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In the Zone: Part 2
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Ryan Knaus looks at teams and players by shot 'zones' to help fantasy owners find matchups to …

For a light six-game slate there was a lot of pop in last night’s games.  The Heat and Rockets squared off one night after LeBron went nuts, the Warriors barely held on to take a win in Indy on the other Splash Brother’s fadeaway stunner, the Thunder sent the Sixers to Sea World, Matt Barnes got loose, and the Lakers and Pelicans ran around the court like it was recess. 

We are 75 percent of the way through the season, trade deadlines have passed and playoffs are starting in some leagues.  There are five weeks of full action to go starting with next week.  You’ll want to start counting games played if you didn’t do that weeks ago. 

On that front, the Lakers oscillate from this week’s five-game slate into a two-game week, the Bucks have a five-gamer next week, and the following week the odd balls are the Clippers with two games and the Blazers get their second five-game week of the season. 

It’s talk like that which signals the end of a long season, and also the time of year where many opposing owners let up.  In Roto leagues you will want to identify those guys and see where you can make cheap category gains.  Waiver wires get a bit more plentiful.  Playoff planning becomes paramount. 

And then we turn around and do it all again next season.  So let’s finish strong and continue this vicious cycle, starting with this jam-packed Dose including a Big Wednesday addendum. 

For all the news that’s fit to print and real-time breakdowns of all things NBA, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.

SAME OLD SPURS

Gregg Popovich gave reporters a handful of insights into his coaching style prior to last night’s win in Cleveland, and wouldn’t you know it he’d end up generating more ink than anybody else after his team posted a ridiculous 39 assists on 43 made field goals.  Tim Duncan (seven points, eight boards, four assists, three blocks) and Tony Parker (seven points, five assists, 22 minutes) let everybody else do the heavy lifting.  Kawhi Leonard continues to show the form that enticed my high preseason ranking with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, two threes, five boards, three assists, four steals and three blocks in just 26 minutes.  Leonard has been a top 3-4 player in the four games since returning to action, and owners can at least have hope that Pop is ready to push play on that whole future face of the franchise thing.  

Good Danny Green showed up with a season-high tying 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, three triples, three assists, two steals and a block.  As usual, he’s a must-own guy in 12-team formats and 10-team, 9-cat formats.  Boris Diaw hit all seven of his shots for 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks, and owners would be wise to look at his low-end value in 12-14 team leagues as a guide when considering his inconsistent services. Patty Mills did his thing with 16 points, four threes, three rebounds, five assists and two steals, but as long as Parker is in the lineup he’ll be in the same exact boat as Diaw. 

As a top 80-85 per-game play on the year Manu Ginobili (11 points, three treys, six assists, one steal, 21 minutes) is a cut above the fringe group but owners will always want to cut a half-game or full game off his weekly projection just in case.  Marco Belinelli (11 points, three boards, two assists, zero threes, 19 minutes) needs an injury in the rotation to be back on the standard league radar.  Tiago Splitter (six points, four rebounds, 21 minutes) still isn’t getting it done. 

Pop has been somewhat bullish on playing his guys down the stretch, but we all know that could all be a load of crap. 

In other words things are going according to plan in San Antonio.

SPENCER FOR HIRE

I wouldn’t pick a game against the Spurs to write off the Cavs’ playoff chances, but they’re now four games back in the East with 20 to go after last night’s loss.  Ball movement and defense were the issues once again, and that was a problem before Dion Waiters (24 points, 11-of-18 FGs, two threes, three assists) returned to the lineup.  No, I’m not racing to add Waiters until he does this about 4-5 times in a row in standard formats. 

Kyrie Irving (24 points, 8-of-17 FGs, three treys, four boards, six assists, two steals) needs to work on his strategic game over the summer, but recently he has at least taken care of business in terms of efficiency with 44.2 percent shooting over his last 15 games, which has always been the key to realizing his first round price tag as he has this past month. 

Spencer Hawes landed in a good spot in Cleveland and I’ll be kicking myself for not being more bullish about that in this space.  He scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting (including three treys) with 13 boards, one steal and one block.  Anderson Varejao (back) could return in Friday’s pivotal game for the playoff race against the Bobcats, so we’re nearing the true test of value for Hawes – but as I’ve mentioned since amending my view on Hawes they could fit as complementary pieces and see only incremental value reduction from their normal baselines.  So Varejao will be worth a speculative add if he has been dropped, and Hawes is most certainly a hold while owners keep him plugged into lineups. 

Luol Deng had another slow night with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting with zero threes, two rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes.  After showing a glimmer of hope a week or so ago it has been all downhill.  I have probably been the most patient guy around here with regard to Deng, and it’s now well past time to move on in most formats after the month-long stretch of borderline top-200 value.   He’s due a regression at some point but has practically no upside on a team that knows he won’t be around next season.  Tristan Thompson (five points, 2-of-8 FGs, 10 boards, zero steals/blocks) continues to reward me for my bearish positions all season. 

GOLDEN STATE OF PARADOX

The Warriors’ win in Indy last night sort of sums up their entire season.  The only team in the NBA to get wins on both the Pacers and Heat’s home floor showed all of their flaws, particularly late, but got a great play call out of Mark Jackson and an ice-cold game-winning fadeaway from Klay Thompson with 0.6 seconds left to seal the win. 

Just enough sizzle but not enough steak. 

Even in winning the Warriors still face plenty of questions about their ability to get Stephen Curry (19 points, 7-of-18 FGs, eight boards, six assists, two steals) off the ball enough to keep from being one-dimensional, which was a problem yet again late last night.  Though they are 6-2 since the All Star break, it doesn’t feel like the drama from two weeks back did anything but get moved to the back burner – and Jackson is nowhere near getting a no-strings-attached pass if/when GSW exits the playoffs in the first or second round. 

David Lee’s (11 points, five rebounds, 22 minutes) bad defense is no longer counteracted by his ability to bend the defense on the other end, and Andre Iguodala (six points, two rebounds, one assist, zero steals/blocks, 23 minutes) hasn’t brought the offensive playmaking element expected of him when he signed his big deal.  Harrison Barnes (10 points, five boards, two threes, 24 minutes) looks lost on the court and Draymond Green (10 points, seven boards, three assists, one steal, two threes) should play more but he can’t with Lee and Barnes not going anywhere for a number of both good and bad reasons. 

Andrew Bogut (three points, six boards, one steal, three blocks, 22 minutes) was rocking a sleeve on his knee and he’s banged up at precisely the wrong time.  Thompson got his rocks off last night with 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting, three treys, five boards and one block in 41 minutes, and as I said at the time his game-winner in a big moment wasn’t nearly as important right then and there as it is to his and his team’s psyche going forward.  Thompson has struggled being reliant upon a 1-2 dimensional offense to generate most of his looks, and that’s a chicken and egg situation that he can’t do much to change without doing too much. 

Steve Blake (zero points, six assists, 17 minutes) was a good pickup but he doesn’t solve the Warriors’ penetration issues, though he might be the team’s best and only chance at alleviating the Curry conundrum because Iguodala just doesn’t look like he has it. Jordan Crawford (seven points, seven minutes) is the team’s official panic button if Plan A, B and C don’t work out.  The bottom of the West playoff picture still haunts them. 

So yeah, last night’s road win over the team I have winning it all didn’t move the needle, which is the paradox that was ultimately etched in stone when the team refused to immediately amnesty David Lee in the bold move that didn’t get made.  The Iguodala and Bogut core is arguably at their peak right now, and the Warriors have one more bullet in their gun this summer and next to get a big-time free agent to pair next to Curry, whose defense is only going to get worse and steal away from his expected improvements on the offensive end.  So while Warriors fans can’t really complain about the new era under Joe Lacob, it all has the feel of a missed opportunity to capitalize on a player in Curry that is special enough to lead a team to the Finals.     

Iguodala dislocated the index finger on his right (shooting) hand very late but finished up the game, and nevertheless it’ll be something for owners to watch.

FALLING OFF PACE

The Pacers have slid throughout this middle section of the year, which is high praise considering they’ve got the league’s best record.  They’re just a half-step off, with Paul George (26 points, 8-of-23 FGs, three treys, 7-of-8 FTs, 12 boards, four assists, one steal, one block) putting up gaudy numbers but struggling with his efficiency. 

Roy Hibbert (12 points, three rebounds, three blocks) has become overrated all of a sudden and isn’t taking the step forward many thought he would take, and Lance Stephenson (12 points, nine boards, three assists, two steals, one block) rides his tires on the edge of his lane in a grating manner just about every night.  George Hill (eight points, seven boards, three assists) has trended in the right direction and did well enough in his return from last week’s shoulder injury, but consistency has been hard to come by this year. 

Evan Turner missed all five of his shots in 18 minutes off the bench last night and he’ll spend the rest of the year getting baptized by fire – nobody is circling the wagons on his account – though the team would be wise to make it a secondary focus and that’ll fall on George and Stephenson to allow that.  David West (27 points, seven boards, one steal, one block, 7-of-7 FTs) took advantage of David Lee and has been the team’s rock.  He is still the team’s X-factor going into the playoffs, an X-factor that all but disintegrated against the Heat last year.  

With each of those individual parts in flux, Indy has lost a small amount of shine as Miami bears down on them for the No. 1 seed, which matters more to the former than it does the latter.  This is the time of year when teams on the cusp of winning their first title find themselves, and there is nothing that I have seen out of Frank Vogel, Larry Bird and the whole group of players that discounts them from doing exactly that.  They’re still my favorite to win it all barring some unforeseen change to their health. 

MERE MORTAL

LeBron James ran out of gas last night and the Heat ran into a Rockets team that is coming into its own, and altogether Miami still had enough juice to make it just a three-point road loss despite a lot of struggles from key guys.  Namely, Chris Bosh (five points, five boards, two steals) and Mario Chalmers (three points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) combined to hit just 2-of-10 shots in invisible efforts, and James was merely mortal with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting, one rebound, six assists and three steals.  He also went for his increasingly normal all-or-nothing step-back bomb, which missed as time expired. 

Dwyane Wade got back on the floor and looked spry in the big ticket matchup, scoring 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting (8-of-12 FTs) with four rebounds, six assists and two steals.  His health should be the Heat’s primary focus heading into the postseason, even if that means he plays less frequently than his current on-again, off-again schedule. 

Michael Beasley had his best game of the year with a season-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, four threes, four boards and two assists in 28 minutes.  Erik Spoelstra has slow played Beasley’s playing time perfectly, though in a perfect world Beasley would have gotten with the program a lot faster than he has.  The jury is still out as to whether or not Beasley can be the consistent fourth or fifth option the Heat could seriously use in the playoffs, and Spo was clearly trying to push the outer boundaries of that situation last night with Wade also back in the lineup.  Because Beasley’s fantasy game doesn’t necessarily lend itself to easy value, I think owners can be patient with any speculative add, knowing in the back of their mind that he profiles as a good guy for Miami to rely on as they rest their studs down the stretch. 

BEVERLEY SHILLS

Patrick Beverley has been hard to watch for me this year after hyping him so much and giving him a top-40 ranking in the Bruski 150.  I knew he had special defensive talent but I didn’t envision him being so single-mindedly focused on defense to the point where he actually avoided offense at all costs.  The minor injuries haven’t bothered me so much because they’re random to a certain extent, and if anything I thought they’d give him some time to sit back and get a handle on how to inject himself into the offense.  Fast forward to now and he has found his rhythm from deep with 2.1 triples per game over the last two months and a top 50-60 value on a per-game basis, which goes to top 40-50 over the last month on the strength of 11.4 points, 2.1 threes, 3.6 boards, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.6 turnovers and 43.3 percent shooting. 

More importantly, he has taken over a leadership role on the team both vocally and more saliently, because he’s a bad man.  He got under the Heat’s skin last night to the point where Udonis Haslem mentioned his yappy mouth in the postgame, which might be the best compliment that could be paid to a player with practically no name recognition around the league.  Both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James could be seen getting pissed off at Beverley to the point of added physicality, and that’s because the former Heat castaway was turning in yet another Defensive Player of the Year performance. 

Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Roy Hibbert, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Paul George will get all the DPOY attention this year, and any one of them outside of Hibbert could vault their defense to new levels if all they did was focus on that end like Beverley.  But they’re not doing what he does right now, which is to disrupt nearly every possession while impacting arguably the most important position on the court every night.  No plays off, no wasted movements, all attitude – it’s Beverley’s presence that has me excited about taking a flier on the Rockets to win it all at 15-1 odds by last Friday’s measure. 

The other reason I’m excited about the Rockets’ chances to come out of the West (they’re my second or third pick along with OKC behind the Clippers right now) is the play of Dwight Howard.  It didn’t show in the box score last night as the big man had zero steals or blocks to go with 22 and 16, which may have been a function of his sore back, but on the whole he has been playing with more physicality than we have seen in a long time and better decision-making than I have ever seen out of him.  Unless we get more reporting that his back is a problem owners can be cautiously optimistic that things aren’t heading in the wrong direction. 

Unlike his role in Orlando and ignoring whatever you want to call last year, Howard isn’t being asked to do too much and he’s getting the job done with what he is being asked to do.  Being paired next to a bona fide No. 1 in James Harden (21 points, 11 assists, four rebounds), a big-time playmaker in Chandler Parsons (10 points, four boards, eight assists) and a point guard stopper in Beverley – they have the make-up to beat the Heat because of their advantages inside.  They can’t beat the Pacers, who have the horses to matchup with Houston all the way down the roster. 

To have any shot of getting out of the West, though, they’ll need to get Jeremy Lin (seven points, zero assists, zero rebounds, 15 minutes) back on track following his back injury.  Something clearly isn’t right there and you’ll note that he only played the backup point guard minutes and nothing at shooting guard.  He’s droppable but owners should keep an eye on his health.  Jordan Hamilton (four points, three assists, 18 minutes) has leapfrogged the entire reserve unit to be the swing backup at both wing slots, but as you can see the numbers from last week represented his ceiling.  There’s not enough meat to that bone in 12-14 team formats. 

If the Rockets have a glaring weakness it is their defense on the wings, so Hamilton will probably factor in as an athletic augmentation to Harden’s ambivalent ways and Parsons’ lack of strength at the '3.'  They will rely on Howard and Terrence Jones (19 points, 8-of-13 FGs, one three, 12 boards, one block, 35 minutes) to clean up mistakes and Beverley covers up a lot of problems, but bring in a legit stretch four to take Jones out of his comfort zone and the Rockets will be in a lot of trouble.  Ironically, the best way to beat the Rockets this season may actually be to run against them with a smaller unit.  But if the Rockets get Lin back on track and role players like Omer Asik are doing big things, they’re onto something. 

WAKING UP IN VEGAS

The Sixers went into OKC as underdogs with something like a 23-point spread and I said to myself that’s the type of line that I would bet my entire house on (note: do not bet your house on things).  Vegas is going to have a bit of a nightmare on their hands, though, as the larger number gets harder to predict and the Sixers really are 30 points worse than their opponents to start any given game.  If I had the time to bet for amusement only these days I’d consider fading them the rest of the year.  They’re the worst NBA team of all-time. 

Because they are the worst NBA team of all-time Thaddeus Young is going to have nights like his six-point, 3-of-13 effort in last night’s 33-point loss.  He’s still going to break the box score on most nights as just one of two or three options that can get their own shot for the Sixers.  James Anderson got on the board with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting, six threes, two boards and two steals in 27 minutes, and he still profiles as an inconsistent late-round value with just a hint of upside.

Byron Mullens also made his first real noise with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, three treys, six boards and two assists in 20 minutes.  Slowly and not-so-surely he is moving in the right direction and is probably available everywhere so give him a look as a stash candidate.  Tony Wroten (eight points, 3-of-12 FGs, three boards, two assists, three steals, 22 minutes) did just enough to justify ownership as a late-round guy, and Michael Carter-Williams (14 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals) talked too much trash and got served by Russell Westbrook last night. 

WESTBROOKING

There’s a few fantasy nuggets in Thunder-land if you sift with a fine-toothed comb through last night’s laugher win over the Sixers.  But first, let’s quickly call roll on the big names.  Russell Westbrook got the league’s first triple-double in just 20 minutes since the black-and-white TV era, scoring 13 points with 10 rebounds, 14 assists and three steals.  Kevin Durant scored a ho-hum 42 points on 13-of-20 shooting with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block, two threes and an unusually inefficient 12-of-18 mark from the foul line, and Serge Ibaka simply wasn’t needed on a 14-point, four-rebound, three-block night. 

In the ‘things we learned’ department, Caron Butler debuted in 26 minutes off the bench and put up just two points on 1-of-4 shooting with five rebounds, one steal and one block.  The production wasn’t important since he’s going to take some time to get acclimated to a Thunder team that doesn’t roll with much structure on offense, but the answer to who was going to get clipped was fairly obvious and it was Jeremy Lamb (14 minutes). 

Reggie Jackson logged 25 minutes on his way to 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, and it’s possible that Butler dips into his workload too but at least right now I’m inclined to think he won’t steal too much there.  Butler isn’t going to get much, if any ballhandling duties and Jackson doesn’t exactly camp out in the corners or beyond the line waiting for 3-point attempts.  What I did find interesting, though, was Jackson’s apparent ignorance of the need to assimilate Butler in the blowout scenario, which was the report coming out of OKC after the game by Royce Young. 

Young also wrote that Durant went to check Jackson on the issue, albeit not in any demonstrable way to put the report in proper perspective, and Jackson simply walked by Durant without looking.  I don’t know what, if any fantasy impacts there are to this, but it’s at least the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen ink spilled over Jackson’s lack of deference to Durant on a communication level.  None of the reports come out and say that Jackson isn’t staying in his lane, but it sure seems like that’s what the Thunder beat crew is getting at.  It all speaks to the chaos of the offensive system, which is predicated on aggressiveness from guys that sometimes aren’t named Durant. 

Derek Fisher hit another 2-of-4 threes for eight points in 12 minutes and the regression in that department is going to be real and it’s going to be spectacular.  Fisher has no conscience right now and each triple he hits is a cigarette’s worth of whooping cough for Thunder fans.  

WINGIN IT FOR THE CLIPPERS

Matt Barnes has turned on the switch since the trade deadline and after going ballistic in last night’s win over the Suns, he made reference to the fact that the deadline was wearing on his mind.  He scored a season-high 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting (including four threes) with six rebounds, one steal and one block over 40 minutes, as he has gotten healthy and more importantly, necessary. 

Jamal Crawford (calf) could return for Thursday’s game but the Clippers are still thin enough on the wing for Barnes to stay in lineups and at a minimum on rosters in standard formats.  Danny Granger is more an insurance policy than threat, while J.J. Redick has noodle leg and Jared Dudley hurt his back on a wide-open layup attempt.  Dudley’s status is day-to-day but needless to say Crawford, Barnes and Darren Collison are the only bankable options ranging from backup point guard all the way to the three spot. 

Collison started with Crawford out and put up 18 points, 6-of-10 FGs, two threes, three boards, five assists and three steals in his 40 minutes.  Owners looking at a lackluster waiver wire might want to see how he fares for a game when Crawford returns.  The Clippers may just stick with him for 25 mpg to keep guys healthy down the stretch. 

THIS WEEK IN HAND INJURIES

The Suns are a competitive basketball team and that needs to be kept in perspective when I say that they have pretty glaring depth issues right now, and that’s before we factor in the absence of Miles Plumlee (knee) last night and the broken hand suffered by Leandro Barbosa that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.  Even when Eric Bledsoe (knee) returns at some point, they have a collection of average to above-average players with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic (14 points, 5-of-14 FGs, one three, four boards, nine assists, one steal) out in front of the pack as something more than that.  The margin of error gets slim and against a team like the Clippers it’s a losing equation when Markieff Morris is the team’s only post presence and fouls out in 23 minutes. 

I’ve been holding out hope for Channing Frye (four points, five boards, 20 minutes) since his value has held at a late-round level during his slump but last night’s game truly worried me.  Jeff Hornacek gave 19 minutes to untested rookie Alex Len and 14 minutes to Shavlik Randolph rather than expand Frye’s workload.  Whether he’s banged up and we don’t know about it or his play has simply fallen off, we can’t simply point to Morris’ recent run (and history of inconsistency) and assume Frye is at his floor.  The book isn’t totally written on Frye, but there are only a few more chapters to go before we can say definitively that this is his new baseline. 

Outside of Morris taking the game over for a stretch in the second half, he was quiet with just nine points, four rebounds and a three, but with all the noise he’s making and the fact he had to take on a formidable Clippers frontcourt by himself we can issue him a pass.  Gerald Green hit just 6-of-19 shots but still managed a chunky 17 points, eight boards, five assists, four threes and three steals in 36 minutes.  He might have moved into Barbosa’s minutes once Bledsoe returns, anyway, but the injury there is certainly a positive for his playing time.  P.J. Tucker had one of his odd-shaped big nights with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 10 boards, two assists and two steals over 39 minutes.  He has been producing at a low-end level in 12-team leagues over the last two weeks, and with Bledsoe returning he’s looking at a 14-16 team future.    

LICENSE TO KILL

The late game was a snoozer in reality, at least until the end, but in fantasy it was a goldmine for both the Pelicans and Lakers as New Orleans grabbed control of the track meet early and never really let up.  Anthony Davis had yet another ‘quiet’ night of 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting (8-of-11 FTs) with 15 rebounds, three assists and one block.  I say ‘quiet’ because it still doesn’t feel like he’s anywhere near his offensive potential and he’s still quiet with the defensive stats.  Unless there has been some major shift in defensive philosophy I’m still leaning toward a minor ailment sapping his explosion or willingness to mix it up down low at his trademark high levels.  At the same time, owners have to go forward with the assumption that he’s healthy enough to keep out of any shutdown discussion at this time.  Numbers like these don’t grow on trees. 

Tyreke Evans (24 points, seven boards, 11 assists, one steal, one block, 8-of-10 FTs) doesn’t just have the keys to the car he has a full license to do anything that he wants right now.  Drive into a guy’s chest right after he drove into the same guy’s chest the last two times down the court?  Heck why not.  It’s actually quite amazing watching Evans put his head down and do a pirouetting triple-Lutz while defenders swing down at the ball like he’s a running back with no intention of shooting a pull-up jumpshot.  The degree of difficulty on these shots is somewhere between ‘how the hell did he do that’ and ‘why the hell did he do that,’ and the offshoot of two and three defenders loading up because Evans is thinking shoot first, second and third is wide open assists.  Teammates typically stand around and watch the crossovers and inside-out dribbles wondering which one is their cue to go rebound, so this isn’t exactly winning basketball, but it’s going to be a difference-maker for Evans’ patient owners down the stretch. 

Eric Gordon got loose with defense thrown out the window, scoring 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting (4-of-5 3PTs, 6-of-6 FTs) with two rebounds, six assists and two steals in 38 minutes.  His constant drip of low-end production and 58 games played three-quarters of the way through the year have netted him top 65-75 value on the season.  Alexis Ajinca (four points, seven boards, two assists, 16 minutes) had his second straight stinker with five fouls against Pau Gasol in 16 minutes.  At least the per-minute numbers were sort-of there, but the fouling issues aren’t going anywhere and the mini-breakout it looked like he was angling towards is now heading the opposite direction.  He’s still only for the center-desperate to deal with. 

TROPIC BLUNDER

The Lakers have gone full D’Antoni and you know what they say – you never go full D’Antoni.  Perhaps the most impressive thing with the full D’Antoni is how good Pau Gasol (29 points, 10-of-15 FGs, 12 boards, four assists, one block, 32 minutes) has looked while doing it.  Make no mistake, I feel for the guy running up and down the floor with all these young kids as he knows they have no intention of playing defense anytime soon.  But as he’s running pointlessly in many situations, the big man has looked incredibly spry and he’s collecting all sorts of garbage underneath the hoop.  These glorified pickup games have managed to tap into everything that he does well without really relying on him as a focal point.  I think he realizes that it’s pointless to care about the wins and losses right now, at least to the extent of complaining about the small lineups, and it will probably work out better for everybody involved if that remains the same – fantasy owners included.  A happy and healthy Pau could coast to a top-25 pace the rest of the way, even though the threat of a shutdown necessarily lingers in owners’ minds. 

Wesley Johnson struggled for the first time in a while with Anthony Davis’ size (shocker), so he had just seven points on 2-of-5 shooting (including a three) with three rebounds and one steal in 29 foul-plagued minutes.  Ryan Kelly played well in his 19 minutes, scoring four points on 2-of-2 shooting with two rebounds, one steal and two blocks, but (Mike) D’Antoni really likes Johnson at the four by most reports and owners should still hold on tightly.  Kelly is still a no-go but don’t sleep on him if the minutes start coming his way in the fantasy friendly offense. 

Jordan Farmar (20 points, 7-of-12 FGs, two threes, one rebound, eight assist, one steal, 26 minutes) took a step forward in his position battle with Kendall Marshall (22 minutes, zero points, one rebound, 10 assists, one steal).  Farmar started the second half and looks like he’ll be the starter going forward, but D’Antoni is still giving them both minutes out of one point guard bucket.  Reporters said after the game that the move would allow D’Antoni to rest Farmar for crunch time play by using him out of the starter’s slot, but I think at a minimum it gives D’Antoni the vehicle to change the minute distributions heavily into Farmar’s favor.  I’m not saying that’s what happens because all evidence has pointed to a mostly even timeshare, but Farmar’s play certainly justifies a minute-jump over Marshall, who has struggled mightily on defense even by his own low standards. 

Farmar’s value is pretty inflated right now due to some massive games, with mid-round value over the last two weeks buoyed by 2.8 triples, 5.4 assists and 46.7 percent field goal shooting in just 24 minutes per game.  The threes and shooting numbers are unsustainable and he profiles as a late-round value if he’s getting those minutes, and a 3-point shooting regression is coming at some point.  But still, as a guy with a late-round floor and healthy upside he’s a must-own and must-start player until further notice. Marshall can be dropped in 12-14 team formats and his value as an injury stash gets worse with each healthy outing out of Farmar. 

Kent Bazemore continues to blaze things and had 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting with four threes, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block last night.  His role on this team is unquestioned right now as a guy that can get his own shot and his athleticism stands out.  The only thing that can slow him down right now is the Lakers’ two upcoming weeks with just five games total.  If you took a flier on MarShon Brooks in a deep league for the current five-game week he came up empty again, scoring four points on 2-of-4 shooting with one rebound and one assist while looking lost for 16 minutes. 

BIG WEDNESDAY

IND @ CHA:  It probably doesn’t pay to be Charlotte facing a Pacers squad coming off a loss, even on the SEGABABA for Indy, and the games are getting mighty important in the Leastern Conference.  The Bobcats are tied with Atlanta for the last two playoff spots with Detroit, Cleveland and New York (LOL) ranging from 3.0-5.5 games out.  Al Jefferson has been rolling but I’d fade him in daily leagues against the Pacers defense, and conversely Kemba Walker could be an interesting play there depending on his price.  He’s due for a bounce-back game and if the Pacers are weak it’s with George Hill coming off a shoulder injury.  Gerald Henderson (calf) is questionable and Gary Neal would also be worth a daily, deep league look if Hendo doesn’t go. 


HOU @ ORL:  The Rockets will be poised for a letdown as they fly to Orlando after their big win, but that doesn’t mean that owners should use guys any differently than they normally would.  Jameer Nelson (calf) is without an update heading into the morning while Arron Afflalo (ankle) will play, so there will be some give and take there getting Afflalo reacclimated after Tobias Harris and others have taken on a larger role.  With Nelson struggling and staring down a matchup with Beverley he is a strong bench candidate, and as a low-upside shutdown candidate aggressive owners easily have the green light to move along. 


UTA @ WAS:  Gordon Hayward’s shooting regression is coming and it’ll be a nice early round burst when it happens.  Derrick Favors disappeared in Monday’s blowout loss but there hasn’t been any news to suggest his hip is acting up, though it’s certainly something to watch for.  Enes Kanter went big on Monday but he needs big minutes that aren’t guaranteed to float late-round value because of his lack of steals and blocks.  Marvin Williams’ pulse has almost died out but he has clung to late round value all year.  Trey Burke picked up the pace two weeks ago but has slowed down this past week, so a solid outing would go a long way toward assuaging owners’ fears that he won’t be of use this year. 

The Wizards are an open book in fantasy leagues right now but Martell Webster’s back is acting up and Kevin Seraphin’s knee isn’t cooperating.  This puts some deep league attention on Trevor Booker and even deeper league attention on Otto Porter, but neither guy is breaking down any doors. 


GSW @ BOS:  Owners of Andrew Bogut will want to see if he gets held out of the SEGABABA, and Andre Iguodala’s will want to see if anything comes of the dislocated finger.  Avery Bradley will get an MRI today and that doesn’t sound like a guy that’s returning soon despite reports that it’s “feeling better.”  Along with Gerald Wallace’s season-ending knee injury that has thrust Jerryd Bayless into a nice opportunity and he should be owned in most formats.  Kelly Olynyk (toe) practiced yesterday and he’ll be questionable for tonight, and his return would start to clutter the frontcourt once again.  Brandon Bass has been the only guy to hold any standard league value over the last two weeks, and along with Jared Sullinger he’s the only standard league play tonight.  Olynyk was making a small amount of noise before he got hurt, but it would be much too optimistic to count on him if he gets onto the court.  Kris Humphries did nothing with his opportunity and he’s waiver wire material in 12-16 team leagues.


MEM @ BKY:  The Grizzlies will be in a tough fight to get a ticket to the dance so expect them to give everything they have every night.  James Johnson (ankle) returned to practice and after a false start on his status in the last game he’ll get a chance to prove he isn’t ‘soft’ with a return tonight.  He actually has 14-team value over his last five games despite playing just 15.7 minutes per contest in that span.  I’ve been patient with him and held where I can – dropped in others – and his bottom line is that it’s not his play holding him back.  It’s the unwavering allegiance to Tayshaun Prince and surely Johnson is doing something else to aggravate the situation that we’re not privy too, because this seems like an open-shut case of a guy that should be playing more minutes.  What’s odd about it is that nobody in Memphis seems to say otherwise, coaches included. 

The Nets are the Nets and owners should know what they’re getting by now.  Kevin Garnett is a game-time decision and the only remotely interesting fantasy situation is Marcus Thornton, who could theoretically bring a needed scoring element to the equation – but the Nets already have a slow, pound-the-air out of the ball guy in Paul Pierce that isn’t going anywhere. 


CHI @ DET:  I’ve been talking about the potential for D.J. Augustin to show at least some of the form that made him one of the better waiver wire pickups of the midseason, and DJA got going in his last game, but times are a changin’ in Chicago.  Joakim Noah is running a ton of the offense as a point-center and that has taken touches away from Kirk Hinrich and Augustin.  It’s happened long enough now that it can be considered a trend, but there’s still a chance the trend normalizes if Augustin can get hot again.  DJA has recouped late-round value over the last two weeks while hitting just 37 percent of his shots, so there is some upside there but the book is far from written on that.  Mike Dunleavy is hot and his role doesn’t figure to change, and it’s also worth noting that he’s doing very well physically these days. 

The most interesting thing happening for Detroit is the Kyle Singler Experience, which is a mid-to-late round value with good consistency these days.  Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum are fighting to hang onto low-end value in 14-team leagues.   


SAC @ MIL:  The Kings’ Big Three looks a bit tired to me, especially Isaiah Thomas.  It hasn’t hurt his fantasy game but being asked to do so much he’s making mistakes he normally doesn’t make lately.  If it continues against Milwaukee I’ll pay more attention to his gas tank but that’s about it.  Ben McLemore is about to get jumped in the rotation by Ray McCallum if he’s not careful, and while McCallum has improved folks may want to take some of the local hype with a little bit of salt.  He’s been exposed more than not against better competition but he plays the game the right way and that goes a long way with folks in Sacto.  I’ve stopped talking about his expanded role over the last week or so, as he needs to re-tool his dribbling so he can get better shots.  He’s not a bust by any means but he’s lost and has a ways to go in a low-upside fantasy situation to begin with. 

I don’t know that the needle can be moved with any one Bucks performance, but Ersan Ilyasova has done enough to be owned in most if not all formats after holding sustainable value for the past month or so.  They have five games next week so preemptive adds should all be on the table for owners looking to plug gaps, while youngsters Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have done enough to be owned in that order.  John Henson is probably playing through an injury right now given his terrible numbers.  I’m still holding the upside guy until the situation clarifies itself at least through this week.  Ramon Sessions has put up usable numbers lately and another good game will put him on the standard league radar for the desperate.  Zaza Pachulia went big the last time out and another good outing there will make the upcoming five-game week look a lot better after weeks of terrible production. 


NYK @ MIN:  The Knicks are actually giving up next year’s No. 5 pick to the Nuggets if the season ended yesterday.  Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith are the only safe bets there and one has to wonder when the whole thing tips over.  Playoff hopes are fading. Andrea Bargnani (elbow) had a chance at returning within two weeks of the All Star break in a trade deadline Berman of the Post special probably designed to posture with other teams.  He’s the only interesting chess piece that isn’t on the table there, as long as folks are okay with me relating anything in New York to the game of kings.  The Wolves have Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back and they’re at full strength for the most part. 


DAL @ DEN:  The only mystery going on for Dallas is whether or not Vince Carter will cool off and if so, will Shawn Marion ever get his groove back.  Brandan Wright has put up some interesting lines lately but the overall inconsistency keeps him from being anything but a speculative add in 14-16 team leagues.  That’s probably still true if he does well tonight in a non-breakout performance.  The Nuggets are a mess but they got Ty Lawson back and that should help the whole group. 


ATL @ POR:  Jeff Teague got the kick in the pants he needed with Paul Millsap out and the team desperately needing him to be aggressive.  Millsap’s status has been very murky and I mentioned last week that he could bank nine days off by missing just three games heading into this week.  Hopefully that’s the only thing going on, but without a clear timetable heading into today he’s firmly questionable for tonight.  Either way, Teague needs to carry that aggression over to give owners some dap after an underwhelming year so far. 

Pero Antic did not play on Sunday for precautionary reasons, but it’s somewhat revealing for a team needing all the wins they can get right now.  He’s an interesting pickup for the chance he regains some of his prior form on a team with little to no depth, though Elton Brand is having himself a senior moment in a good way lately.  There’s enough room for the both of them even when Millsap returns, since they're not durable enough to max out their minutes anyway.  Lou Williams has played like a low-end guy in 12-team leagues for the past two weeks, and now the next step is to see if he can keep it up when Millsap returns.  He has regained a small amount of explosion lately. 

The Blazers have been sending Nicolas Batum to the glass lately and one has to wonder if that’s because LaMarcus Aldridge’s groin is still an issue.  Observers have said that Aldridge hasn’t looked right and the recent rebounding numbers have shown exactly that.  If he doesn’t mop up a thin Hawks team then it’ll confirm that he’s not yet at 100 percent.  Durability is his chief concern as mentioned a million times around here. 

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