Fridays are always busy in the NBA and April 4 is no exception, as every team but the Clippers and Spurs will be active. Injuries continue to change the fantasy landscape on a daily basis, so I'll lead off today's Dose with a comprehensive injury report detailing relevant players for each team, before discussing last night's two games and some other random topics.
Nene (MCL) has been working out and traveling with the team, and he could return as soon as Wednesday's game vs. Charlotte. His return makes Trevor Booker's hold on the starting PF job more tenuous than ever, but it's hard to rely on Nene since he'll be playing limited minutes in the Wizards' five remaining regular season games.
Kyle Lowry's bruised kneecap forced him to sit out Wednesday's win over the Rockets, and it's unclear if he'll suit up vs. the Pacers on Friday. My guess is that he will, since he almost played on Wednesday and Raptors coach Dwane Casey has said repeatedly that he plans to play Lowry if he's healthy (as opposed to resting him as a precaution).
Amir Johnson (sore right ankle) is also questionable vs. Indiana, and this is an injury which has bothered him since at least late January. Jonas Valanciunas seemed to be favoring his back during Wednesday's game but he kept playing and should be considered probable. Patrick Patterson played 26 minutes vs. the Rockets, in his second game back after three weeks on the shelf, but he's only worth a look in most leagues if Amir and/or Jonas are ruled out.
Jamal Crawford (strained left calf and Achilles) and Danny Granger (strained left hamstring) may be out until the playoffs begin in about two weeks. "I don’t think they’re healthy," said Rivers. "If they’re healthy, they’ll play. I don’t know if they will be ... Danny most likely won’t play until the playoffs. Jamal, it’s starting to turn that way." Darren Collison should continue to play a big role as a starter, and he poured in another 22 points on Thursday with two 3-pointers, two rebounds, three steals and only one turnover.
Raymond Felton (ribs, shoulder) intends to play on Friday after taking a hard fall in Wednesday's win vs. the Nets. In case you missed it, New York has surged past the free-falling Hawks to take the East's eighth playoff spot. And if you're curious, neither Kenyon Martin (ankle) nor Andrea Bargnani (elbow) have a timetable to return.
Anthony Davis remains questionable for Friday's game due to back spasms. Eric Gordon (knee tendinitis) is also questionable but it seems more likely that the Pelicans will rest him to avoid aggravating anything at the end of a lottery-bound season -- Gordon is owed more than $30 million over the next two seasons, and he's only 25 years old, so New Orleans may still be able to wring some production out of his bloated deal.
Nikola Pekovic (ankle bursitis) is iffy to play on Friday. The Wolves and coach Rick Adelman seem content to play him as many minutes as he can tolerate, but Pek has twice abandoned his attempts to return and it feels like he could be shut down at any moment with the playoffs out of reach. Ricky Rubio is also on the injury report after twisting his ankle on Wednesday, and Dante Cunningham's status is somewhat uncertain after his recent arrest on charges of domestic assault.
Avery Bradley (Achilles tendinitis) is iffy to play on Friday. The injury doesn't sound very serious but he's been plagued by ankle/Achilles issues for a while now, and he stands out as a potential shut-down candidate. It will be interesting to see how much attention Bradley draws in free agency this summer -- his lock-down defensive abilities may have been over-estimated and he's not a reliable playmaker, but he's still averaging a career-best 14.2 points and 3.7 rebounds this season, while shooting 36.7 percent from downtown.
Andrei Kirilenko (ankle) will play on Friday and Kevin Garnett (back) is out Friday but could return to action on Saturday. As heartening as their return is for the Nets, it has a very limited impact in fantasy leagues, where owners can anticipate a dip in minutes for Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche.
Josh McRoberts is doubtful for Friday's game due to his ankle injury, which is particularly unfortunate since he had been on a roll prior to hurting himself in Monday's win vs. the Wizards. McBob has been a top-80 fantasy option in nine-cat leagues this season, on a per-game basis, even though he's averaging a mere 8.6 points per game. That's the power of versatility (1.3 threes, 4.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks). UPDATE: McRoberts will not play on Friday but he's aiming to practice on Monday.
Luol Deng (back) is fully expected to play on Friday, but Anderson Varejao is iffier to return from his sprained shoulder. Anyone who owns Spencer Hawes is probably hoping that Varejao plays it safe and takes another night off. Kyrie Irving had no setbacks during his return to action on Wednesday, and he should be in all active lineups -- his return did nothing to derail Dion Waiters, who scored 26 minutes at SG, but Jarrett Jack dropped down to 30 minutes of action in a bench role.
Wilson Chandler (groin) is still questionable for Friday's game, but he too is a shut-down candidate. The Nuggets have already lost Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee for the season, but amazingly their 33-42 record would put them slightly ahead of New York as a playoff team in the East.
According to a blurb posted on RW this morning, "Andre Iguodala (knee) is expected to play in Friday's game against the Kings, but Andrew Bogut (groin) and David Lee (hamstring) are questionable." Jermaine O'Neal started at C but played four minutes in the Warriors' previous game, while Marreese Speights stepped up with 22 points and nine boards off the bench. I'd avoid both of them and lean toward Draymond Green as a fantasy owner, since Green's versatility gives him a more reliable role for the Warriors.
Dwight Howard (ankle) sounds doubtful to play on Friday while Terrence Jones (illness) is questionable but will likely be able to suit up.
The Lakers are "leaning toward" shutting down Pau Gasol due to his recurrent vertigo, which makes all the sense in the world. Chris Kaman (strained calf) is questionable, which leaves Jordan Hill as a tantalizing fantasy option and gives Robert Sacre a modicum of upside. Steve Nash (nerves) is perpetually day-to-day, Jordan Farmar (groin) could return next week, and Xavier Henry (knee) has joined Kobe Bryant (knee) in the shut-down club.
Dwyane Wade (Achilles) and Ray Allen (illness) practiced fully on Thursday and both should play vs. the Wolves, though owners can never be too safe with Wade. LeBron James (back) is also expected to play, and he even went on record as saying that he doesn't plan to sit out any more regular season games. UPDATE: Ray Allen is a game-time decision but Dwyane Wade is doubtful.
O.J. Mayo's ankle has him as questionable for Friday's game, but just do yourself a favor and ignore him. I almost skipped him in this injury report out of spite.
Byron Mullens (ankle) could return Friday, Arnett Moultrie is still serving his five-game suspension for thrice violating the league's marijuana policy, and Nerlens Noel still is not expected to debut until Summer League.
Isaiah Thomas' bruised quad continues to bother him and he's iffy to play on Friday, considering he didn't seem close on Wednesday and said he was having trouble bending his leg. It's unfortunate to see him limping toward the end of such a great season, worthy of Most Improved Player consideration, but fantasy owners shouldn't forget what he's capable of on draft day next year.
Follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW for injury updates, breaking news and other random NBA info.
Spurs at Thunder
The Spurs' winning streak was halted at 19 games by the Thunder, who are now a perfect 4-0 against San Antonio this regular season. The Spurs' offense wobbled and collapsed in the face of aggressive defense from the Thunder, as Tim Duncan scored 17 points on 5-of-15 FGs and 7-of-8 FTs, Tony Parker had six points on 3-of-10 FGs, and Tiago Splitter was held to just two points in 19 minutes.
They committed as many turnovers as assists (18 each) and the loss came despite Gregg Popovich surprisingly playing all of his healthy players other than Manu Ginobili. They were led in scoring by Patty Mills (21 points, five 3-pointers) who played 24 minutes and provided a late spark while reaching double-figures for the fifth consecutive game. The Spurs will look to recover vs. the Grizzlies on Sunday, and it bodes well for fantasy owners that they don't have any back-to-back sets remaining in the regular season.
Kevin Durant struggled out of the gates, with credit due to Kawhi Leonard's defense, but he found his groove in the second half and finished with 28 points on 11-of-26 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and one block. OKC's appreciative home crowd cheered loudly as he sank the 25th point at the free throw line late in the fourth quarter, though their "MVP" chant was surprisingly mild given that Durant is an actual front-runner for the award. He has now scored at least 25 points in 39 straight games, a streak surpassed only by Michael Jordan (40), Oscar Robertson (46) and the inimitable Wilt Chamberlain (80).
Russell Westbrook was no less impressive. He scored 27 points in 31 minutes of action, making 10-of-20 field goals and 6-of-6 free throws, including this breakaway reverse dunk that served as an exclamation point for OKC's victory. Lest anyone forget, WB will not play on Friday. That means Reggie Jackson, who had 14 points, four rebounds, four assists on Thursday, will get tons of playing time while starting at PG. He just returned from a sprained back but he looked great vs. the Spurs and is safe to plug into active lineups -- as a starter this season he's averaging 14.3 points, 1.1 triples, 3.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals.
Kendrick Perkins (groin) also returned to action, though he was far less visible with zero points, one rebound and one block in 12 minutes. The Thunder are intentionally limiting him to around 10-15 minutes and they won't play him in back-to-back sets, in the hopes that he'll be healthy enough to contribute in the postseason. One final Thunder injury update is that Thabo Sefolosha (calf) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and could be nearing a return, thus ruining whatever value Caron Butler and Andre Roberson might have in his absence.
Mavericks at Clippers
Blake Griffin was a riddle the Mavs' defense couldn't solve. When they threw double-teams at him, as they often did, he took his time to hit a cutting teammate in stride, or kick it out to whichever teammate could make the best swing pass to an open shooter in the corner. When left on an island on the left wing, Griffin simply powered past his defender for an easy bucket and/or foul. And the scorekeepers might as well have credited the Clippers with two points whenever Blake got the ball in transition. He's shooting 38 percent from mid-range this season and his opponents must rejoice every time he settles for a 20-footer.
Blake returned from lower back spasms caused by a pre-existing hip injury on Wednesday and the back-to-back set may have taken a toll. He went down awkwardly on a non-contact play, rolling his ankle in the process, but it's plausible that his back seized up and caused him to fall in the first place. So if you're keeping track, this could be a minor ankle injury caused by back spasms caused by a hip injury. Blake has missed one game all season and he said after the game that he's fine and unconcerned about the injuries, so owners can keep him locked into all active lineups. It helps that the Clippers will be "visiting" the Lakers, saving Blake the rigors of travel while presenting a dream matchup against the Clips' decimated cross-town rival.
Despite Griffin's play, the Mavericks won behind a typically efficient game from Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a team-high 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting with four 3-pointers. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, stole the ball twice and blocked one shot, as his dream season continues for fantasy owners. Samuel Dalembert also returned to a prominent role, notching 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks in just under 30 minutes, which reduced Brandan Wright to just 16 minutes of action.
NBA teams are rolling out promotional campaigns for players, a gimmicky PR move which has become the norm in recent years.
The Bobcats are convinced that Al Jefferson deserves All-NBA status. They do a nice job of fleshing out the conceit, turning a potentially one-dimensional pun (Big Al dominates the paint, so he has his own brand of paint) into a fully-realized website with sections such as:
Customer Reviews: "Al's pump fakes ... are maybe the best in the league. They're ridiculous. He’s still got that herky-jerky, unbelievably tough game to guard. He gets people off their feet constantly" - Gregg Popovich
Painting Tips: "[Ranks 1st] in field goal percentage (50.0%) among NBA players who've attempted 100 or more shots in the paint (5-9 feet)"
Shades of Big Al: "Pump Fake Blue - Unstoppable Orange - Points in the Paint Gray"
The Rockets created a line of men's grooming products called "Groomed for Greatness" to promote James Harden for both First Team All-NBA and the MVP award. The kid includes a tin of 'beard balm', a bottle of 'beard serum', a comb, and a box espousing Harden's greatness. The kit has an admirably authentic design and color scheme, with a logo of a bespectacled Harden looking cooly into the distance. He's not in the conversation for league MVP but I'm having a hard time arguing the portion of the promo which reads, "Houston’s hirsute hero has [established] himself as the best two-guard in the NBA."
The Rockets also put together a briefcase with a jersey and a mock-up of a newspaper declaring Dwight Howard the league's MVP and the "World's Best Center in 2014." The fact that they'd lobby for two MVPs on the same team is disingenuous to the extreme, and this is more about getting some PR than anything. The whole campaign feels rightfully half-hearted.
The Mavericks handed out T-shirts reading "VInce Carter for VI" to promote Vince Carter as Sixth-Man of the Year. That lazy slogan aspiring to be a bad pun was accompanied by an equally slapdash video of nothing but statistics and play-by-play calls of random plays involving Carter, as a camera slowly moves toward him while he...dribbles alone at mid-court in a darkened arena. If nothing else, the campaign convinced me that Mark Cuban hasn't been an angel investor for any videographers or graphic designers in his role as a "Shark Tank" impresario. While we're on the topic, I was no more impressed by the Mavs' recruitment video for Dwight Howard this summer, which pitched Dwight as Superman in comic-book form but had all the dynamic action and visual spectacle of a Ken Burns' documentary.
Vince Carter's numbers themselves, however, are pretty compelling. Among the league's bench players, here is where Vince ranks in a few key categories:
Minutes Played: 2nd
Field Goals Made: 4th
I think Taj Gibson should win the award by merit, and Jamal Crawford, Reggie Jackson Markieff Morris are also contenders. Yet for sheer delight in what Vince Carter has done at this stage in his career (he's 37 years old), and on the heels of an equally impressive 2012-13 season, I hope to see VC take home the prize.
Rest assured that more award-related PR campaigns will surface in the coming weeks. There will be themed iPads, viral campaigns, billboards and a few flash mobs. If any of it sways you toward one player or another, such as Anthony Davis for Most Improved Player, just remember: unless you're among a select few sportswriters and broadcasters, you can't vote.