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Matt Stroup breaks down some recent NBA trends, talking Monta Ellis, Derrick Rose, Al Horford and more …

It was a quiet night in the association with just four games on the slate, but as usual owners have 11 games to look forward to on Wednesday night.  With just 3.5 weeks left of meaningful games in playoff leagues, we’re officially in crunch time and it’s time to walk hard. 

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KNIGHTS OF THE MAGIC CHESS BOARD

I begrudgingly benched Moe Harkless during the Magic’s three-game slate this week and he started in on making me regret it, scoring 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting (including a three) with eight rebounds, four steals and one block in 31 minutes.  Tobias Harris struggled with just six points on 3-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and I’m thinking we’ll see oscillating performances out of these guys going forward.  The good news is that both are trending upward and the Magic have two four-game weeks coming up. 

Jameer Nelson struggled on a night in which the Magic got blown out by 22 points, scoring eight points on 2-of-13 shooting with one assist, as did Arron Afflalo with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting and an otherwise normal looking line.  Andrew Nicholson returned from a bout with the flu and scored eight points with two rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes of garbage time, and owners of Harris and Harkless have to hope that distribution keeps up. 

PSYCHOSIS

I’ve seen differing reports on Danny Granger’s status, one from the Indy Star that said he is uncertain to play again this season and another from NBA.com that says Frank Vogel hopes to use him next week.  The first report is basically what we’re all thinking and the second one is the hopeful coach, and though coach might have more insight I think owners should still be in read-and-react mode.  The Pacers have just one more four-game week next week and from there it’s a pair of three-gamers. 

David West (back) did not play last night and was reportedly having trouble walking, so he’ll need all of the Pacers’ two off-days before Friday’s game to get back on track.  Tyler Hansbrough started in his place and scored 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting with 14 rebounds, a steal and a block in 27 minutes, and left for precautionary reasons due to an abdominal cramp in the blowout win.  With West having problems, he’s worth a short-term look for owners in a pinch but that’s about it. 

Gerald Green trolled me and anybody else that bought into him earlier in the year with another fine outing, scoring 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting (including three treys) with eight rebounds and two assists but no steals or blocks in his 20 minutes off the bench.  He was a DNP-CD in the five games before Monday’s 20-point, four 3-pointer outing so he needs to do this again before I go there in normal formats.  Roy Hibbert got into some early foul trouble and finished with nine points, five rebounds and a block in 24 minutes, and Lance Stephenson couldn’t take advantage of West’s absence with just four points on 1-of-5 shooting, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 26 minutes. 

PORTLANDIA

It’s not surprising to see some inconsistency out of the Blazers in such a condensed schedule.  Damian Lillard couldn’t back up his big Monday, as he scored just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting with six turnovers but he did have 11 assists.  On the other side of the scale, Wes Matthews (28 points, seven treys) and J.J. Hickson (eight points, 11 boards) bounced back from slow nights on Monday.  Nicolas Batum hit 6-of-12 shots (including three treys) for 15 points, three boards, four assists and two steals, so hopefully the shooting wrist has chilled out for him. 

The biggest fantasy story on that side of the box was news of LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points, 15 rebounds, 43 minutes) playing through a sore left knee, and aside from his effectiveness it seems unlikely that he would pick Thursday’s national TV game, though we’ll be monitoring the injury closely.  If you took the plunge on Eric Maynor you were throwing things at the TV, as he managed just one rebound to go with three missed shots in nine minutes. 

BUCKS BREAKING DOWN

The timing couldn’t be worse for Ersan Ilyasova’s (back) owners, who were finally getting into a groove before he saved a ball over the weekend that would eventually cost him last night’s game and probably tonight’s game.  Samuel Dalembert got the start in his place and responded with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, seven boards and no steals or blocks in just 20 minutes.  It’s possible he got the start to match up alongside Larry Sanders with LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson, but it’s also a good bet that he sees his 20 minutes or so at any rate if Ilyasova can’t go tonight.  From there, his value will be tethered to Ilyasova’s health and that makes him a spot-add with some short-term upside. 

Monta Ellis (21 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals, three blocks, two threes) continued to be a monster but he was holding his left (non-shooting) wrist throughout the end of the game.  With nowhere to go but the No. 8 seed in the East, some time off could be in order.  That means J.J. Redick (14 points, two threes, three assists) could be worth a look as a speculative add.  It’s also potential good news for Brandon Jennings (24 points, four treys, four rebounds, seven assists), who has been running hot and cold lately. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDRE

Wilson Chandler scorched the nets with 35 points on Monday, and promptly left last night’s game with what could be a separated shoulder and the end of his season.  The Nuggets don’t tend to have a sole beneficiary when somebody goes down, but Corey Brewer (11 points, four steals, not much else) and Andre Miller could see a boost that makes them standard league assets.  That is especially true with Miller, who went off on his 37th birthday with 20 points, seven boards, nine assists, a steal and an 8-of-9 mark from the line.  Just keep in mind that after this week the Nuggets close the year out with a trio of three-game weeks. 

Kosta Koufos made it a two-game slide with just six points, seven boards and no steals or blocks in only 16 minutes.  He gets two games to make it up to owners this week, but it’s hard to see him returning anything better than a ‘push.’  Ty Lawson (25 points) and Andre Iguodala (10 points, 5-of-14 FGs) continued their see-saw act, while Danilo Gallinari turned up the volume but forgot about the efficiency with 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting, two treys, eight boards, three assists, three steals and one block.  Kenneth Faried bounced back from an awful Monday with 13 points, 15 boards, and three blocks.   

THUNDER WITH NO LIGHTNING

The Thunder have had problems with the Nuggets this year and dropped to 1-3 against them with last night’s loss.  Kevin Durant scored 34 points on 10-of-23 shooting but missed all six of his 3-point attempts, and besides the six turnovers he looked damn fine to me with seven boards, five assists, one steal and two blocks.  Russell Westbrook had the same problems from distance with no makes and four misses, but also did the job with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting, four rebounds, six assists and a steal. 

Serge Ibaka was knocked out of the game with yet another shot to the head/face, finishing with six points, two rebounds, one steal and three blocks in 24 minutes of action.  It was reported that he could have come back to the game and he did leave the court under his own power, but it’s a bit worrisome that he couldn’t return to a relatively close game.  He’s definitely questionable for tonight against the Grizzlies until we hear otherwise. 

RUNNING INTO A BUZZ-SAW

Chris Paul has struggled at times against Isaiah Thomas and the Kings, and with Toney Douglas also providing some pesky defense that was the case last night.  Paul hit just 2-of-10 shots (0-of-3 3PTs, 7-of-10 FTs) for 11 points and had seven turnovers, but still managed seven rebounds, 15 assists and four steals in 44 minutes.  The Clippers totally overlooked the Kings, who got back DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans and played inspired basketball in front of a raucous home crowd. 

Jamal Crawford got loose last night for 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting with five treys, three assists, two steals and a perfect 6-of-6 from the line.  Eric Bledsoe (calf) did not play but Vinny Del Negro said that he hopes to get him back this weekend, and that sort of talk was likely spurred on by Chauncey Billups’ groin injury.  Billups is questionable for tonight and logged just seven minutes last night, as he trends toward non-factor when it comes to stealing minutes from the wing rotation. 

Blake Griffin posted a super-sleek 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting (4-of-4 FTs) with four rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block.  He’ll be an interesting play in fantasy leagues next season following a season of posting third round value.  With 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, and an improved 65.7 percent mark from the line, the question will be whether he regresses to the mean or keeps taking steps forward.  Matt Barnes played through a tweaked ankle, finishing with 11 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal, three blocks and a trey in 32 minutes.  The Clippers have one more four-game slate next week, and I can’t imagine letting Barnes go unowned for that. 

TIME TO POKE ISAIAH WITH A STICK

The Kings surprised the Clippers in stirring fashion last night.  As I mentioned before, the Kings are going to be a bit of a social experiment as the season closes out.  Their home crowd is fighting for their NBA lives, and bringing as much passion to the table as they ever have, which is saying something for a group widely known to be among the best fans in the association. The team itself is a threat to go in the tank on any night, but they shouldn’t be counted out against anybody at Sleep Train given their history of playing well during big home games.  And every game is a big home game right now in Sacramento, where they are moving mountains to keep their team and look like the favorites to do so, if you trust the national media following the story with any accuracy

Tyreke Evans played through a foot injury and finished with 17 points, 4-of-13 FGs, no threes, 9-of-10 freebies, four rebounds, five assists and two steals.  If he ever learned how to play the game, he has the athleticism and interior finishing skills to be a beast, which has been the book on him ever since the team gave him an ultra green light as a rookie.  DeMarcus Cousins returned from his (cough) thigh injury and played well, scoring 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting with 11 rebounds and two steals.  It looked like he was getting a technical foul in the second half last night but it was actually assessed to Matt Barnes, which caused almost as much consternation as his smack talk to Kings play-by-play man Grant Napear, who has pretty much ripped Cousins a new one every day for the past month or so on the radio.  It’s never a dull ride, Boogie. 

My inbox started filling up when Keith Smart randomly benched Isaiah Thomas (seven points, 3-of-5 FGs, one three, three assists, two steals, 22 minutes) for Toney Douglas in the second and fourth quarters.  I’ll be the first to say that I like what both Douglas and Patrick Patterson have done coming into Sacramento, and I can’t help but think that both of them walked into the locker room and thought they had an immediate edge in terms of past coaching and preparation.  Douglas started barking orders immediately and watching both of them run to the right places on the floor without trouble is just sort of funny.  They don’t have the baggage of a year under Smart, or the baggage developed after a year of fighting for touches on a roster with no guiding principle on offense.  But back to Isaiah, the arrival of Douglas has given Smart another player to poke at him with, and when he got hot in the fourth quarter last night it probably bought Smart the rest of the season to do that with. 

Douglas scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting with two rebounds, seven assists and one steal, but it was his three 3-pointers including a desperation heave from about 40-feet that brought the crowd to their feet.  Smart has praised him for his defense, which is a different, more in-your-face style on the ball than Thomas, who regularly shuts down penetration by simply staying back and not allowing his man to go by him for most of the game.  I wouldn’t go dropping IT anytime soon, but if you’re trying to make sense of anything Smart is saying or doing that’s what’s going on.  As for Douglas, he’ll struggle to be productive and there is practically no chance that he moves into starter’s minutes over Thomas, which means Smart will surprise us and do it right away.  Kidding.  I think. 

Patterson has a unique role with the team and Smart finally admitted that he was brought on to help with Cousins, at least to some degree.  He is possibly the most reliable frontcourt player in Sacramento right now from a basketball perspective, but I wouldn’t jump too far out of my seat after last night’s position battle win against Jason Thompson.  Thompson (two points, two boards, 15 minutes) left the game after taking a shot above his eye that required five stitches, and it sounds like he could have returned but Smart went with Patterson, who finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, one trey, five boards and no steals or blocks in his 26 minutes.  It is timeshare city for these two guys and a situation worth avoiding in 12-14 team formats. 

Marcus Thornton is one of those guys that can go into the zone when the home crowd is behind him (or anytime, for that matter), and he posted a cool 25 points with six treys, four rebounds, four assists and one steal in 30 minutes.  The good news is that if Douglas and Patterson do play more, they add an element of ball movement that along with Thomas will help a guy like Thornton to get looks. 

NEWS AND NOTES

Pau Gasol (foot) had an ultrasound yesterday and since there was no news following it we all have to reserve judgment until today’s update.  There were reports of him getting 16-20 minutes with Dwight Howard when he returns so I’m thinking he hasn’t hit a roadblock.  He’ll be looking at 30 mpg when he returns and that’s enough to deliver mid-to-late round value with some upside. Kobe Bryant (ankle) will reportedly return sooner rather than later, and Friday seems to be within reach.

Richard Hamilton (back) could miss the rest of the season, which isn’t exactly surprising.  Hold onto Marco Belinelli until further notice.  Taj Gibson (knee) is eyeing a return Thursday but needs an absence in front of him to have any real value.  Kirk Hinrich (foot) is talking about a return on Thursday or Saturday, but I’ll believe it when I see it, though Nate Robinson’s owners will want to watch the situation closely.  I’d also consider not panicking until we see that Hinrich can stay on the floor, and all of this comes back to when Derrick Rose (knee) may or may not return. 

Ricky Rubio (groin) reported yesterday that he was fine and that he’ll be good to go for Thursday’s game against the Kings.  Brandon Knight (ankle) sounds like he may have jumped the gun on reports that he’s ready to go, but there is some time between now and Friday’s game.  Don’t go dropping Rodney Stuckey just yet in daily leagues.  In weekly leagues, the Pistons’ schedule goes 3-4-2 following this week. 

Andre Drummond (back) will be evaluated prior to Friday’s game and it sounds like the Pistons are going to give him decent minutes right away, but I’d guess they still ease him in to some degree.  If he can get ready for the Pistons’ four-game week I’d call that a win for owners and I stashed him in one league right away.  Still, I wouldn’t call this a must-stash situation given the chance for rust, bad free throw shooting, and a still spotty timeline. 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

TOR @ CHA:  We’ll get to see if the Raptors go away from the all-wing attack featuring Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, and a loss in Charlotte if the lopsided distribution continues might cause a shakeup.  Jonas Valanciunas is the guy owners are hoping to squeeze some juice out of, and Kyle Lowry would also benefit if things change in Toronto.  Ramon Sessions (knee) is at the end of the second week of his 2-4 week timetable to return, and Gerald Henderson has been enjoying every minute of his absence.  Byron Mullens jumped back on the radar on Monday, but Josh McRoberts played well and still deserves to be in lineups.  Mullens will be worth a speculative add if he does well tonight, but owners will still want to tread lightly.  Both the Raptors and Bobcats are looking at a 3-4-3 schedule after this week.


MIA @ CLE:  Get your programs out, because the Cavs are pretty much down to a skeleton roster following Dion Waiters’ knee injury.  He will miss at least one week after an MRI revealed a small, loose cartilage particle floating around.  Waiters will miss a week and see how he feels, and then contemplate surgery at that time.  With nothing to play for except ping pong balls, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this could be heading.  Wayne Ellington and C.J. Miles will probably both hold standard-league value for their 3-point shooting, and while it’s a crapshoot if I had to pick one right now I’d go with Miles over Ellington.  The Cavs also end the ‘meaningful’ year with two four-game weeks.  You’d have to be punting threes to not add either player in a 12-team format. 

Kyrie Irving is reportedly “doing well” in his rehab and there is no timetable for his return, and beat writer Sam Amico said there is a “10 percent” chance he returns this season.  Teams will often float optimistic results around this time to keep ticket sales going strong, so I’ll go with the beat writer’s opinion here and I let him go in the one league I had him. 

The Heat are looking to win their 24th straight game in LeBron’s return to Cleveland.  Look for Dan Gilbert to put together a nice pregame spread for his drastically overmatched squad. 


ORL @ NYK:  Carmelo Anthony (knee) said he is feeling better after getting his knee drained and is targeting a return to action tonight.  Tyson Chandler (neck) is expected to miss about a week and it’s said that his injury could resolve itself at any time.  That would make it seem like the injury could also ‘not resolve’ itself, but owners should probably use the one-week timetable as a loose guideline until the next report.  Kenyon Martin remains a low-end desperation play at center.  Jason Kidd (wrist) says he will play tonight and is worth a look for his unique blend of stats and the Knicks’ trio of four-game weeks yet to come.  Kurt Thomas (foot) gave everything he had on Monday and might miss the rest of the season. 


MIL @ ATL:  Jeff Teague’s ankle is still worth watching though it looks like he turned a corner on Monday.  It could be tough sledding inside against Larry Sanders and Co.  Devin Harris is worth watching with two four-game weeks on the slate after this week. 


UTA @ HOU:  Oh Utah.  Al Jefferson has a tough matchup with Omer Asik and that threatens to throw the Jazz offense out of whack if Ty Corbin doesn’t recognize it, which is usually the case.  Otherwise, a wide-open game plays to the strengths of Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward, and the latter has been a must-start player recently.  Williams needs to get his shot straight before he’s a lock in active lineups.  This is a team that is not happy with their coach and fighting for their playoff lives in a big game for both bubble squads.  Chandler Parsons has been cold lately and is ready to bust out any moment now.  The Rockets need to run to offset the Jazz’s lumbering lineup. 


BKY @ DAL:  Deron Williams might have gotten the proverbial wakeup call as he’s showing flashes of his old form.  The Mavs really need this game if they are to entertain any playoff hopes, but they’ll have a hard time containing Williams with Darren Collison and Mike James.  If the Mavs were clever they’d stick rookie Jae Crowder on him a little bit and play Vince Carter heavy minutes to offset the Nets’ size.  Shawn Marion (calf) is out indefinitely and both Crowder and Carter are getting a boost, but Carter is the only standard league play between the two. 


BOS @ NO:  Kevin Garnett (flu, adductor) traveled with the team and that’s a pretty good sign that he’ll go.  In Monday’s absence Doc Rivers said the flu was a bigger factor than the shoulder/adductor injury.  If he does play then Jeff Green will likely move back to his healthy bench role, and he’s a must-start player following Monday’s explosion.  Eric Gordon (knee) should return tonight and is worth a start in daily leagues. 


OKC @ MEM:  Two of the league’s most consistent fantasy squads face up, and the biggest question entering tonight is whether or not Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins will knock the crap out of each other. 


GSW @ SA:  Tony Parker (ankle) returned to a full practice yesterday, but has been ruled out for tonight’s game and will look at Friday’s game for a return.  You can bet the house on the fact the Warriors have had this game circled on the schedule.  They have lost 28 straight games in San Antonio, and though Stephen Curry said Monday’s win over a decimated Hornets team was validating, this is a better measure of their immediate future.  The Spurs haven’t been playing very consistently, but Pop shouldn’t have any problem selling how hard the Warriors will come at them.  Tim Duncan has the potential to give stiff-legged Andrew Bogut problems away from the hoop, and the Spurs have the wing defenders to give Curry and Klay Thompson fits.  Tiago Splitter profiles as a guy that could put a hurting on David Lee, so give him some added consideration tonight.  


WAS @ PHO:  Most eyes will be on Bradley Beal to see how he progresses with his ankle injury.  He has played about 20 mpg coming off the bench and a game against the Suns is a tasty matchup, but he’s nowhere near must-start status until he proves he can log minutes.  Trevor Ariza is another guy to tread lightly with due to his knee issue and the general unease of Beal’s return.  Marcin Gortat (foot) tore off his own cast before doctors were supposed to tear it off on Monday, which is just funny, but it still seems like a long shot for him to play meaningful minutes this season.  Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the Suns, and I’ll personally be watching Jermaine O’Neal for signs of breakout potential.  So far, his return has been fairly pedestrian.  His daughter returned to school so hopefully he can rest his mind a bit after she had successful heart surgery. 


PHI @ LAC:  The Sixers will get a Clippers team that will likely be out for blood following their embarrassing loss last night.  Spencer Hawes has been on fire but he won’t have an easy go of it against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.  Evan Turner could use a big game to give some hope to owners, and the remaining 4-3-4 schedule after this week gives him a small amount of relief.  Dorell Wright has carried his own weight lately and Nick Young has been non-existent, so owners will be watching to see if that trend continues. 

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