Last night wasn’t very calm before the 13-game storm owners will witness tonight, as Stephen Curry hit the Warriors’ sixth game-winning shot of the season, Nick Young scored 40 points, and Joe Johnson led a surging Nets team with his fourth 30-point game of the year. Luckily for owners there are a lot of teams with plenty to play for in terms of playoff seeding, but silly season is still wreaking havoc on playoff formats and it’s something for the industry to think about in the offseason. Nevertheless, after tonight’s games many leagues will be decided -- and the rest will navigate choppy waters from here on out. We’ll take a look at all 13 contests tonight, but first let’s take a quick jaunt through last night’s action.
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The Rockets were without three starters last night in Terrence Jones (flu), Patrick Beverley (knee) and Dwight Howard (ankle). As such, when they couldn’t convert on their second-highest 3-point volume (35 3PAs, 28.1%) of the year, their bad defense was the nail in the coffin against the surging Nets. Howard’s fifth absence in seven games has been the most recent example of why playoff leagues need some serious fixing, particularly when owners built their teams around the big man more than any other player in fantasy hoops.
Jones could be back at any time and he’s a must-hold player with four games next week. Howard got another injection and it’s anybody’s guess when the team will put him back on the floor. Working in his favor is the fact that the Rockets are just 1.5 games ahead of the Blazers for the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Omer Asik hasn’t blown anybody away during his fill-in duty for Howard, but he has returned top 80-90 value over the past six games. Last night he racked up a career-high 23 rebounds to go with 12 points, one steal and two blocks, but 56.3 percent shooting from the foul line over that span has been an anchor. Jeremy Lin scored 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds, two assists and a steal, and James Harden added 26 points on 4-of-10 shooting (2-of-6 3PTs, 16-of-16 FTs) with one rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss. Harden has been a top 2-3 fantasy value over the last two weeks and Lin will be worth owning while Beverley is out.
ATTACK OF THE GUARDS
The Nets clinched a playoff spot with their win over the Rockets last night and have also flown under the radar to a 30-12 record since the New Year. In a nutshell, they’ve had a handful of big wins and some iffy losses, but overall they’ve been beating the teams they need to beat and even Jason Kidd has expressed surprise at the turnaround.
Speaking of turnaround, Joe Johnson posted his fourth game of 30 or more points (32) and also added four rebounds, three assists, one steal and four treys while hitting 13-of-21 shots. Yes, James Harden’s indifference toward defense reached peak levels, but Johnson has emerged as the team’s go-to scorer with Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett not making the collective impact Brooklyn hoped they would. Add in a now-healthy Deron Williams (12 points, 6-of-14 FGs, three boards, six assists, two steals) and a dangerous Shaun Livingston (17 points, 6-of-12 FGs, six rebounds, two steals, one block) and the synergy has been strong. Livingston has been way too available even in competitive leagues lately, and he’s a must-start player the rest of the way as the Nets have four games next week.
Paul Pierce was quiet with just four points on 2-of-4 shooting, six rebounds and a steal in 23 minutes, but he has been a solid mid-round value lately even with tonight’s dud factored in. Andray Blatche scored 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four rebounds and two blocks in just 20 minutes, and he might play his way back onto the radar even amidst reports that Kevin Garnett (back) is working out again. Kidd seemed to dismiss those reports, all while reporters complain about the secrecy over his status, which is iffy for the rest of the regular season. Mason Plumlee has been hanging in there and last night he had 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks in his 28 minutes. With late-round value over the last two weeks and a nice schedule he’s worth a hard look for those needing a big.
In easily the game of the night and maybe the game of the last week or so, the Warriors came out of Dallas with a big win amidst 15-20 truly big plays from both sides. Of course, Stephen Curry (23 points, 10 assists) took advantage of poor Jose Calderon on the game’s final play, hitting a step-back 21-footer that everybody in the building knew was going in with just 0.1 seconds on the clock. With the whirlwind of off-the-court news surrounding Mark Jackson and management, on the court they’ve done the job with a record of 7-3 over their last 10 games.
Last night they were without David Lee (hamstring) and Andrew Bogut (groin), so Jermaine O’Neal stepped in with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds and one block, and Draymond Green logged 42 minutes with nine points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block and a three. Jackson said Lee hadn’t started running back on Sunday, so it’s hard to put a ton of stock in his status tonight even though he traveled with the team for their two-game road trip.
Bogut did not travel and it looks like Green and O’Neal will be factors again tonight and possibly beyond. Needless to say, it’s going to be interesting to see how many minutes Green gets when Lee returns, and it’s probably not going to be the 30 mpg he should be getting. Then again, Jackson’s job is on the line so it might finally be time that both Lee and Harrison Barnes (13 minutes, one assist, one block) get cut back.
Klay Thompson scored 27 points on 11-of-24 shooting with four threes, five boards, five assists and one steal, and Andre Iguodala looked like the guy Warriors fans thought they were getting with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, two threes, eight boards, seven assists and one steal in 41 minutes. Jordan Crawford even got in on the act with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, five threes and four rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Everybody should keep in mind that the Mavs are terrible defensively when assessing these performances, but in the end Iguodala gave a flicker of hope that he can be a much-needed playmaker and the Warriors put two games between themselves and eighth place.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
The Mavs could have been one game behind the Warriors and in sole possession of the seven-slot in the West, but a controversial no-call on an apparent goaltend by Jermaine O’Neal and the aforementioned Steph Curry theatrics dropped them all the way to ninth. They’ve played overtime in four of their last seven games and lost three of them, with their last four losses coming on a margin of just 12 points total. They play five of their next seven games on the road and are just a half-game behind the Grizzlies and Suns, so owners can expect these guys to play their tails off through the end.
Dirk Nowitzki is playing a different game than everybody else right now, looking like he could hit the shots he’s hitting with a blindfold on. I’m not overstating this – he knows the floor so well that as long as he can lift it up he knows exactly where he’s going with it. He poured in 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting with six triples, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. With a top 7-10 ranking on the season he is in the running for best fantasy pick of the year based on late-early round ADP.
Monta Ellis was also all over this game with 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting, two threes, six assists, two steals and one block against his old mates. Shawn Marion posted a pedestrian but serviceable line of eight points, 10 boards and one steal, and Vince Carter scored 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting with three treys, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Carter and Ellis are must-start players down the stretch and Marion should probably be in most lineups since the Mavs are fighting for their playoff lives.
Samuel Dalembert (seven minutes) got pulled as Rick Carlisle went small, and though the risk in using him is omnipresent the Clippers are up next on Thursday and he might fit the bill against DeAndre Jordan.
HOT KNIFE THROUGH BUTTER
The Blazers picked a good time to get LaMarcus Aldridge going last week against the Hawks, and besides a blip on the radar against the Bulls the big man has been rolling since his return and the has won all four games. A matchup against the lame ducks in Los Angeles was too easy last night, as Aldridge effortlessly dropped in 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting (7-of-8 FTs) with 15 rebounds, six assists, one steal and two blocks. The Blazers are still in the thick of the seeding chase in the West and aren’t totally safe from falling out of the playoffs, but just 1.5 games behind Houston for the No. 4 slot the team should finish strong for fantasy owners.
Damian Lillard was taking video game threes and hit five of them altogether, finishing with 34 points on 10-of-22 shooting, eight assists and three steals. Wesley Matthews put up a workmanlike 10 points, two threes, four rebounds and six assists, and Nicolas Batum coasted to 16 points with four threes of his own, five boards, seven assists and two steals. Robin Lopez went for 10 and 10 with two blocks, and Mo Williams cooled off with just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, two threes, three assists and a steal in 25 minutes. Williams will probably hang onto 20-25 minutes per game, but he’s probably back to deep league status.
SWAGGY DOES IT
When there is nothing left to play for but contracts it’s probably a good bet to back Nick Young, who scored a season-high 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting with six threes, four rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes. I easily whiffed on the extent of his knee troubles, at least as they pertain to this season and he has come out firing since returning to action. He’s going to get a decent payday at perhaps the mid-level exception this summer, and he should be owned in all formats even if Mike D’Antoni could cool him at any time.
Jordan Farmar’s return as soon as next week could do the trick, as could a return to the rotation for Wesley Johnson, but right now if I had to bet I’d guess that Young finishes the year strong. Jodie Meeks (four points, two assists, 27 minutes) got caught up watching the action and seemingly deferred to Steve Nash (10 points, four rebounds, 10 assists, one block, 22 minutes) out of respect for the future Hall of Famer. Nash had to leave the game for any number of ailments late and this feels a whole lot like his farewell tour. Meeks should remain in lineups and should be in the running for Most Improved Player this season.
Kent Bazemore scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes, and he has held top 85-100 value over the last two weeks. Even with D’Antoni calling the shots he profiles like a guy that can hold his role and that’s enough return to keep him on rosters in standard formats. Ryan Kelly continued to both play well and produce despite just 20 minutes of action, scoring nine points on 3-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one three. He has been a top 70-100 play over the last two weeks and though his minutes are wobbly I’d consider him a must-own player right now in 12-team formats.
Chris Kaman got another start and put up 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting with six boards, one steal and three blocks in 29 minutes. Pau Gasol (nine points, four rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks, 28 minutes) returned to action after a bout with vertigo and said he thinks he came back too early, so owners may want to hang onto Kaman for at least one more game.
Jordan Hill was a DNP-CD and that could be related to his knee, which is one of those reasons he was on the dead-to-me list a few weeks back. Kaman has been on that list lately but the Gasol situation mixes well with the fact that he’s relatively healthy. Robert Sacre (three points, six boards, 18 minutes) should theoretically play big minutes down the stretch, but it’s just not happening and even if it does there’s no reason to expect anything but low-end production.
HOU @ TOR: We’ll be watching for news on Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard, and for the Raptors all eyes are on Kyle Lowry’s knee injury. Locked in a fight for seeding the stage is set for him to play, but this all comes down to the severity of the injury and that we don’t know about right now. I added Greivis Vasquez in a few spots where it didn’t cost me much. Though Amir Johnson isn’t on our injury report he is banged up, and Patrick Patterson played under 10 minutes in his return the last time out. I don’t have big expectations for either of them right now.
BOS @ WAS: Avery Bradley’s Achilles’ injury doesn’t bode well at this time of year and though Rajon Rondo is supposed to return tonight, owners may want to keep an eye on Jerryd Bayless in 12-14 team leagues. Nene (knee) is traveling with the team and with 2.0-2.5 games on both sides of them as they sit in the six slot they have the slightest of cushion to play things safe with his return. If Charlotte makes up ground it might be time for Nene to return whether he’s ready or not, though Indiana at No. 2 isn’t making anybody quake in their boots right now (more on that in a bit).
CHA @ PHI: Al Jefferson is going to have a big night tonight and may be a must-start player in daily fantasy hoops. As long as the Bobcats have a shot at the No. 6 seed (two games back), then he should continue to carry the load. The Sixers have found a bit of rhythm lately against the tanking Pistons and Hawks, and I’d be comfortable starting all of the usual suspects but on a busy night only Michael Carter-Williams (in 8-cat leagues) and Thaddeus Young are must-start players.
CLE @ ORL: Cleveland doesn’t have to worry about the Hawks as much as they do the Knicks when talking about the playoffs. The Cavs are two games behind the Knicks and three behind the Hawks, and they will probably get Kyrie Irving back tonight. After losing Kyrie Irving and losing to a murderer’s row of LAC, MIA, OKC and HOU, the Jarrett Jack-Dion Waiters led team has won 4-of-5 against Eastern Conference playoff contenders. The good news is that their last seven games come against all Eastern Conference teams, with the Bobcats and Nets being the only teams playing well right now. Jack’s value gets crushed with an Irving return, while Luol Deng becomes a risky play and Waiters is a borderline starter based only on some of his recent strong lines. Spencer Hawes will see a bump in minutes with Anderson Varejao (shoulder) out and should be in most, if not all lineups. Above all, if the Cavs lose it’s going to be incumbent upon Irving to play well or face a bunch of criticism for breaking his team’s flow.
Jameer Nelson is back on the floor after time off due to his balky knee. He doesn’t sound like a guy that wants to take a seat but there is no real reason for him to be taking reps from Victor Oladipo. Arron Afflalo is slumping and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take a game off at some point, and Moe Harkless is still clinging to life as a low-end play in 12-team leagues.
BKY @ NYK: Kevin Garnett (old) and Marcus Thornton (back) are questionable and could steal some minutes, but you’re not moving the needle much on anybody else if they can go. Tim Hardaway Jr. (ankle) is talking like he wants to play tonight and he has magic rookie limbs, but his injury didn’t look good on Monday night. Look for Amare Stoudemire (rest) to get back on the floor and into fantasy lineups, while Carmelo Anthony’s hand injury isn’t going to hold him back in a big rivalry game for both teams.
DET @ IND: If the Pacers are going to break through all of the infighting and BS plaguing their locker room, the Pistons are the perfect team to show them what they don’t want to be. And if the Pacers lose to the Pistons at home, then I might start playing wack-a-mole on the panic button I pressed on Monday. As mentioned last week I’m going to wait until the end of the season before moving off of the Pacers, simply because of how well they match up with the Heat, but they look as bad as any team in the league right now. At this point they need Roy Hibbert to simply not be a liability on the floor, and the whole lot of them needs to look in the mirror. Looking at Monday’s loss, I haven’t seen game tape that bad in a while. If they can’t recover the No. 1 seed, I’ll probably switch my pick.
MIL @ MIA: It’s weird to say but the Bucks are a much stronger fantasy team nowadays, with Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions, Khris Middleton and Zaza Pachulia all viable plays, though Knight is the only true must-start player on a busy night. Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen did not play on Monday and one has to think that nobody from the Heat is truly safe, though they may take a more aggressive stance toward winning since they can kick Indy while they’re down. The Pacers are 33-5 at home and 19-18 on the road so the No. 1 seed takes on added importance with Indy faltering.
CHI @ ATL: The Bulls are at full strength and still have playoff seeding to play for, and at the same time Hawks GM Danny Ferry admitted that he’s not all that interested in the No. 8 seed. There is no real fantasy implication there since you’re going to roll with Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, and Paul Millsap regardless. Tonight isn’t the time to take a chance on Hawks big men Elton Brand or Pero Antic against such a good defense. Ditto for suddenly productive Lou Williams. Fire your Bulls up against the lowly Hawks.
MEM @ MIN: Courtney Lee stepped out of the abyss on Monday and if he can do it again against a lax Minny defense he’ll have some low-end appeal as an add. The Grizzlies are in a dogfight for the playoffs and that’s good news for owners of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, though the latter two may end up limping to the finish with their respective ailments. Nikola Pekovic is dancing with a shutdown due to his ankle injury, and Gorgui Dieng looks like he’ll be at least moderately productive in a bench role. I like Dieng as a must-own player given that dynamic and it’s also helpful that the Wolves have four games next week. Corey Brewer is worth owning for that same fact. The Wolves look like they’re ready to pack it in, and Kevin Love may decide it’s not worth grinding through to the end after talking about how run down he is the other day. That said, we haven’t heard any news that Love has a specific ailment.
GSW @ SA: This shapes up to be one of the best games of the night and beat writer Jeff McDonald said the other night that he didn’t think this would be the game that guys got rest. We’ll see. Gregg Popovich has half-jokingly wanted a loss to break their winning streak because he thinks it’s good for a team. Danny Green has been banged up and he’d be a good place to start for guessing who is going to get Popped, but playing that game in the first place usually doesn’t end well.
NO @ DEN: Eric Gordon’s knee is a bit of a mystery given the dearth of injury reporting in New Orleans, and if he can’t go then Anthony Morrow will be worth a look. Otherwise expect Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis to go big, assuming the latter doesn’t get held out for one reason or another. Davis got a nasty elbow from Reggie Evans on Monday and has a gimpy ankle. There’s no optimism surrounding a return for Wilson Chandler (groin), so look for the Nuggets to go small and that makes Aaron Brooks worth a look in 14-team leagues on a busy night. Timofey Mozgov might get the Davis treatment while Al-Farouq Aminu defends Kenneth Faried, but with the way Aminu has played this year it could also be the Pellies’ human punching bags at center defending him.
LAC @ PHO: The Clippers look content to finish with the three-seed in the West as Jamal Crawford (calf/Achilles), Blake Griffin (groin) and J.J. Redick (back) will all be out. Matt Barnes and Darren Collison are strong starts, though the Suns will be fired up to play at home as they are up to their eyeballs in the playoff hunt. Against a depleted Clippers squad, owners can use their Suns assets like they normally would.
LAL @ SAC: The Lakers will cruise into Sacramento and my sense is that Isaiah Thomas will play, and that would all-but ruin Ray McCallum’s value in standard formats. That said, if Rudy Gay can’t go due to his foot injury then McCallum could get enough touches in what profiles to be an offensive matchup. Gay was hobbling around on Monday and if Thomas returns, that might give Mike Malone the confidence he needs to force Gay off the floor. Cousins could struggle a little bit against the size of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, but Gasol’s vertigo might make him think twice about banging around against Boogie Smooth.