Playoff stakes are only getting higher for leagues that wrap up in the next three weeks, and though the injury list is certainly stocked right now it doesn’t feel like we’ve been inundated with shutdowns just yet. Kyle Korver, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Pau Gasol, Ersan Ilyasova, Eric Gordon, Jameer Nelson, and Isaiah Thomas are all in danger of missing anywhere from a game or two to the rest of the year. The Spurs and Heat could rest their guys at a moment’s notice. I’d like to say the silly season will dodge the next three weeks, but I wonder if this is the year that the tanking (aka strategic rebuilding) puts a dent in playoff formats.
But we’re going to pretend I never said that and get to the business at hand. There was plenty to talk about with the four games on the slate last night, and we step into a pivotal 10-game night on Big Wednesday that will shape the course of your week.
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NO YOU CAN HAVE IT. NO *YOU* CAN HAVE IT
The Raptors let up last night against a Cavs team that did everything in their power to gift wrap the game late, but they certainly didn’t deserve to win with their own bumbling play at the end of the game. It’s hard to get on their case too much with Amir Johnson (12 points, nine boards, one steal, two blocks) playing through knee and ankle ailments, Kyle Lowry (22 points, five boards, 10 assists, three steals, three treys) playing through an illness, and Patrick Patterson (elbow) still out.
DeMar DeRozan looked more like last year’s bricklayer than I’ve seen in a while, hitting just 5-of-16 shots and 3-of-7 free throws to finish with 13 points, three rebounds, eight assists and a steal. He’s in the midst of a 41.6 percent shooting clip in March, with December being the only other month this year that he has dipped below 43.8 percent. He’ll be fine and though the slog of April isn’t usually the time for weary legs to perform at their best, there’s a decent chance he’ll go on a bounce-back hot streak.
Jonas Valanciunas (four points, three rebounds, 18 minutes) has been left behind this year – whether that’s an indictment of him or Dwane Casey remains to be seen – but in the meantime Toronto needs to find a way to get him playing better on both sides of the ball when teams with center depth come knocking in the playoffs. Terrence Ross hit four treys for 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with not much else, and he’s been just about as M.I.A. as JV recently so unless you’re desperate for threes the play is to watch.
Patterson was cleared for contact practices and he’s much more valuable to the Raptors than he is in fantasy leagues, particularly because he’ll be welcomed with open arms to spell the beat-up Johnson. Both profile as low-end 12-14 team guys whenever Patterson returns. Greivis Vasquez was called upon to pick up the slack and responded with 16 points, four threes, four rebounds and four assists, but hit just 4-of-13 shots including a few missed threes late and an embarrassing drive to the hoop on the game’s final play.
You gotta love the character that Vasquez is, as he laid on the court for a healthy three seconds to lament the carnage of his turnover and then grabbed at his ankle before semi-hobbling off the floor. As entertaining an interview as anyone in the league, he took responsibility for the turnover after the game but it looked a lot like when somebody trips over a crack in the sidewalk and stumbles into a fake jog. As the Raps get back to full strength his role will be scaled back down to the late-round level it has been over the past month. That said, he’s hot right now and returning mid-round value over the past week so give him a look – presuming the sniper that got his ankle isn’t in the arena for tonight’s game against the Celtics.
The Cavs couldn’t inbound the ball last night – an ongoing problem for them this year – and it almost cost them a win as they bogged down in the final quarter before the Raps imploded on their own. Still, it’s promising that Jarrett Jack (13 points, five boards, five assists, two steals, one block) and Dion Waiters (24 points, 10-of-19 FGs, one three, three rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks) are moving the ball as well as they are, begging the question of whether or not Waiters has been the wrong guy in the crosshairs this year. Speaking of the annual late-season invisible man, Kyrie Irving (biceps), he was able to take some shots in yesterday’s practice but his season is still in doubt according to Mike Brown.
For all the talk of Jack’s knee impacting his play, he looks fine now that he’s on the ball. That development should have been understood before the Cavs signed him to a sizable deal to do the exact opposite of that next to Irving. The Cavs are 4.5 games out of eighth place in the East with 10 games to play, and my guess is that they need to extend their current two-game winning streak to about six games for Irving to have a shot to come back, but that’s just a guess.
Spencer Hawes (11 points, seven boards, three steals) has been persona non grata in fourth quarters lately, as he has hit just 7-of-29 shots from deep over his last seven games and showed a noticeable lack of zeal when on the floor in the other three quarters. Maybe he ran out of Obama toilet paper or maybe he is just packing it in, but the Cavs have been going small late in games and that has made Hawes a tough start lately. With three games per week over the last two fantasy playoff weeks owners may want to find contingency plans.
Aside from throwing the ball away on the Cavs’ last inbound play, Anderson Varejao scored 11 points with eight boards, two assists and a steal in his 23 minutes, but he’s still a risky play at best and better suited for deeper leagues for now. I knew there was a reason I was stubbornly making excuses for Luol Deng, who has also enjoyed life without Irving. He scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shots (including two threes) with six rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block in 40 minutes. Deng has been a top 15-30 value over the last five games and though his ankle/Achilles is an issue, I can’t imagine not rolling with him unless Irving somehow returns. Just keep an eye on that injury report.
Tristan Thompson went for 15 and 13 with a block and also hit 9-of-10 free throws. That pushed him into the bottom of the top-200 for a two-week sample, and needless to say the fantasy deficient big man would only be worth a look if you’re hunting points and boards. Even then he’s a nightly gamble.
Portlandia is panic-central right now and all eyes are on the potential return of LaMarcus Aldridge (back) on Thursday after last night’s loss to the tanking Magic. He worked out yesterday and interrupted his workout to grab some food in the media room, which is a good sign since he’s back in the public view after a week of Belichickian injury reporting.
The panic is well-founded, however, as Aldridge is the key to everything the Blazers do and incidentally, the most recent example of what overreliance on any one player can do to a team.
The intrigue here is whether or not the top 25-30 fantasy play this season is going to return too early with the Blazers suddenly on the ropes. They’re 2.5 games ahead of ninth place Phoenix in the West, with three teams currently in between them and that will give them some much-needed cushion. However, the last time that Aldridge returned from his groin injury he hit just 40 percent of his shots from the field over seven games and the offense stalled as it struggled to revert back to featuring the big man.
Aldridge insists that this time is different because unlike the last return, he isn’t going from the couch to the court, but durability has always been his undoing in fantasy leagues. He needs every ounce of his physicality to keep defenders from pushing him into an even higher degree of difficulty on his turnaround jumper, and shooting from where he does he's prone to big dips in productivity when he falls out of rhythm. Factor in season-long efficiency numbers that have always been candidates for regression -- with a big increase in FGAs over last season and no corresponding decrease in percentage – the challenge he faces in fantasy leagues during this return is sizable.
If Aldridge falters the Blazers will follow suit, but if everything clicks both he and the Blazers will be as dangerous as any. Unfortunately, betting on a guy with a history of hip and mid-body injuries isn’t comfortable, and two three-game weeks to finish out the fantasy playoffs isn’t helping matters.
Dorell Wright (eight points, eight boards, 3-of-11 FGs, two threes, 26 minutes) will return to the bench but I’m not so sure that his minutes will be impacted all that much since he’s only playing 22.2 mpg over his last four contests anyway. The Blazers seem to like his ability to stretch the floor and Thomas Robinson (two points, five boards, 16 minutes) still isn’t ready to give consistent minutes for a contender. What it all means is that if you plugged in Wright for the five-game week there’s a chance he can eke together enough value to justify your play, but he certainly isn’t winning any matchups for you as he missed the window of opportunity as of late.
Mo Williams tweaked his knee and finished with just three points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three while hitting just 1-of-6 shots in 20 minutes. Part of the Blazers’ struggles have been due to using him a little bit too much and without any real strategy for the second unit. Of course a player like Aldridge can swing a coach's fortunes, but for all the glowing things myself and others have said this year Terry Stotts has had a tough month or so. Stotts’ uneven response to the Aldridge situation, along with a handful of minor complaints, hav knocked him a half-step back in Coach of the Year talk, also known as the most unbearable topic amongst awards voters on the Internet today.
Robin Lopez has been the team’s rock through all of the tumult, and last night he put up 20 and 13 with two blocks to continue his top 30-45 season. Assuming the Blazers’ roster doesn’t undergo a significant change, I can’t imagine drafting his twin brother ahead of him next season. Nicolas Batum (six points, 3-of-9 FGs, nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block, six turnovers), Damian Lillard (17 points, two assists, 5-of-17 FGs) and Wesley Matthews (18 points, 5-of-13 FGs, four threes, three assists) are enjoying the extra touches but they could probably use their big man back simply to reset their waning confidence.
POOF. WE WON A GAME.
The Magic have been a consistent fantasy squad this season for the most part and that will help herd owners through the final slog of three-game weeks. Tobias Harris has been a revelation over the last month despite a rocky week or so, and last night he added another 25-point, 11-rebound game including two threes and a block to the game log. He has been a top 45-65 value in that span while hitting 49.4 percent from the field and 88.7 percent from the line on 3.8 attempts per game. If he keeps up his current level of production he has an outside shot of living up to his mid-to-late round draft day ADP despite missing 21 games this season.
Nikola Vucevic has dealt with a bit of inconsistency for various reasons lately, but none serious enough to keep him from putting up the 22-point, 10-rebound double-double last night. He added two steals and a block and should be locked into lineups until further notice. Kyle O’Quinn managed just six points and six rebounds in his 23 minutes last night, but the steal and block kept it copacetic as he battles to maintain late-round value with the schedule working against him.
The knee injury for Jameer Nelson and potential for shutdown has been talked about a lot in this space, but he said that an MRI checked out okay and that he’s trying to return soon. We’ll see. Victor Oladipo continues to start at the point and last night he had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting (no threes) with five rebounds, six assists and three steals, while Arron Afflalo was a cut or two below that with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, three rebounds, five assists and zero threes attempted on the night. Afflalo has flashed some signs that he might return to form but the last two weeks he has been borderline unplayable for those not loading up on points, threes and free throw percentage. He can’t be considered a must-start player with those types of metrics at the bottom of the top-150 over that span.
Maurice Harkless logged just 25 minutes and finished with five points, five rebounds, two assists, one three and three steals. There is some late-season breakout potential if the Magic choose to let him and some of the other young guys loose, but for now he profiles as just a low-end value in 12-14 team leagues to go with the aforementioned bad schedule.
ALL EYES ON OKC
There’s not much to say about the Thunder that hasn’t already been said. The defensive fundamentals betrayed them once again last night, rotations were openly mocked by beat writers, and the team still couldn’t run plays with any degree of dictation in last night’s loss to the Mavs.
Russell Westbrook’s minute limit is also under scrutiny, as Scott Brooks and Westbrook have flip-flopped about it since his most recent return, and last night the end result was Westbrook getting yanked to start overtime before coming in once the game was getting away from OKC. Derek Fisher played 27 minutes and hit a pair of big threes that had to feel like poison for fans praying that the decorated veteran isn’t a featured player for Brooks when the games count.
If there was any silver lining for the Thunder faithful it’s that Reggie Jackson (11 points, five boards, eight assists, one steal, 41 minutes) has suddenly morphed from confused and pressing to measured and pass-happy. His defensive shortcomings have been constantly pointed out by Brooks and to that end they get more scrutiny than the team’s failed defensive concepts, including going under screens that freed up the Mavs for 15-of-38 makes from deep, and dive-bombing on anything that goes in the lane without care for the result (see KD on Dirk’s late three).
Jackson still felt the ire of beat writers’ disdain for his defense at times, but he has kicked his offensive game into a different gear and whether it was on his own or a result of his benching – he has embraced a different role as distributor. Westbrook’s injured knee has opened the door for a reexamination of Jackson’s game by the powers that be, and whether or not that happens he is doing his part to make the case for a big role during the postseason.
Still, we can be all but assured that when Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins return that his minutes (and probably his confidence) will be cut. Will Jackson be able to persevere and pick back up in the playoffs after being cooled? Who knows, but his recent play projects a whole lot better than it did 2-4 weeks ago when he was desperately trying to make his mark in 20-24 mpg.
Kevin Durant is terrifying in the sense that even when he scores 43 points on 15-of-27 shooting with five threes, five boards, six assists, one steal and a perfect eight foul shots – it still feels like he could be doing more. Virtually everything he gets he earns on his own, with little to no help getting easy shots in the flow of an offensive system. Yes, he makes everything look easy and gets plenty of looks, but imagine what he would look like if the Thunder weren’t freelancing half the time.
Westbrook scored 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting with seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals, two threes and a whopping eight turnovers in his 33 minutes. It was one of those games that simultaneously had the lovers and haters both screaming at the top of their lungs. Serge Ibaka dealt with foul trouble and had just 10 points, five rebounds and one block, and surely he sees Dirk Nowitzki in his nightmares. If you played Fisher in a wack fantasy league he did not let you down, with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and three treys but zeroes across the board in 27 minutes. Any way you slice that it’s impressive.
SOME THINGS GET BETTER WITH AGE
For a guy that crumbled to my Warriors (in perhaps my greatest moment as a fan), Dirk Nowitzki has turned around the narrative as much as any guy this side of LeBron. His game is so effortless and graceful that it feels like he could play another five years and still put fear into opposing coaches in a seven-game series. He scored 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting (2-of-8 3PTs, 8-of-8 FTs) with 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals and one block, with the 32-10-6-4 part of that line being a first in his career. His ballad of 100 fakes on Kevin Durant late was filthy and probably responsible for hundreds of Thunder panic tweets after the game. With the Mavs embroiled in a tight playoff race, owners are in the best position imaginable for a player with his mileage.
Jose Calderon got off the schneid with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting (including six threes), four rebounds and eight assists after getting cracked in the face. With just 0.4 turnovers per game over the last seven contests he’s rocking top-35 in 9-cat leagues (the other white meat). Monta Ellis couldn’t find the range with 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, but three rebounds, five assists and four steals kept things on the level for his recent mid-round value. Shawn Marion was mediocre but steady with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, six rebounds, one steal and one three over 41 minutes, and in fairness he had to chase Durant around all night.
Vince Carter scored 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting with four threes, five boards, two steals and a block, and he doesn’t get nearly enough love around these parts for a guy bringing back top 65-85 value over the last two months. Devin Harris fell off with five points and two rebounds in 18 minutes. Those are the breaks with him and he’s just a deep league gamble on any given night. Samuel Dalembert turned in a workmanlike 10 and seven with one steal and one block in 21 minutes, and he could do this five times in a row and he’d still be a desperation play for owners needing a big man. There’s probably a better chance that he sleeps through a practice than keeping it up for the rest of the year.
THESE ARE THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Maybe it’s metaphoric that two teams from the tabloid capitols of America played a basketball game against the backdrop of a soap opera last night. The story certainly wasn’t on the court where the Knicks, fighting for their playoff lives, let the god awful Lakers score 51 points on them in a quarter. Phil Jackson was chillin in the luxury suite with Metta World Peace, both making their presences known in their patented ways, and the Knicks moved into that space known as ‘not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention’ with the loss. They’re three games behind Atlanta for the No. 8 spot with 11 games to play.
It sure made sense that the Knicks would play inspired ball with news of Jackson’s arrival drawing all eyeballs to New York, and it’s equally sensible that the team would soon begin to drift upon the realization that most of them will actually have the door hit them in the ass on the way out of the building.
Carmelo Anthony was a constant with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting and a normal stat line, Amare Stoudemire scored 16 points with a block and just two rebounds on the night, and Tyson Chandler scored 12 points with five boards, one steal and one block. Stoudemire is doing well to score for a team that badly needs it, and with 55 percent shooting from the field and 86 percent shooting from the line over the last two weeks he’s posting late-round value despite just 5.6 boards per game and practically nothing else.
Raymond Felton (six points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals, 20 minutes) has been a low-end guy in 12-14 team leagues over the past two weeks, but one has to wonder when he’ll pack it in with all the problems he’s having in general. If the Knicks had anybody else to throw out there they’d do it. Tim Hardaway Jr. hit 5-of-7 shots for 17 points, two threes, three assists and a steal. That’s about as good as it gets for the streaky rookie.
SWAGGY DOES IT AGAIN
Yes, the Lakers scorched the Knicks and that alone is worth something considering they had the representation of all that has gone awry for the franchise sitting in a luxury box. But between the unearthing of comments made by Kobe about Shaq (he was lazy), complaints flying back and forth between Chris Kaman and Mike D’Antoni, and suddenly hot Nick Young doing swaggy things like celebrating 3-pointers that don’t even go through the hoop – it felt more like fodder for punditry than a 31-point win. Jackson and Jeanne Buss stole the show with their first public foray since Phil joined the Knicks, and a picture of the couple cozying up in Staples flew around the Internet. Sure, there was a game, but even in a massive blowout win the Lakers’ problems still lorded over the proceedings.
It sort of made you wonder which franchise has the bigger problems, the one that just rolled over in magnificent fashion or the victors that did nothing but lose ground in the lottery.
Kaman’s start went as planned as he hit 5-of-10 shots for 13 points, nine boards, three assists and a block, but it’s anybody’s guess what happens to him after throwing D’Antoni under the bus. Pau Gasol is dealing with vertigo and knowing him it’s probably a real condition, but being skeptical about an early shutdown at this point is only normal.
It’s otherwise hard to read into a game of this nature but there were some good signs for guys like Ryan Kelly, who put up nine points, four boards, a career-high eight assists, two steals and three treys in 34 minutes, and Kendall Marshall (seven points, two boards, nine assists, one three) got back to dishing the ball despite logging just 23 minutes.
There are a few things happening for the Lakers right now that I didn’t see coming, including Xavier Henry’s deployment at point guard in lieu of playing Marshall 30-plus minutes and also Young’s burst onto the scene following knee injury. Henry hit 8-of-11 shots (3-of-4 3PTs, 3-of-5 FTs) with three rebounds, zero assists, two steals and one block, and the solid night brings him up to late-round value over the last three games. With fantasy deficiencies everywhere you look he has to go big like this regularly to carry any real value. Needless to say it’s hard to call him anything but a desperation option for owners in 12-14 team leagues.
Young’s situation is interesting in that he banged his knee and will see how it feels today, but came out of the chute firing away and last night he had 20 points, five treys and four boards in just 19 minutes to go with that hilarious celebration. I didn’t really believe that he could both get on the floor and wiggle his way to the top of the food chain but that was exactly what happened prior to the chance he experience some sort of setback. That’s been the primary concern with his knee – that he’s returning too early in order to enhance his potential free agency. He said he thinks the knee is okay according to beat writer Eric Pincus, and owners will probably want to slot him in for similar run and production unless bad news hits the wire.
From there it becomes a mix of good and bad with Kent Bazemore scoring 18 points with two threes, two boards, five assists and a steal over 33 minutes to help keep owners happy, and guys like Jordan Hill (nine points, five boards, 14 foul-plagued minutes) and Wesley Johnson (two points, two boards, 15 minutes) building on owners’ fears that they can’t hack it down the stretch. Young’s return has wiped out any value for Johnson and also made Bazemore a late-round guy with plenty of risk, while Kelly and his big upside are also tied to D’Antoni’s whims. If I had to rank them I’d go Young, Kelly, and Bazemore. Hill is simply a gambler's play unless Gasol gets ruled out for the year somehow, and even then it's hard to say what he'll do night to night.
Steve Nash (old) may play in one of the next two games, but most certainly not both.
To quote the great Marty Huggins, it’s a mess.
BKY @ CHA: It sure seems like the Nets are finding their way without high profile acquisitions Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, and at this point one has to wonder if they’re both better off submitting to bit roles as the team enters a house money situation in the playoffs. Nobody expects the team to do anything, so if they can make it past the first round perhaps they will be issued a strange sort of pass with what is an obviously flawed roster. It’s strange to write that knowing that I was as high on them as anybody entering the year, but Garnett’s decline might have tapped into the team’s biggest Achilles’ heel, which was what to do when Brook Lopez went down. Andray Blatche is much better in fantasy hoops than he is in reality, and unlike earlier in the season the former isn’t good enough to crack the top-200 lately. Deron Williams should be able to have his way with Kemba Walker because he’s an awkward size-speed combo when playing at relative full strength, and Joe Johnson could struggle against some of the athletic wings of the Bobcats. Mason Plumlee has been just a deep league guy but also a guy that has flirted with consistent value. He and the other bigs will have their hands full with Al Jefferson. Tonight isn’t the night to bet on them.
The Nets have multiple bodies to throw at Jefferson should they choose to give him several different, albeit overmatched looks. Advantage – Big Al. The Bobcats are riding him hard right now and he’s starting to show cracks at 2.7 turnovers per game over the last seven contests, but the only real fear for owners is that he’ll slow down before the finish line. Gerald Henderson has been playing over his head lately and is a guy owners will want to be patient with if he starts to fade since he’s looking at a four-gamer next week.
PHO @ WAS: Can Eric Bledsoe put the Suns over the top when it comes to the playoff chase? He certainly looks the part right now. The Western Conference playoff chase has seen the low No. 7-9 teams make up serious ground on the fledgling Blazers and Warriors at No. 5 and 6, and the whole group is separated by just 2.5 games. The Suns have a real shot if they can get just a little bit more out of Miles Plumlee down low, and they need Gerald Green to play his way into a 25-30 minute role. Unfortunately that’s going to be easier said than done because he’ll need to both expand his game and get on a roll shooting the ball. He’s going to be a late-round value with a hint of upside in that scenario, but if they can keep trotting out two tornados in Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to go with a solid scoring sixth man, a Swiss Army big man in Markieff Morris and the lockdown defense of P.J. Tucker -- they’ll catch the team that catches the 'cold' at the wrong time.
Nene (knee) is walking around without crutches but he’s still targeting an early-April return, so that means it’s going to be the Drew Gooden show for a little while longer. If all goes well Gooden will hold his current value through next week's four-game slate. Trevor Ariza popped up in injury reports with tendinitis in his right Achilles’, and the numbers have certainly traveled south of his usual early-round returns. So we’ll be watching that and also to see if Bradley Beal can snap out of his shooting funk. The problems with Beal's fantasy value are mediocre defensive stats combined with high volume shooting slumps from both the field and line. He needs to average better than a 20-5-5 to be immune to the swings for lineup purposes, and right now he’s a tough guy to trust averaging just 18-3-3 while in a shooting slump over the last seven games.
TOR @ BOS: Of course we’ll watch out for Greivis Vasquez’s ankle injury and Amir Johnson should probably be on the injury report on a day-to-day basis, though his reputation as a warrior is skyrocketing. Patrick Patterson seems doubtful to play since he hasn’t gotten a chance to practice yet. They’ll travel to Boston for the SEGABABA and the Rajon Rondo-led Celtics that is also the first game of a home-and-home series. Rondo gets two games unfettered by back-to-backs, but then on another home-and-home series this Sunday and Monday against the Bulls he’ll sit for one game. I’m guessing that would be the Sunday one to give him the most rest possible on both sides of his absence. Avery Bradley has wasted no time asserting himself in fantasy leagues and with a four-gamer next week I can’t imagine him being unowned in standard formats. You’re using the big men crew at your own risk in Boston, but by the numbers the ranking has been bunched up in the top 150-200 range, starting with Kris Humphries on the high-end followed by Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.
CLE @ DET: The Cavs have to feel like they’re playing with house money just a bit after last night’s stinker win, and the good news is that the Pistons are imploding with the best of them at 2-8 over their last 10 games. You don’t know what you’re going to get with Brandon Jennings but the standard field goal percentage alert is in effect, as he could easily shoot you out of a matchup but still has the potential for big numbers on any given night. The same could be said for Josh Smith but his situation has been much more dire, with averages of just 11.8 points, 0.8 treys, 6.8 boards, and 1.8 combined steals and blocks to offset a 15.4 percent mark from the foul line and 38.2 percent mark from the field over the last four games. Those numbers aren’t just falling out of the top-200, they’re falling out of the top-300.
ATL @ MIN: Kyle Korver’s back spasms couldn’t be coming at a worse time and the crazy thing is that the Knicks, Cavs and Pistons are so bad that the Hawks have to be thinking they can play it somewhat safe and still retain the No. 8 seed. Then again, they could also be tanking to get into the lottery. Jeff Teague’s aggressiveness has carried over from when Paul Millsap was out, and he gets a tasty matchup against Ricky Rubio the Penetrable, and the rest of his teammates aren’t all that interested in defense right now, either. The Wolves look like they’ve booked vacations, perhaps some with designs on calling those places home. Start a guy like DeMarre Carroll with confidence and Pero Antic profiles well against a center like Gorgui Dieng, who is playing like he’s not going to let the Wolves bring Nikola Pekovic back for meaningless games on a bad ankle. As well as he is playing, Dieng might have a hard time tracking Antic as he drifts to the 3-point line. Corey Brewer had a decent outing the last time out and with the Wolves’ solid slate of four-game weeks he might have some sleeper appeal if he can back it up.
LAC @ NO: When will the Clips get J.J. Redick and his noodle leg back on the court? The Pelicans are a good spot to try and ease him in but we’ll know more as the day goes on about that. Matt Barnes has been good lately on the whole but he sputtered in his last game and could really use a solid outing here to build up goodwill for the upcoming four-game week. Beyond that the Clips wrap things up with a two-gamer and owners should keep that in mind considering Redick as an add. I crack up seeing the deluge of ‘Tyreke Evans is rolling’ tweets and stories as if we haven’t seen this story a million times. A bad team has gaping holes on the roster, Evans is more than willing to put his head down and charge the hoop, and then the numbers follow. Eric Gordon has exceeded expectations by staying healthy this season but he has to be considered a shutdown candidate given the team’s record and his history. There are no winners in this fantasy equation, however, only losers. Good luck with anybody not named Evans or Nebraska aka Anthony Davis aka No Ceiling.
MIA @ IND: Oh boy this is a big one for the Pacers. The Heat will probably care less about this game by the time next week starts, but they certainly know that they could send a jolt through the Pacers’ locker room by stepping on their throat. Dwyane Wade is game-to-game for the rest of the year and is expected to play tonight, but owners will unfortunately need to be glued to the updates. Roy Hibbert needs a slumpbuster in a big way and the Pacers need to get right quickly. I’m not a huge advocate of overvaluing what happens in March and April because as we’ve seen teams refocus and get their second winds in the postseason, where the cream naturally rises to the top. But if Hibbert can’t make a two-way impact and return to elite levels on defense, and the backcourt can’t figure out a way to collectively return Paul George to MVP-level status – then I reserve the right to change my pick up to the time the playoff starts. They have 11 games to right the ship and I want to see a few more before I hit that panic button. If guys like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen have been overlooked in your league they’re certainly worth owning amidst the Heat’s string of four-game weeks.
DEN @ SA: Wilson Chandler is dealing with yet another mid-body injury and it’s anybody’s guess whether or not he’s going to fight to return to the Nuggets’ mess of a season. Ty Lawson is rolling for the most part and Randy Foye will probably limp to the finish while putting up must-start numbers. The season-ender to J.J. Hickson will make Timofey Mozgov worth a look for low-end production, and Darrell Arthur is also worth a 12-14 team look as a spot-play if you’re in a pinch. Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker are all expected to play tonight, which means that Manu Ginobili is a good candidate for rest, though anybody could go swim with the fishes at any time if Pop orders a hit.
MEM @ UTA: Mike Conley tweaked his ankle on Monday and Memphis can be a hard market to get injury updates out of. They’re in the heat of the playoff race so it bodes well for his chances of playing, but if there is any problem beyond the “75 percent” level he pegged it at before the aggravation then the Grizzlies do have a capable backup in Nick Calathes. The needle doesn’t move on either guy unless there is bad news on Conley, though, and to date we haven’t heard any. Marc Gasol is also playing through an ankle injury and his knee will linger in the back of our minds, but he should be in most lineups as a mid-round value lately despite his struggles. The Jazz get awfully easy to defend without Alec Burks (ankle) logging 30 minutes per night, which isn’t as much a testament to Burks’ game as it is a ding against the team as a whole. Outside of Gordon Hayward, who will shoot a lot the rest of the way, the team can only get mediocre offense from the young trio of Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. From there you have old war horses in Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams hoisting up threes. Hayward is a few tweaks away from returning high-end value, Favors is a mid-round guy at best, Burke is a late-round play, Kanter is a dice-roll to return late-round value, and the old guys are desperation plays for points and threes with Jefferson giving owners the best chance.
NYK @ SAC: Though the Knicks imploded last night they’re still only three games out of the eight slot and a trip to Sacramento with Isaiah Thomas probably on the shelf is a favorable matchup to say the least. The Hawks could easily continue to lose and the Knicks could get within striking distance with a win, so theoretically this would profile as a game in which they try to take out a pound of flesh. You can almost predict the columns coming out of Sacramento tomorrow. Ray McCallum will start for Thomas and if he doesn’t fall flat on his face, makes a few nifty passes and/or the team wins, expect a full-blown assault out of the local newspapers regarding the sudden burst of pass-first basketball, the lack of it prior to that, the sudden influx of defense and indirect blame for all the Kings’ problems being laid at Thomas’ feet. It’s the strangest thing I’ve seen in terms of coverage in 10 years or so of doing this, and even stranger are the whispers among those around the team that he won’t be with the Kings next year. Get lined up folks, maybe the Pizza Guy can deliver in your home town.
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