Besides the monster game between the Pacers and the Heat, teams toward the bottom of the playoff chase all gained ground on those ahead of them with the exception of the Hawks, who continue their descent toward a lottery pick. It might have been the first real taste of playoff basketball of the year, all while fantasy playoff matchups are at a fever pitch. We’re jumping right in and good luck to everybody for the rest of the week.
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The Nets just need to win a handful of games and they will likely hang onto the No. 5 seed, but last night’s overtime loss to the Bobcats kept them from detaching from the Wizards at No. 6 and the Bobcats at No. 7. As we discussed yesterday Al Jefferson was setup to roll and he did exactly that, and that contributed to big workloads for Andray Blatche (seven points, 2-of-7 FGs, seven boards, five assists, one steal, two blocks, 30 minutes) and Mirza Teletovic (22 points, 6-of-12 FGs, all threes, three rebounds, 28 minutes). Mason Plumlee logged his normal 21 minutes and was mediocre with four points, four boards and two blocks as the Nets threw bodies at Big Al, but the offense turned cold in overtime and they eventually fell short.
Blatche has been a mess and Teletovic has a history of one-game explosions. There’s nothing but a gambler’s add on the table for either guy with the hope there is some carryover the next time out. Deron Williams (illness) played and was electric with 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, one steal and five threes in 42 minutes, and Joe Johnson continued to be the Nets’ rock with 18 points, four threes, five boards and three assists in the loss. Until they get that aforementioned separation in the standings, look for them to work hard to avoid a potential fall to No. 7 and a matchup against the Pacers or Heat.
MOVIN ON UP
Al Jefferson is scorching hot right now and is being asked to put the Bobcats on his shoulders as they try to march out of the No. 7 slot. I’ve made mention of my concerns about how much weight he will have to carry and that didn’t play out in his shooting efficiency last night (15-of-27 FGs, 35 points, 15 boards), but 41 minutes is a lot of run and he didn’t have a single steal or block. He did well to only have one turnover, though, and that had been an issue with 2.7 per game over the last two weeks before last night.
I would actually love to see the Bobcats stay in the No. 7 seed for a presumptive matchup against the Heat, because Jefferson would absolutely terrorize them and I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron actually stepped up defensively in a pinch. Josh McRoberts (12 points, six boards, four assists, one steal, dunk of the night candidate) would also be a handful, and Kemba Walker (20 points, 8-of-21 FGs, five boards, 12 assists, one steal) has enough juice to be an X-factor. I’m not saying that I like the Bobcats to advance, but they’re one of a handful of teams with big men that can exploit the Heat’s interior and that makes it a fun first-round matchup if it happens.
Gerald Henderson would also be a decent cover on Dwyane Wade, but before we go even further than we should have down that road he was very quiet last night against the Nets. He scored just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with two rebounds, five assists, one block and one three. The peripheral numbers and high assist total hid the scoring line, but the real saving grace here is the upcoming four-game week. Hang onto him and you’ll probably get your money’s worth, but be ready to move along for the following three-gamer. Chris Douglas-Roberts got some extra run with Gary Neal out, scoring 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting with three treys, five boards and two assists in 27 minutes off the bench. Should playing time present itself, he has proven to be a capable low-end spot play.
BLEDSOE FROM THE ASHES
The Suns have now won five straight after last night's victory in Washington, which moved them into a tie with the Mavs for the No. 8 slot in the West. Goran Dragic (25 points, seven boards, six assists, one block, three treys) and Eric Bledsoe (23 points, three treys, six boards, seven assists, three steals, seven turnovers) continue to give powerhouse performances, while Gerald Green (18 points, three treys, four rebounds) continued along his new path as a mid-to-late round value. Markieff Morris was versatile but quiet with eight points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block in 33 minutes off the bench, and Miles Plumlee all-but disappeared with four points and three boards in 18 minutes. The Plumdog doesn’t look like he’s going to get consistent, heavy run anytime soon.
Channing Frye put up another low-end line with 10 points, three boards, two threes and two steals in 24 minutes. It hasn’t been pretty but he’s still operating at a late-round value over the past two weeks and that’s a good place for expectations going forward. The Suns finish out the year with two three-game weeks and that’s going to make guys like Frye and P.J. Tucker (eight points, nine boards, two steals, two threes, 34 minutes) tough to start, so consider dropping them if you see a hot free agent.
THE BEAL DEAL
Bradley Beal has started to tumble down the unofficial Twitter rankings lately and it’s because his season hasn’t really ever taken hold. Injuries and shooting slumps have been the culprits and last night he got knocked from the game briefly due to a hip pointer, finishing with eight points, three rebounds, five assists and two steals in last night’s home loss to the Suns. He’ll be a must-start player next week with four games as long as he isn’t truly hurt, but owners looking two weeks down the road will want to be wary of the three-game slate.
John Wall scored 29 points with six assists, two steals, one block and two threes as his top 8-13 (8/9 cat) season has justified the high ADP. Trevor Ariza brushed off concerns about his Achilles’ and logged 40 minutes to finish with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three, Marcin Gortat went for 17 and five, and Drew Gooden slowed down to the tune of six points and seven boards in 18 minutes.
LOWRY LOGGING MINUTES
The Raptors turned around and went to Boston after losing on Tuesday in Cleveland, and pulled things together to leave with a win as they limp a little bit to the finish line. Kyle Lowry logged 34 minutes and scored 23 points with four threes, nine boards and four assists so he is obviously fine, but the Raps would love to preserve him for the playoffs at some point but that point is not right now. Tied with the Bulls for the No. 3 seed and 2.5 games ahead of No. 5 Brooklyn, if they experience separation in the standings they might give Lowry a night off but not until then.
Amir Johnson (10 points, seven rebounds, one three, zero steals and blocks) needs the rest as much as anybody but Patrick Patterson still hasn’t had a substantial update after being cleared for practice. I benched Johnson for Gorgui Dieng this week over fears that his production might slip as his body breaks down. Last night’s outcome might have been the first real indicator that it’s about to happen.
Terrence Ross hit five triples for 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting with four rebounds and a steal in 37 minutes. He’s still just a 3-point specialist with low-end value in 12-14 team leagues when you iron out the peaks and valleys. Jonas Valanciunas turned the switch on with 15 and 14 to go with three assists but he was shut out in the defensive stat categories. He has been up-and-down this past week but has top-100 value over the last two weeks with averages of 13.4 points, 8.9 boards and 56.1 percent shooting from the field and 87.0 percent from the line. Greivis Vasquez played through his ‘ankle’ injury and hit just 3-of-10 shots for seven points, two assists and a three, which had as much to do with Ross’ hot streak as anything else. He has been playing at a late-round level in a 20-25 minute per night role over the last two weeks.
The ‘pain in the neck’ joke is too easy after Jeff Green left last night’s loss late due to that same ailment, finishing with six points, two boards and a block in 20 minutes. If Green somehow misses time then Chris Johnson could be a sneaky deep-league pickup for 3-point shooting and a smattering of other stats. Johnson hit 5-of-8 shots (including one three) for 13 points, one steal and one block in 26 minutes off the bench, and has shown the ability to get hot from deep in prior stints this season.
Rajon Rondo played and scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting (no threes) with four rebounds, 15 assists and two steals. It was announced that he would not play on Monday and that he would also be announcing in the booth for the first quarter of the home-and-home finale against the Bulls. That means he’s good to go for this Sunday in Chicago and owners can treat the next week as a 2-3 gamer instead of a four-banger. The Celtics have a back-to-back on Friday against the Sixers and Saturday against the Pistons, but have two days off after that and maybe he’ll throw caution to the win and play it out.
Avery Bradley has been rolling and scored 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting with two threes and three boards last night. The lack of peripheral stats make this line a push but he’s right where owners want him to be. Jared Sullinger was the big man of the day for Brad Stevens in a 26-point, eight-rebound night that included a career-high four threes, one steal and two blocks. I’ve given up trying to guess who is going to produce in the Boston frontcourt, but Sullinger vaults to the top of the list after a night like this. Kris Humphries had just four points, four boards and one block in 17 minutes, Kelly Olynyk made some mild noise with seven points, five boards, three steals and a three in 22 minutes, and Brandon Bass was invisible with four points and five boards in 26 minutes out of the starting PF slot.
WAIT FOR IT
The Cavs are making things interesting by refusing to go quietly into the night, and last night it was a last-second bucket out of Dion Waiters that stole a win in Detroit. Once again the team’s ball movement has been better without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, and in particular the play of Matthew Dellavedova has been the anti-Irving combination of passing and defense. Clearly Irving is an extremely talented player with a high ceiling, but he won’t be the first All Star whose sticky fingers and lack of defense have resulted in an addition by subtraction situation when they get hurt.
Waiters hit just 8-of-20 shots for 18 points, four rebounds, four assists and a block, and Jarrett Jack scored 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with two threes, two rebounds and just one assist. Dellavedova went nuts for a career-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting with five threes, three boards, six assists and a steal over 36 minutes.
Mike Brown doesn’t even try to hide his man-crush on Delly and he actually hugged him during a timeout after forcing a five-second call last night. His fantasy value will be almost entirely dependent upon Irving’s status, and yesterday I guessed that the Cavs would need to win about five more games in a row for the Cavs to pull the trigger on a return. With the No. 8 Hawks dropping like rocks and Cleveland now 3.5 games back with nine to play, perhaps they only need to win a few more for Irving to be tapped. It’s all guesswork, but Delladova could easily stick around as a deep league asset in the Cavs’ upcoming pair of three game weeks.
Spencer Hawes continued to see limited minutes (24) while the Cavs go small, scoring four points with six rebounds, one steal and one block. He’s not killing owners with these numbers in the current four-game week, but if he can’t turn it around soon then folks will have a tough call to make given the schedule difficulties. Anderson Varejao has been getting injections in his back but has slowly come around, with last night’s 12 and 16 with one steal over 31 minutes putting him back on the standard league radar. There’s enough risk combined with the schedule issue to give owners pause, but he’s certainly worth a look if you need a big.
GIVE IT AWAY NOW
The Pistons have been giving up games like the one they gave away to the Cavs last night for a while now, but at least there were some positives in the box for fantasy owners. Brandon Jennings scored 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting with five threes, five boards, 13 assists and two steals, Josh Smith scored 24 points on 11-of-23 shooting with one three, eight boards, six assists and three blocks, and Greg Monroe went for 14 and eight with two steals and a block in the loss.
Smith hit just 1-of-3 freebies including an airball and entering the game shooting just 15 percent from the stripe over his last four he actually improved in the effort. The 64.4 percent career FT shooter has hit just 53.3 percent from the stripe this season and that’s a big reason he’s ranked way down in the top 60-90 despite not missing a single game this season.
Andre Drummond did not record a steal or block and had just six points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes, so I’ll be watching to see if there is any injury-related reason for that. Kyle Singler has been a recommended play despite recent struggles and he got back on the right side of the ledger with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, four threes, three boards, two assists, one steal and one block over 30 minutes. Jonas Jerebko (four points, eight boards, 19 minutes) is still getting playing time but Singler has shown enough staying power to deserve the benefit of the doubt with two four-game weeks on the horizon.
The Hawks simply don’t have the firepower to compete unless all of their guys are on-point. An 0-for-5 start by Jeff Teague against defensively challenged Ricky Rubio was all that was needed to tip them over last night. Teague finished with just one rebound, six assists and a steal in 19 minutes before being benched in a lopsided loss to the Wolves. This has been the book on Teague for the entire season – disappearing without explanation – and to a large degree the book on his entire career. He has all of the tools but for whatever reason it hasn’t come together. With a pair of four-game weeks still on the slate he still looks great for the fantasy (and reality) playoff run.
Mike Scott (15 points, seven boards, two threes, 31 minutes) was brought into the starting lineup next to DeMarre Carroll (11 points, six boards, three steals, one three) on the wings, and though the experiment didn’t work I wouldn’t summarily rule out another bite at the apple with it. Carroll is good enough to play the two in a pinch and at this point it’s all about getting serviceable players on the court. Given the favorable schedule, I’d call Scott a low-level add in 12-team formats with some upside. If Kyle Korver (back) ends up playing tonight or getting a favorable update, Scott will be more of a speculative add than one that owners can count on for that low-end production.
Pero Antic didn’t get to draw Gorgui Dieng out from underneath the hoop after hurting his right ankle again, lasting just 16 minutes on his way to three points (one 3PT) with four rebounds and a steal. We haven’t gotten an update on his prognosis but the red flags are certainly in place given his recent history with the injury. Elton Brand could be a sneaky play if you need a big man, and so could Mike Muscala (eight points, four boards, one steal, one block, 24 minutes) for that matter. This is a situation dictated by schedule and necessity. I’d roll first with Brand if I’m going this route and I’d keep a close eye on Muscala to see if he can keep his head above water.
Lou Williams logged 32 minutes off the bench and finished with 10 points, six assists and two threes, but he’d need to wrap this week up on a high note to get consideration even as a speculative add after such an inconsistent season.
Gorgui Dieng is enjoying life in Rick Adelman’s system playing alongside guys in Ricky Rubio (four points, 10 assists, six steals) and Kevin Love (14 points, 12 boards, four assists, two three) that can deliver the ball. The result has been easy offense and Dieng has done his part to control the glass, as last night he delivered another gem with 15 points, 15 boards, one steal and one block in 41 minutes.
He has been a top 25-50 (9/8 cat) value over the last two weeks with averages of 11.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 57.7 percent field goals, 72.0 percent free throws and a steal and block per game. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Wolves handle things next year if Dieng continues to emerge and push high-priced signee Nikola Pekovic into a timeshare. For now, Pek may reportedly be able to play this weekend but if everybody is kosher with letting the rookie make some late-season headlines then the shutdown could still be in effect.
Corey Brewer was a guy to watch from yesterday’s Dose and he earned further consideration for pickup with 18 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in his 30 minutes. The Wolves finish out the year with four-game weeks and they’re nearing shutdown territory once they’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. With health in hand Brewer probably benefits from that. They’re currently seven games behind No. 9 Dallas so that could be anytime now.
BOURBON STREET BLUES
Sometimes things don’t make any sense at all. Things like a franchise-worst 0-for-12 effort by Chris Paul against a Pelicans team struggling to fill rotation slots with NBA quality players. The Clippers clearly overlooked the opposition last night and gave the Pellies enough confidence to carry their first half surge all the way. Luckily, the fantasy outcomes were much better than Paul’s two-point, four-rebound, 12-assist, three-steal (relative) stinker.
Blake Griffin scored 21 points with eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks but hit just 9-of-15 foul shots, and DeAndre Jordan went for eight and 16 with four blocks. Darren Collison stayed relevant with 11 points, one three and seven assists despite a big 31 points out of Jamal Crawford, who hit 10-of-23 shots (including seven threes) with two assists and a steal in 35 minutes. Matt Barnes even got back on track with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, four threes, five boards, one steal and one block in 31 minutes, so all-in-all fantasy owners were happy while J.J. Redick’s return from noodle leg continues to hang over the group. Crawford will be safe, Barnes is a decent bet to hold serviceable value and Collison will be the first guy to fall off if/when Redick can get back on the floor.
FLY PELICANS FLY!
Brian Roberts joined Eric Gordon on the injury list with a knee injury and Austin Rivers missed last night’s game with the flu, so naturally the Pelicans were able to steal a win from the Clippers with Darius Miller playing backup point guard. Unsurprisingly, Tyreke Evans (10 points, 5-of-16 FGs, four rebounds, nine assists, two steals) and Anthony Davis (16 points, 5-of-19 FGs, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, six blocks) struggled with their efficiency as the defense geared up to stop them.
That left Anthony Morrow free to drop 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting with two threes, 7-of-8 FTs, five boards, one block and a bunch of two-pointers for a change of pace. Morrow earns the nod as speculative spot play if Roberts and/or Gordon can’t go on Friday against the Jazz, while Miller (16 points, one steal, one three) and Alexis Ajinca (14 points, 11 rebounds, zero blocks) simply can’t be trusted and are desperation plays at best if everybody stays out. Al-Farouq Aminu played better than he has in recent memory as a small-ball four at times, finishing with eight points, 10 boards, six assists, one steal and one block in 30 minutes. He’s a notch above Morrow in terms of relative safety as a fantasy play, but Morrow’s upside is higher since New Orleans needs his scoring in all these injury scenarios.
The Nuggets did well to push the Spurs in the second half of last night’s loss but got just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting with four rebounds, seven assists and a steal out of Ty Lawson and that was basically the difference.
Aaron Brooks stepped up with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including four threes), five rebounds and eight assists in 31 minutes off the bench, and the big night pushes him up to a late-round valuation over the last two weeks. During that time he has averaged 11.9 points, 1.3 treys and 6.8 assists to go with 40 percent shooting from the field and 90 percent shooting from the line in 26.1 minutes per game. On one hand he could be a threat to disappear if the Nuggets play a normal lineup, but with how small they’re running lately and Wilson Chandler a shutdown candidate his playing time could hold steady or even go up. The Nuggets just don’t have a lot of firepower and that’s what Brooks is in a nutshell. With four games next week he looks like a decent pickup in standard formats.
Kenneth Faried (24 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, one block) had a big night as his season has settled in quite nicely, and Timofey Mozgov (14 points, 11 boards, one steal, two blocks) is starting to heat up with nobody to challenge him for center minutes now that J.J. Hickson is out for the year. Mozgov even hit a rare three and his recent uptick makes him a low-level add if you need a center. If he can keep the 30-minute role he’ll be a pretty strong plug-and-play next week.
Randy Foye slowed down with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, two assists and zero threes, and it would be more concerning if he was the only Denver player to struggle with a contending Spurs team. Darrell Arthur paid off for owners that spot-started him with four steals, three blocks and a trey to go with nine points and four boards in 30 minutes off the bench. He gets an upgrade to low-level add status in 12-team leagues as the Nuggets have shutdown risks at all three starting wing positions.
THE SAN ANTONIO SHUFFLE
The Spurs let their foot off the gas and starters had to re-enter the game to finish off the Nuggets, so there was time for Tim Duncan to rack up 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. The top-35 season continues and owners will probably just want to shave a game off next week’s four-game slate and do the same for the subsequent three-gamer when projecting his value.
Tony Parker was a bit off and finished with just 10 points, four rebounds, six assists, one steal and five turnovers, while Kawhi Leonard was quiet offensively with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting and one three but still managed six rebounds, three steals and three blocks to keep his foot on opposing owners’ throats.
Danny Green (16 points, 5-of-9 3PTs, one steal, 17 minutes) is having X-rays taken on his foot and Gregg Popovich said he didn’t know what it was but that he thought it was plantar fasciitis. There’s still a chance that he plays on Friday but some time off would certainly make sense. Manu Ginobili scored 10 points with seven assists, one steal and one block in his 25 minutes, but it will be Patty Mills (seven points, 14 minutes) or Marco Belinelli (seven points, 16 minutes) that will profile as beneficiaries if a Green absence frees up 20 mpg or so within the rotation.
Tiago Splitter scored 10 points with four rebounds, five assists and a steal, and he has six games of mid-round value over the past two weeks so he’s officially worth a hard look if you need a big. He doesn’t profile any better or worse in the world of Pop DNPs, and he has no history of consistency for owners to rely on, but the numbers have been there lately.
NOT GOING AWAY
The Knicks somehow managed to let the Kings back into last night’s game in the second half but still held on for a much-needed win, and with the Hawks losing last night they’re just two games behind for the eighth slot in the East. Offensively they looked great pretty much all night, with special honors going out to Carmelo Anthony (36 points, 12-of-21 FGs, five threes, 7-of-7 FTs, five boards, one steal, one block) for looking unguardable and caring enough to not mail in the season. Credit should actually extend to the entire team in that regard, but I don’t want to go too far since the Kings didn’t really have a legitimate shot at winning if New York showed up.
Raymond Felton was able to get on track with seven rebounds and 10 assists to go with five points on 2-of-7 shooting. Going up against first-time starter Ray McCallum and a team playing plenty of subpar defenders he had the right matchup, and with a four-game week ahead of him in the thick of a playoff chase he’s worth a look. Amare Stoudemire played on the SEGABABA and scored 12 points with six rebounds and a steal, which is just about where he should be as he pushes himself down the stretch. J.R. Smith (29 points, 10-of-19 FGs, four rebounds, four assists, one block) might have led off this recap with his franchise-record tying nine 3-pointers, but we’ve all seen that show before and know that he should be owned and started in all formats right now.
Ray McCallum drew the start for Isaiah Thomas (quad) last night and he had a disaster of a first half, but didn’t fall apart and managed to finish with 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, five assists and one steal in 43 minutes. Ray Mac really needs to work on his jumper over the summer and add the requisite NBA weight, and if he can do the former then it will be a surprise if he’s not a quality NBA backup with some low-level starter upside in a best-case scenario. It’s unclear if Thomas will sit out another game and that will drive McCallum’s value, but last night was certain a key night for his development as he got knocked around the court. Metta World Peace might say it put some taco meat on his chest.
It was a strange game with the Kings getting down by so much early and also not having a backup point guard behind Ray Mac, so we saw plenty of point guard play out of Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. While Magic Cousins is something of a sore spot locally for the times he grabs a rebound, dribbles down the floor with a crossover or two, and then flings the ball out of bounds – I’m seeing improvement and I’m warming to the idea of seeing where his transition game can go in a rebuilding season. Cousins had eight assists to go with his 32 points (10-of-15 FGs), 15 boards, two steals, two blocks and 12-of-12 makes from the line, and by nurturing his desire to make plays he’s able to improve his vision, albeit in often frustrating fashion for teammates, coaches and fans.
It’s also worth noting that he has kept his cool lately and the quest to keep from getting his 16th technical foul (resulting in a one-game suspension) appears to be important to him. He’s also doing about 5-10 things per night that maybe 1-2 big men in the league can even think about doing. The Kings were raked over the coals for handing him his big deal, but the flashes of his elite future are becoming more frequent and by that measure the team has to be thrilled.
Ben McLemore was given the FARTDOG treatment (Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards) by the Knicks’ backcourt, so he was able to get his feet set and hit 6-of-12 shots (including four threes) for 16 points and a steal in his 31 minutes. The rookie badly needs confidence and the dribbling skills he lacks will have to develop over the summer, but he might be able to make some noise down the stretch if he can continue to keep them feet set. The minute he loses body control he’s going to miss. The Kings wrap up the season with two four-game weeks and there’s enough meat to this bone for a speculative add, but with a very high level of risk. He’ll need one of the Big Three to be out on most nights to give owners confidence to plop him into lineups.
The Grizzlies were yet another team that had a tale of two halves and they stormed back to beat the Jazz in Utah last night. Zach Randolph went for 22 and 13, Marc Gasol brushed off minor injury concerns with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Mike Conley did the same with regard to his ankle and had 19 points, six assists, a steal and a three while hitting half of his shots. Behind this Big Three, there are no reliable fantasy assets and it’s that simple right now for Memphis, who kept a half-game lead over No. 8 and 9 seeds Phoenix and Dallas.
The Jazz have also tidied themselves up from a fantasy perspective now that Alec Burks (ankle) is getting around in a walking boot. It was probably the big Memphis frontline that augmented these minutes, but Enes Kanter’s 11 points, 15 rebounds and one steal in 40 minutes and Derrick Favors’ 22 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 36 minutes shouldn’t be written off as a 100 percent fluke. Utah has a few weeks to see if they can actually pair these two players next to each other next season, and that gives Kanter in particular a little bit of breathing room for 12-team lineups. Unfortunately the Jazz finish up the year with a pair of three-game weeks, and Kanter will need to keep up this pace to be a safe play under those conditions.
Richard Jefferson hit three treys and finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in his 30 minutes, and he’s worth a look as a 3-point specialist with low-end value in 12-14 team leagues while Burks is out. Trey Burke did not hit a three or have any defensive stats, but he did rack up 10 assists to go with an inefficient 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting. He’s going to be a risky play in 12-14 team formats for the rest of the year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jazz force the action with him a little bit to end things on a high note. Then again, it’s unclear what level of cooperation there is right now between the team and Ty Corbin, whose future as coach is uncertain.
THE MAIN EVENT
The big game was, in fact, a big game. There were flagrant fouls (R.I.P. Hard Fouls 1891 – November 19, 2004), trash talk to spare, technicals and a curious ejection of Lance Stephenson administered by way of lobbyist Dwyane Wade. It went down to the wire and ultimately a well-drawn play for Chris Bosh came up short and the Pacers got back their Mo, at least for the time-being. LeBron James scored 38 points on 11-of-19 shooting in his duel with Paul George, but six turnovers and zero steals and blocks reflected some of his troubles on an otherwise stellar night. James added two threes, 14-of-15 FTs, eight boards, five assists and one flying (unintentional) elbow to the dome of Roy Hibbert.
It was that type of night.
Wade and Stephenson were an interesting side-show as the two talked trash all night long, and aside from goading Stephenson into a ticky-tack ejection he added 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, four rebounds, one steal, one block and six turnovers of his own to the stat sheet. All in all he looked a lot like the Wade of last year’s playoffs that wasn’t all that sharp.
Bosh hit a huge three to keep the game close at the end but didn’t provide enough scoring with just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, two threes, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Udonis Haslem (two points, four boards, one block, 21 minutes) was brought in to push Roy Hibbert off the block, something that was too easily accomplished from a Pacers point of view.
Look to see the Heat go back to that during the postseason, but make no mistake they have critical problems with their interior defense and that makes them vulnerable to any team proficient in that department. Hibbert toyed with Bosh and Greg Oden (two points, two blocks, six minutes) early on and the takeaway is that if Hibbert can get out of his funk, then he’ll force the Heat to play Haslem and that will jam the paint up for the Heat offense – particularly if Wade's defenders sag the way they did in last year's playoffs. I think Oden might have played his way out of a job covering Hibbert in the playoffs.
Wade left the game early with hamstring spasms and of course he’ll be questionable the rest of the way. Ray Allen did not travel to Indiana due to the flu and while I’ve been cautiously optimistic about his ability to avoid the DNPs this is a pretty bad development. He didn’t travel with the team to Indy, and he’ll be questionable for Friday and Saturday’s games in Detroit and Milwaukee – two games the Heat probably aren’t going to rush him back into. After all, they don’t want the locker room getting sick and it comes with the added bonus of getting the veteran some rest. The Heat return home for Monday’s game and another pair of four-game weeks so I can get behind a hold, but at this stage of the game owners should obviously feel free to move on somebody else that they may need.
The other guy I’ve been high on for schedule reasons has been Chris Andersen, and he put up a fairly Birdman-like three points, four rebounds and three blocks in his 19 minutes. That’s pretty much within expectations and a win for those seeking his big man stats. Looking forward to the eventual matchup between these two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat will need Andersen to be healthy enough to play 25 minutes per game if they want to keep from getting eaten alive down low.
REMEMBER WHERE YOU CAME FROM
You guys have watched me slowly kick the can down the road during the Pacers’ slump, slowly losing a little confidence in them each week as my NBA title pick. March and April games have a way of being overrated, however, particularly in the aggregate as the All Star break, trading deadline and long journey of a season all culminate in some pretty lousy play league-wide. The Heat had been going through similar issues as of late, but because the Pacers don’t have a multi-year history of domination at either a team or star-level their slide has been a league-wide topic.
They also struggled with the Sixers twice in a row and just about everybody else, too, with cracks in the foundation bulging amidst problems up and down the roster. The struggle has been real.
Roy Hibbert has sometimes looked like a defensive liability, though not always, but his struggles have been the most pronounced. He hasn’t been getting the ball on offense, either, and conversely the young and brash Lance Stephenson is on the other end of that equation pushing the issue scoring-wise just a bit too much.
Hibbert called Stephenson out last week and nothing changed as they lost to the Grizzlies and Bulls in consecutive games before last night’s heavyweight bout.
Paul George has been both pressing and deferring to Stephenson, perhaps not entirely by choice, but deferring at times nonetheless as the Pacers offense has struggled to get easy looks. George Hill has functioned as the poor man’s version of both PG and Stephenson in a quasi-shooting guard role, with all three guys playing outside-in rather than inside-out with Hibbert and David West.
It’s no surprise the trademark defense has fallen off with offensive balance lost in the blending of roles, since guys always play a bit harder when they feel like they’re being involved at the appropriate level on the other end. New acquisitions in Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum have been a bust so far, as Bynum’s knees are Jello and Turner has looked a lot like the guy that struggled to get minutes back when the Sixers fielded a competitive squad.
So virtually everything has been going wrong, including off the court stuff if you want to count Paul George’s paternity issue, catfish story or talk that the team got all high on the horse. A loss at home would have put the panic button right at their fingertips, putting the Heat just two games back rather than the three they are right now. The Pacers have stated that home court advantage is a goal and it should be as they seek to dethrone the current kings of the court.
Four of five starters are experienced but still not fully schooled in the dark arts of playoff basketball, with just David West as the lone, true bad ass of the bunch that knows for sure which levers to pull. Stephenson showed some of that immaturity when Dwyane Wade goaded him into losing his cool and the rest of the group have been searching for their edge for most of the past two months.
Luckily that has been good enough to stay ahead of a coasting Heat squad in the standings, but a loss last night at home could have had an exponential effect.
That’s what made it the perfect bounce-back opportunity. The Pacers first got a chance to get Hibbert going in a custom-built matchup, and the big man finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting and 7-of-9 hits from the line. It’s baby steps right now for Hibbert, who sounds like he suffered a concussion when LeBron elbowed him on a drive to the hoop. He grabbed just four rebounds and had just one steal to go with a big zero in the blocks category. In fact, the Pacers as a squad did not block a single shot. For them to win in June, they need Hibbert to fight for position on the block, get opposing bigs into foul trouble and most importantly rebound his position.
Getting Hibbert going wasn’t the biggest development, though. Getting Paul George to reclaim his rightful place atop the offensive food chain was exactly that. Even with LeBron hounding him, George was turned to as the clear No. 1 option because quite frankly he needed to be. Stephenson hit some key shots and finished with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, three treys and a steal, but he had just two rebounds and two assists while getting caught up in the adrenaline of the game. Stephenson wasn’t able to turn the corner much or get shots for his teammates, but George did exactly that against James and even crammed in his face on one possession.
The former MVP candidate finished with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting, three triples, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals, David West chipped in with 13 points, nine boards, five assists, one steal and 6-of-6 makes from the line, and against the Heat’s pressure defense they all relied upon one another to get better looks.
Sometimes it takes the brink to bring you back to the things that you do best. Now that they’ve had a chance to chill out Stephenson by the appropriate smidge. It probably didn’t hurt that he also got a talking-to by Frank Vogel after the game for making a scene on the way to the locker room once he was ejected. Hibbert is shaping up to be an X-factor and it remains to be seen if he can do the damage necessary, but the Heat are so poorly matched-up against the Pacers’ size and athleticism that if he can simply be okay the Pacers will be fine. But most importantly George was called up to the front of the room to deliver against LeBron and he did that and then some. Indy can coalesce behind the team effort and strategy that was necessary to deliver this win, and with everybody getting a bite from the apple on offense the defense will lock in.
The Pacers remembered who they were last night. And as long as they don’t forget that they’re a better team than the Heat.
- Sports & Recreation