Big Wednesday came and went last night and owners probably have a very good idea of where they stand to finish the year. We have a lot of ground to cover so we’ll jump right in, but I’d like to thank all of you guys for hanging around since this will likely be my last Dose of any real consequence for this season. We’ll have postseason content and I’ll run a review of my Bruski 150 at some point, which (fingers crossed) will yield me 1-of-2 National Fantasy Basketball Championship rings, and if not for a family emergency that caused my non-winning team to be autodrafted I’d have threatened for two.
So without further ado, let’s get everybody over the hump as the fantasy landscape is as silly as it gets, but within all the chaos there are plenty of ways to get an edge.
For NBA news and fantasy analysis in real-time, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL
The Pistons were without Josh Smith (patella, day-to-day) in last night’s blowout loss to the Cavs but in all reality this group mailed in their season some time ago. News that Joe Dumars will no longer be with them just kicked that can further down the road. Unless Smith wants to try and end the year on a high note, there’s no reason for him to return to this mess.
Brandon Jennings (17 points, 5-of-17 FGs, seven assists) took back the shot attempts that Rodney Stuckey (15 points, 4-of-14 FGs, three assists, one steal) got the night before, and owners in field goal percentage battles will want to seriously consider benching Jennings where possible. That said, his upside is fairly high in a small sample size with three games to go.
Stuckey needs a lot to go right to earn standard league value, but it looks like he’ll get enough touches to put him in that conversation. Kyle Singler (eight points, five rebounds, two threes, one steal) continues to hang around at a top-100 level despite muted numbers that just happen to translate well in fantasy. If you’re looking for a deep sleeper for the team’s next three games, give Jonas Jerebko a look-see. He scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting with four threes and four rebounds in 26 minutes. Yes, he was helped by Smith’s absence and also by garbage-time, but he has averaged 11.8 points with 2.0 threes and 5.5 boards in his last four games and the Pistons may want to see what he can give as he picks up a $4.5 million player option next season.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Yes, there will be silver linings to talk about after the Cavs’ blowout win against the Pistons, including the team-high assist total and Kyrie Irving’s mostly successful return from a potentially season-ending biceps injury. But being eliminated from the playoffs by virtue of the Hawks’ win last night, all of the drama associated with the franchise is going to set in and make for a challenging summer. Irving had just eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in the blowout win, but Dion Waiters (22 points, three boards, eight assists, four threes) put up serious numbers after the duo had an unintentionally hilarious presser on Monday to announce that they are friends.
Spencer Hawes turned in a nice night with 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three treys and a steal in just 19 minutes, Anderson Varejao went for 11 and 12 with a steal, and Luol Deng scored 13 points with two rebounds and seven assists to keep owners off his back. Matthew Dellavedova got in on the action with 14 points, four rebounds, 12 assists, four threes and one steal, and Tyler Zeller also got on the board with 18 points, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks on 9-of-11 shooting.
None of the team’s beat writers are optimistic about the Cavs’ potential to finish out the next three games on a high note, which makes sense since they’re banged up and emotionally spent. Irving, Hawes, Varejao, Deng and Jarrett Jack (seven points, three assists) are all good targets to fade. Waiters, Dellavedova, Zeller and Tristan Thompson (10 points, four rebounds, two blocks) are good candidates to carry the load and/or pick up the slack. In particular, Delly would be a guy that Mike Brown might want to reward after playing gritty ball all season long. I’d go as far as to call him a nice speculative pickup in 12-team formats.
The Sixers have improved over the last week or so, but it helps that the sliding teams they have faced are taking them as lightly as ever. They put a mild scare into the Raptors before losing by 11 points, and the story of the game was the continued statistical emergence of Henry Sims, who posted 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting with eight rebounds and one block. Sims has been the unlikeliest of mid-to-late round plays over the past two weeks, but he’s a must-own player showing a consistency that is refreshing during silly season.
Michael Carter-Williams scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds and eight assists, and it’s logical that the Sixers encourage him to finish strong to wrap up an expected Rookie of the Year award. James Anderson (17 points, five threes, six boards, three assists, one block) is back on the radar but the recent struggles make him a risky play, and Tony Wroten (11 points, two rebounds, three assists, 19 minutes) at least cracked the box score. If you’re in a deep league and need a Hail Mary, Wroten has the type of small sample-size upside to function in that capacity. Buy a lottery ticket while you’re at it.
The Raptors got their act together to keep pace with the Bulls for the No. 3 seed in the East, and they’re pushing hard enough to get Kyle Lowry (knee) on the floor but Amir Johnson’s ankle just isn’t there yet. Lowry scored 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting with two threes, 9-of-9 freebies, five boards and eight assists, so owners can breathe a sigh of relief and keep him plugged in lineups. Johnson could have played but Dwane Casey said that they want him ready for the upcoming weeks of action, and as we discussed in this space Patrick Patterson (17 points, five boards, three treys, three blocks, 38 minutes) has been able to work himself into a fantasy-relevant position down the stretch. If Johnson returns all bets are off, but it makes sense for Patterson to carry the load while Johnson gets right.
Jonas Valanciunas has been in the crosshairs for his recent DUI, but those reporting from Toronto all said he appeared to have the right level of focus heading into last night’s game. He scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting with 12 rebounds and two blocks, which would normally be downplayed because of the opponent but he has been hot since the switch turned on weeks back. It wouldn’t be surprising if he finishes the season along the same trajectory, which adds a different element to the Raptors’ postseason chances.
WE’RE NUMBER FIVE! WE’RE NUMBER FIVE!
I thought yesterday that the Nets might try to win last night against the Magic and see if the Raptors or Bulls lost, but that wasn’t in the cards as Brooklyn entered the game with rest on their mind. Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce both got the night off, and Jason Kidd said after the game that he is going to rest players down the stretch. Deron Williams (11 points, five assists, 3-of-14 FGs, three steals) sounded like the first guy that wanted to sign up in the locker room after the game as he signed off on Kidd’s decision to do so. They’re locked into the No. 5 seed as long as they don’t lose the rest of their games, and owners of all of the usual suspects are on red-alert.
Joe Johnson (31 points, four rebounds, five assists, two threes, 11-of-19 FGs) hasn’t gotten much respect around these parts until recently, so allow me to give him the dap he deserves and also put him with D-Will at the top of the DNP risk list. Johnson has carried the Nets since the not-an-All-Star-break. Players like Mason Plumlee (16 points, five boards, 27 minutes) and Mirza Teletovic (17 points, five threes, nine boards, 32 minutes) are your scrap heap pickup guys, though they come with no guarantees in standard 12-team leagues. Teletovic, in particular, hasn’t caught a basketball that didn’t end up immediately flying toward the hoop. Marcus Thornton (13 points, one three, one steal, 23 minutes) is also a logical guy to be handed the car keys on offense, which would also go a long way toward prepping him as an X-factor for the playoffs. Brooklyn will be among the most slippery situations in the league over the next week.
TROUBLE WITH TANKING
Nikola Vucevic (Achilles) seemed like he had a good shot to play last night, and the Magic looked to be in a good position to dole out some developmental minutes while playing for ping pong balls against the Nets. Instead, the opposite happened as Vucevic was a late scratch, Arron Afflalo (25 points, four rebounds, five assists, two threes) played like his pants were on fire, and Victor Oladipo (nine points, three boards, six assists, one steal) saw just 19 minutes as the Magic upended the Nets.
The win was costly to their tanking, as they let the Celtics pull even with them for the league’s third worst record. Jameer Nelson even got his licks in with 14 points, two threes, five rebounds, seven assists and one steal, and one has to wonder if the Magic are going to throw away a season of losing for some token wins late. After the game Afflalo sounded like a guy that’s going to run hard through the finish line, which is great news after a lackluster showing down the stretch. Tobias Harris (16 points, eight boards, one three, two steals) did his thing off the bench and Kyle O’Quinn continued his solid run with 13 points, eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks. As long as the aforementioned players are active, they should be in most lineups, though Nelson’s value has been spotty lately.
E’Twaun Moore couldn’t miss in his 18 minutes, scoring 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting (including five threes), and he’s probably the cause of Oladipo’s low minute total. Owners should ignore Moore pending a solid follow up, and Moe Harkless (eight points, one three, two steals, one block) is a much better low-end play in 12-14 team formats. If Vucevic stays out, Dewayne Dedmon (four points, nine rebounds, one steal, two blocks, 20 minutes) could be worth a look for big man stats, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see an Andrew Nicholson (nine points, three rebounds) mini-explosion in that scenario, either.
BATTLE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE EAST
I’ve said it a few times but I would really like to see the Bobcats draw the Heat in the first round, because I think Al Jefferson could do enough damage to make LeBron James defend him. Matchups like that are both rare and special. But that might not happen with the Cats leapfrogging the Wizards for the No. 6 seed after a win in Washington last night. That’s the only thing these two teams will be playing for over the next week and right now they have identical records. Though the Pacers are a question mark, the team that skips Indy and the defending champions probably feels good about that calculus – even if the Heat are extremely vulnerable down low.
Jefferson’s scoring (20) and rebounding totals (18) continue to remain strong, but he continues to be slightly off with the efficiency (9-of-20 FGs) and the defensive stats (one steal). He’s still putting up top-15 numbers nightly and as long as the seeding is undecided he’s going to go full bore. With four games to go you gotta know the Bobcats want to rest him, but they simply can’t. Kemba Walker had some big plays late but hit just 6-of-21 shots for 17 points, four rebounds, 12 assists and three treys, and Gerald Henderson hit the long ball with three triples, 13 points, five boards and a steal. Josh McRoberts (ankle) returned to action and had a quiet night with 12 points, two threes, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. He’ll be worth a look for the final stretch. Gary Neal scored 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and a three, but I can’t imagine trusting him unless the playoff seeding is already decided.
TO FOUL OR NOT TO FOUL
The Wizards sounded like a team that isn’t on the same page following their big loss to the Bobcats. Randy Wittman had no business laying into anybody after his team failed to foul down four points with 28 seconds left, but he did so anyway calling out his players’ effort and John Wall didn’t exactly agree with the assessment.
Wall hit just 6-of-18 shots but still managed a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, and there wasn’t nearly enough ammo to overcome that kind of shooting night with Trevor Ariza (zero points, 0-for-6 FGs) sick and Bradley Beal hitting just 4-of-15 shots. If not for Marcin Gortat (27 points, 14 rebounds, one steal, two blocks, 13-of-18 FGs) the game would not have been close. The big hope for Wizards fans is that Nene (10 points, one assist, 17 minutes) can re-make the team into what was once a top contender for the No. 3 seed in the East.
THEY’RE GOING TO JARED
The Celtics were about to play spoiler last night until a late Hawks run lead to a loss, but for fantasy owners the news was good on a number of fronts. Avery Bradley (ankle) returned to action and backed up talk from coaches and teammates saying he was near 100 percent, as he scored 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting (4-of-4 3PTs, 4-of-4 FTs) with four rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes. Pick him up.
Jared Sullinger isn’t going to magically become efficient at this stage of the year, but he brushed off concerns over his quad with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, one steal, one block and one three. Unless field goal percentage is a concern, the late-round value is a decent pickup right now with Kris Humphries (knee) looking at a shutdown. Brandon Bass (six points, three boards) and Kelly Olynyk (five points, nine boards, one three, 15 minutes) both disappeared, with Olynyk having just desperation appeal in deeper leagues.
Jerryd Bayless (five points, 21 minutes) is back to being waiver wire fodder, but he might have one more spot-start in him if the injury situation turns in his favor. Rajon Rondo (19 points, four rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, two threes) said there is a “3 percent” chance that he plays in both games of the upcoming back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s being literal about that.
JOURNEY TO THE MIDDLE OF THE EAST
The Hawks’ win over the Celtics put them two games ahead of the Knicks with four games to play and anything goes with the way they’re capable of putting together a losing streak. Jeff Teague had a nice night with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, three treys, 4-of-4 free throws, eight assists, two steals and a block. Playing at a top 30-40 level over the last two weeks, he has hit 51 percent of his shots from the field and 93 percent from the foul line in that span. The late push has moved him into top 40-70 value (8/9 cat) on the year and removes some of the sting from his lack of development this season.
Pero Antic’s ankle is in bad shape, though conspiracy theorists might choose to believe the Hawks are still tanking, but the bottom line is that he’ll only be startable with clear reports that he’s feeling better and in the lineup. Elton Brand, in the meantime, is an advisable play if Antic remains out after going for 13 and 13 with three assists, three steals and one block. Even if Antic returns, he’ll be a decent low-end play for big man stats and four games left to go.
DeMarre Carroll (13 points, eight rebounds, four assists) and Kyle Korver (17 points, four threes, five boards, four assists, one steal, one block) both bounced back from off-nights, and Paul Millsap did his thing with 14 and 14, three assists, one steal and one block in the win. As I said yesterday, the Hawks are too close to a playoff berth to get in on the silly season stuff.
BALLS AND BRAINS
To me, it wasn’t a gamble. To others including Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star, it was a mistake of the highest level. The Pacers decided to shake things up by benching their entire starting unit against the lowly Bucks, and it paid off as Chris Copeland hit a tough game-winner to take over the top slot in the East once again. Had they lost, fence-sitters would have joined Kravitz in piling on a decision to risk home court advantage on a nebulous team-building exercise.
We’ve been through this countless times but the team’s decline had reached near unprecedented levels of ‘guh,’ where ‘guh’ could be any number of things all happening at once to threaten their ability to get out of the first round – let alone compete with the Heat. For me, the only gamble would have been to let these guys try and fix things on the fly without a game-changer, and whether one wants to call it rest, punishment, or a chance to view the game from the bench they all apply to one degree or another. The latter element, however, is what made this move so genius.
Not only did they get the proverbial message and also some much-needed rest, the equal treatment of all five starters kept a guy like Roy Hibbert from shouldering an intense amount of scrutiny heading into Friday’s massive game against the Heat. Most importantly, though, the schedule gods delivered a team in the Bucks that made this game winnable from the jump, even for a Pacers second unit that has been terrible lately. That’s how bad the Bucks are.
Given that potential for winning, Frank Vogel and Larry Bird had to know that their benched starters stood a great chance of watching the starting reserves play well. So not only would they get a chance to cheer as a group from the sidelines, they’d also get a dose of humility followed by a lesson that it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
The reserves pushed the tempo when they could and tried to get easy looks, assisting on 26 buckets while hitting 48 percent of their shots from the field and 46 percent from deep. Evan Turner, who needs the ball in his hands a lot to be effective, was able to post the ugliest 23 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three treys I have seen in some time. Ugly or not, that’s about as slump-busty as it gets for a guy that appears to have lost his conditioning since coming from Philly. The Pacers simply need him to not be awful, particularly on defense, and if he can do that his arrival will be a net positive in the postseason.
Luis Scola played his typical driveway game with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists, Copeland finished with a career-night including 18 points, four threes, two boards, three assists and one block, and Donald Sloan went for eight and eight with four boards to boot. Ian Mahinmi has been outplaying Hibbert lately but managed just three points, six boards and a block in 20 foul-plagued minutes, and none of these guys belong on fantasy rosters following this game.
The starters will return for Friday’s game in Miami for control of the top seed. For all of the criticism that Vogel has gotten lately, this move had just enough balls and brains to stop the bleeding. If the Pacers go into Miami and beat a Heat team that (incorrectly) does not care about seeding, the slingshot effect of having overcome their demons could actually send them into the postseason with some swag. You guys have watched my knees quake hanging on to the Pacers pick, and I could still hop off this empty bandwagon if they don’t fix enough of their problems in the next three games. But hitting the reset button was the last and best thing they could do to give us a measurement. If they can’t bounce back now, it’s not going to happen under the brightest of lights. But if they can simply get to the Heat in the postseason without having any major problems, they’re built to win.
MILWAUKEE: A MODEL OF FANTASY CONSISTENCY (WHAT?!)
Now that the Bucks are down to eight rotation guys on most nights, fantasy value is actually pretty stable across the board. Brandon Knight (25 points, four boards, 10 assists, 8-of-21 FGs) is a must-start player in most formats, and Ramon Sessions (20 points, four assists, two threes, 6-of-15 FGs) is right there with him as perhaps the team’s best player. Zaza Pachulia (15 points, nine boards, one block) and Jeff Adrien (13 points, 17 boards, two steals, one block) are both getting it done lately and Khris Middleton (16 points, seven boards, one steal, one three, 6-of-14 FGs) has a decent chance to see positive regression in his waning shooting numbers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (two points, one steal, 21 minutes) has gotten much more press than his stalled-out learning curve probably deserves. But he was a project coming into the year and he has already shown off his future upside by simply running around like a baby deer on the court. John Henson (seven points, four rebounds, one block, 20 minutes) was not able to follow up his big outing on Saturday, and his decline is something that will need to be looked at closely over the offseason. For now, he’s a desperation play at best with a hint of upside.
The Bulls were setup to steamroll the Wolves in last night’s win, as Minnesota was playing in the SEGABABA and Chicago is locked in a tight race for seeding in the East. With identical records, the Raptors hold a tiebreaker over them with four games to go but any way you slice it they’re going to finish the season strong. Jimmy Butler scored 14 points with five rebounds, seven assists and three treys as he tries to make things right for owners following a disappointing top 80-100 campaign. Until he starts hitting more than 40 percent of his shots his value will continue to be depressed, but obviously the upside lies in his physical ability and chance to improve next year.
Kirk Hinrich scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with two threes, three boards, four assists and two blocks, but he’ll be a desperation option at best knowing his body of work. Joakim Noah snagged his fourth triple-double of the year, scoring 15 points with 13 rebounds, 10 assists, one steal and two blocks as he caps off a top-15 season, and Mike Dunleavy was start-worthy with 15 points, two threes, five boards, three assists and a perfect five foul shots. D.J. Augustin continued to pay off the patient with 21 points, four threes and a steal, and Taj Gibson posted a workmanlike 13 points, five boards, one steal and three blocks in the win.
Give Kevin Love credit for playing banged up late in the year and assuaging some fears that he’d be hit by the shutdown bug. Unfortunately, hyper-extending his right (shooting) elbow in last night’s game might be too much to overcome and beat writers have called him questionable for Friday’s game. He hit just 7-of-20 shots for 17 points, 10 boards, three assists, two threes and one block, and if he can’t go then Robbie Hummel (seven points, five boards) might be worth a look in deeper leagues.
Gorgui Dieng did his thing with nine points, eight boards and three blocks, and unless the Wolves want to activate Nikola Pekovic (ankle) because they’re going to sit Love I just can’t see him returning. Dante Cunningham (six points, one steal, 15 minutes) would theoretically be worth a deep-league look if Love sits, but he’s in the thick of the off-court stuff so owners are basically betting that the court becomes his safe haven. Good luck with that. Corey Brewer scored just nine points without any threes, but had four steals to keep the schedule-play in owners’ good graces at least a little bit. Kevin Martin (foot) did not play and I can’t see him being rushed back, and J.J. Barea missed the game with back spasms. If Barea can get on the court he’ll be an interesting desperation play for some popcorn stat + threes potential.
You can count the Grizzlies as a team that the Heat would not likely want to face in the Finals, which says both something about the depth of the West and also a lot about where this Heat team will stand in history if they three-peat. LeBron James put the team on his back for the millionth time this season, scoring 37 points with a full stat line, but it wasn’t enough as the Heat’s lack of depth and indifference toward seeding gave way to the hungrier Grizzlies squad.
Mario Chalmers scored 12 points with four rebounds, three assists and a steal, and Chris Bosh scored 13 points with six boards, two steals and two blocks. Both are safe plays when active, but everybody will be a candidate for rest and though it would be stupid, I wouldn’t be out-of-this-world shocked if some guys rest for Friday’s big game against the Pacers. Miami has already squandered a golden opportunity to step on their throats. Rashard Lewis scored 17 points with four threes, three rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes, and outside of the usual suspects he’ll be a good place to start if you’re sifting the bottom of the trash can. The Heat fell to a half-game behind the Pacers, who beat the lowly Bucks with their reserves last night. They could care less about playoff seeding, as their one and only concern right now is making sure that Dwyane Wade has another run left in him.
FEED THE HOGS
The Grizzlies are in proverbial must-win territory as they’re a full game behind the Suns for the last playoff spot in the West, and both the Suns and No. 7 Mavs don’t have any overwhelming problems as of late. They punished the Heat down low behind 20 and 14 from Marc Gasol and 25 and 11 from Zach Randolph. Mike Conley brought his A-game with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, six rebounds, three treys and two steals, and Tony Allen (24 minutes, six points, three steals) played some good defense on LeBron to give the Grizz a nice old-school Grit and Grind look.
Courtney Lee scored 18 points with three triples, three assists and one block, and he’s still a hard guy to trust as he alternates decent games with terrible ones. James Johnson drew the start for Tayshaun Prince (ankle) and finished with five points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks in 24 minutes, and Grizzlies fans have to be wondering if he can hold onto this type of role in the playoffs. The lack of consistent playing time has to have some unknown story attached to it, because his versatility and athleticism is a welcome addition to the squad. Meanwhile, Prince is merely a placeholder player that knows where to run and doesn’t get in the way.
THE RACE FOR EIGHT
The Suns got a much-needed win to keep their one-game lead over the Grizzlies following Memphis’ key win over Miami, and the race including these two teams and the Mavs is going to go right down to the wire. The Phoenix box was very normal, with Goran Dragic scoring 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, nine assists, two threes, one steal and three blocks leading the way. Eric Bledsoe struggled early but bounced back to finish with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, one three, six boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks, and Gerald Green got hot with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, four threes and not much else in his 24 minutes.
I’m going to respectfully disagree with our blurber that Bledsoe’s return hasn’t hurt Green, who has returned just top 110-125 value on averages of 26.0 minutes, 16.5 points and 2.6 threes since Bledsoe’s return. Even with respectable shooting percentages, the decrease in scoring hasn’t been enough to float deficiencies in defensive stat categories, though lately Green has been a top-60 play by hitting an unsustainable 3.3 triples per game on 50 percent field goal shooting over his last six contests. Hopefully for owners, the predictable downswing is scheduled to begin in the postseason.
Miles Plumlee put a nail in his fantasy coffin with just two points and six boards, P.J. Tucker did his low-end thing with 15 points, nine boards and a steal, and Channing Frye’s disappearing act continued on a four-point, five-rebound night including a steal and block. Markieff Morris (10 points, six boards, not much else) is slumping hard over his last three games and isn’t quite a must-start player, but has plenty of upside and a top-75 return when one expands the sample to two weeks.
LIMPING TO THE FINISH
The Pelicans are a wasteland right now and with Anthony Davis (back) not playing last night it’s pretty amazing that they kept the game close before falling to the visiting Suns. Your guess is as good as mine with regard to Davis but we all know they have no reason to play him. Tyreke Evans (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, 29 minutes) and Brian Roberts (two points, 1-of-8 FGs, four rebounds, two assists, 20 minutes) both hit the NBA.com writeup as having played “banged up,” and the play here is to keep Evans in lineups unless he gets ruled out and Roberts is an extremely tough start even in deep leagues.
Austin Rivers is worth a hard look if the Pelicans’ injury report goes nova, and last night he put up 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds, eight assists and one block in 30 minutes. You can almost guarantee a very crooked shooting number if he's given the keys. Owners are basically taking a risky gamble on popcorn stats if they’re making decisions early on Thursday morning.
Luke Babbitt (12 points, two threes) will be worth a look if you’re hunting the deep ball, with Anthony Morrow (14 points, one three, four assists, one steal) being a much safer play in that respect. Jeff Withey rounds out the bottom of the fantasy barrel after scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and a block, while Greg Stiemsma’s four points, eight boards, two steals and two blocks might have some appeal if you’re hunting defensive stats. I have a hard time bringing up Darius Miller’s 14 points with a straight face. Gambling on this mess is akin to playing one of those claw games on your way out of an IHOP, but somebody has to get the numbers, right?
SET TO AUTOPILOT
I thought the Rockets/Nuggets game had the chance to be wonky with Houston cruising into a four-seed and Denver trying to outrun opponents. Right on cue the Rockets left their defense at the door and the Nuggets ran away with this one, so no starter played more than James Harden’s 26 minutes. Harden had a scary moment that eventually was ruled a shin injury, and he returned to the game to finish with 10 points on 1-of-9 shooting (8-of-8 FTs), four rebounds, six assists and one steal. Nobody appeared to be overly concerned about the injury after the game, though the potential for rest looms as the Rockets have a 1.5 game lead and a tiebreaker over the Blazers with just four games to play.
As I mentioned in the past, look for the Rockets to get Dwight Howard just enough action to knock off the rust, and Patrick Beverley’s knee could go all the way down to the wire but a game or two of action would also make sense. The box score was surprisingly not a disaster in the blowout loss, with Jeremy Lin going for 18 and six with four threes, and Omer Asik posting 12 points and 12 boards but no steals or blocks. Terrence Jones backed up his big night with 11 points, two steals, one block, one three and four boards, showing no signs of the leg cramps for Tuesday. He should be in lineups as long as he’s active, as should Lin and Asik if Beverley and Howard remain out.
FOYE ON FIRE
Randy Foye will be a common factor on winning fantasy squads this year, as he has stepped into the void created by injuries to Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, and Wilson Chandler in impressive fashion. Last night he saved his best for the last week of the playoffs, scoring 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting with six threes, five boards, 15 assists and two steals. In the end he’ll cruise into a top-60 fantasy season or better, and that’s going to give him consideration for fantasy pickup of the year.
Aaron Brooks scored 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting with five rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one block and one three, and though he has turned the ball over 4.7 times per game over the last three contests he’s still rolling. He has played at a top 30-55 level (8/9 cat) over the last two weeks and it’s possible the fun lasts all the way until the end as the Nuggets aren’t racing to get anybody back. If you want to add Evan Fournier (14 points, three treys, 27 minutes) to your list of players to consider for scoring and 3-point shooting it makes a lot of sense, too. Denver management has been high on him and would love to get him going to finish the year.
Timofey Mozgov knocked knees with Donatas Motiejunas last night but stayed in the game to finish with 22 points, six rebounds and two blocks. After toying with me for most of the year he’s finally making good on his ability to rise through the ranks, returning solid mid-round value over the last six games with averages of 15.8 points, 6.0 boards and 2.0 combined steals and blocks per contest. Kenneth Faried went for 23 and nine as these two have locked down the frontcourt, though Mozgov’s owners will want to keep an ear to the ground about the knee knock. Nobody mentioned it after the game but it’s silly season, yada, yada.
TWO IS BETTER THAN ONE
The Kings surprised me last night almost as much as the Blazers did, coming one successful step-back jumper from Ray McCallum away from an upset in Portland. McCallum missed a good look after shaking defensively deficient Damian Lillard, but left with a nice consolation prize as he turned in the quietest big line of the night. Ray Mac scored 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting (4-of-4 3PTs, 5-of-5 FTs) with four rebounds, eight assists and three steals in another whopping 43 minutes, as he continues to play at a top-75 level for owners down the stretch.
The good news if you’re a Kings fan is that Ray Mac has already shown enough to be considered a legit rotation player next season. The intangibles are all there and he has shown impressive burst to the hoop with the ability to finish. His shot is where the bad news starts, as he has hit just 37.9 percent from the field and 65.5 percent from the line over the last 16 games (31.9 mpg). The silver lining there is that he has hit 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers in March and April for a total of 0.86 per game. It’s predictably not a lot of volume but when he gets his feet set he can connect.
The problem is when he faces teams that are interested in defending, a rare occurrence during his run as starter, as they force him to convert under more pressure and that is not yet his strong suit. On one hand, efficiency will always be a function of teammates and to that end McCallum isn’t getting much help beyond beast mode DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, when the latter plays.
On the other hand, teams aren’t yet game planning for McCallum's strengths and garbage-time environments have skewed his numbers. The Ray Mac hype is certainly in full effect in Sacramento, which only helps in negotiations with restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas, who will get a solid offer from somebody this offseason.
In a perfect world for the team they will keep both players. Low-hanging comparisons to Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson could run rampant! What one does doesn’t necessarily detract from the other, and both combo guards protect against any perceived downside of the other. What they pay the duo will still be a discount to secure one of the most important positions on the court, at least for the short-term while these guys continue to prove themselves at higher and higher levels.
As for Ray Mac keeper questions that keep rolling in, he needs Isaiah to exit stage left to tap into what will likely be a mid-round upside at best. He simply doesn’t have enough peripheral stats to climb the charts at a relatively normal usage rate. On the other side of that, Thomas has proven that he can be an early round producer in a 27-plus minute role, so only fade him a little bit if the Ray Mac attack has concerned you.
Travis Outlaw was a sneaky play of mine after Tuesday’s mini-explosion, and he couldn’t get going with five points on 2-of-8 shooting, four rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes with Gay (back) out. He still profiles to be a big part of the Kings’ offense down the stretch, but whether or not he shows consistency for owners is another question. Ben McLemore hit 6-of-13 shots for 16 points with one three and not much else, which doesn’t do much for owners looking to score some threes from a guy that can’t be counted on for much else.
Cousins scored 30 points on 14-of-29 shooting with 12 rebounds and three steals. I know the concerns about his attitude aren’t going to magically go away in the short-term, but I’ve seen enough to know that he will be the best big man in the game next season. Whether the basketball world will be ready to acknowledge that is another story. But if you cover up the name on the jersey, he’s doing that right now while keeping demerits to a bare minimum.
Be afraid, NBA, be very afraid.
GOTTA WIN THE EASY ONES
The Blazers have struggled with their defense this season but last night’s game against the Kings was particularly troublesome, and 18 turnovers nearly cost them a much-needed win. With a 1.5-2.0 game cushion on both sides of them in the West standings and just three games to play, this becomes a situation that could quickly lead to rest. LaMarcus Aldridge’s (22 points, eight boards, two steals, one block) owners can just cross their fingers and hope for the best. Damian Lillard struggled defensively but had his way with the Kings’ perimeter defense and slow rotating bigs, scoring 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting with three treys, five boards, 10 assists and five turnovers. Wesley Matthews made easy work of Ben McLemore and finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, Nicolas Batum was quiet with 11 points, six assists and a three, and Robin Lopez went for 13 and nine in the win.
If the Blazers try to defend the pick-and-roll the way they did last night they will get torched by any four-man that can hit an elbow jumper. Both Aldridge and Lopez knew that Lillard would stick to screens like flypaper, so they would over-help and that left DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson wide open all night. That makes Terrence Jones the X-factor if the Blazers end up playing the Rockets, but if they slide and the Warriors catch them they’ll be looking at Blake Griffin in the first round.
Ergo, it’s no time to let up if you’re Portland.
THE BOOK ON DURANT
The Thunder took a squad just getting back to health into Staples Center and left with a win that essentially locks them into the No. 2 spot. Russell Westbrook is on my Mount Rushmore of players to watch and it’s not really close. He scored 30 points on 12-of-24 shooting with 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals while dominating the highlight reel. The fact that he has had three knee surgeries is incredible. As beat writer Darnell Mayberry first dubbed him, he is Wolverine.
Kevin Durant was coaxed into 8-of-26 shooting for 27 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals, and the tape should be used as instructions for how to get the game’s No. 1 offensive player to beat himself. Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock couldn’t contend with his height, but they were able to beat him to the spot most of the time, leaving Durant room for a contested pull-up jumper that he can bury enough to keep shooting it. If he makes those looks you tip your cap to him and hope to win the game somewhere else, but in the end you gave Durant an opening for him to beat himself, which he did last night over and over again.
Thabo Sefolosha logged 24 minutes and that meant Reggie Jackson’s minutes took a hit (24), and Jackson finished with nine points, three rebounds, two assists, two threes and one block. Those numbers aren’t killing you but he needs more minutes, and hopefully the Thunder’s all-but-settled seeding will help him stay on the floor. Sefolosha, Caron Butler, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher combined to play 80-plus minutes and together they produced 17 points with nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks. Jeremy Lamb did not play. The Thunder are going to ride or die with this look in one of the more interesting three-year old storylines heading into the playoffs.
The Clippers are built to make a championship run, but their once-lauded wing group is officially a problem heading into postseason play. Chris Paul (25 points, five boards, eight assists, two steals, three treys) is obviously locked in, Blake Griffin (30 points, 12 boards, 8-of-11 FTs) is getting MVP consideration, and DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 12 rebounds, one steal, three blocks) is an NBA Jam character come to life. Matt Barnes (seven points, seven boards, three assists, two blocks, one three, 29 minutes) and Darren Collison (12 points, three rebounds, three assists, one trey, 29 minutes) have held down the fort for both the Clippers and their owners, but the Clips’ lack of firepower was apparent against the athletic, gambling defense of OKC.
J.J. Redick would ideally see a few weeks of time to knock off the rust, but he’s on a crash course right now and last night he hit just 1-of-7 shots (all threes) for four points, three rebounds, eight assists and one steal in 27 minutes. As a release valve for double-teams on Griffin and Paul he’ll get the job done moving the ball, but teams aren’t respecting his offense just yet and that is making the Clippers a little easier to defend. What they’re really lacking is Jamal Crawford (calf), and my sense is that he’ll get at least a game or two to get back into the flow – but even that’s not guaranteed right now. Doc Rivers talked about resting guys sparingly and he’s clearly about not losing the rhythm, and with just three more games to play I’d guess that we see the band back together very soon. I’d have a hard time not rolling Barnes and Collison out there in a 12-team league until that is a foregone conclusion.