamstring spasms on Wednesday.
Al-Farouq Aminu (vs. Jazz) I don't love having Aminu in there, but the SF pool is weak enough that he'll be a decent value at $4,100 if he just cracks 20+ fantasy points (he had 32 on Wednesday).
Jordan Hill (at Wolves) This is self-explanatory. Since joining the starting lineup four games ago, Hill is averaging 18.5 points on 70 percent shooting, 12.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. The Wolves usually give up big lines to opposing PFs and as Jazz announcer David Locke recently pointed out, Kevin Love gives up "[one point] per game more than an average rim defender ... most in the NBA." Hill should be locked into all lineups at a mere $4,900.
Anthony Davis (vs. Jazz) At $10,900 he doesn't come cheap, but he also isn't likely to disappoint. Since missing one game on March 19, he's averaged 26.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.5 steals. Just find a way to play him.
Gorgui Dieng (vs. Lakers) Dieng's averages over the past five games are sufficient to make him a must-start player assuming Nikola Pekovic's ankle bursitis keeps him on the sidelines. If Pek returns I think I'll do a double-swap of Dieng for DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis for Derrick Favors.
If you have any questions or suggestions, send them my way via Direct Message on Twitter @Knaus_RW. Good luck this week!