The Wizards outlasted the Raptors in triple-overtime on Thursday, a game which eclipsed LeBron James' masked return to action, a surprisingly close contest between the Bucks and Pacers, and a blowout home loss for the Nuggets in high-altitude Denver.
Knicks at Heat
Let's start in Miami, where LeBron James sported a sleek black mask to protect his broken nose, then casually poured in 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting. His 57.9 percent FG shooting ranks fourth in the NBA behind only Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, and he's only the second non-center to be above 57.0 percent since 1996-97 (the other non-center to do so is quite shocking -- Josh Childress went 57.1 percent from the field with the Hawks in 2007-08). LeBron jokingly said that he'd contacted comic book companies to develop "the greatest mask of all time" and you could argue that he took a cue from a D.C. Comics character known, aptly enough, as Black Mask. Shane Battier, as usual, had an amusing take on the situation: "I told him I'd expect nothing less from him -- fashion-forward, cutting-edge Renaissance man that LeBron is ... Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool."
LeBron didn't need to be a lone ranger, however, as Miami rolled to an easy win thanks to strong team defense and five players in double-digit scoring, including Dwyane Wade (23 points) and Mario Chalmers (11 points). Shane Battier added eight points, two 3-pointers, five rebounds, five assists and three steals for one of his most well-rounded lines all season, and the only real 'dud' was Chris Bosh's six points, seven rebounds and one block. Chalmers rarely has big nights that send owners scrambling to the waiver wire, but he should be owned in all leagues thanks to Miami's cushy schedule down the stretch -- they're the only team with four games in each of the next six weeks.
Miami's free-wheeling victory also marked the first time since 2011 that an NBA team shot 60.2 percent or better while holding their opponent to 37.3 percent or worse. The predictable result was a 26-point loss for the Knicks, despite getting strong performances from Carmelo Anthony (29 points, three 3-pointers, seven rebounds) and Tyson Chandler (season-high 19 points, 16 rebounds). J.R. Smith added 11 points but he was the only other guy in double-digits for New York, and their bench was particularly awful -- Tim Hardaway Jr. laid the foundation for a cozy brick house with a 2-of-15 mark from the field, and as a unit the bench was just 9-of-35 (25.7 percent).
You can't discuss the woebegone Knicks without talking about Raymond Felton, who will continue to travel and play despite two pending felony weapons-possession charges. His case has been adjourned until June 2 and Felton vowed not to become a distraction for the Knicks, but that seems implausible at best in the media shark-tank of New York. His performance on Thursday doesn't give much cause for optimism -- he handed out five assists and stole the ball three times, but also shot 1-of-7 from the field to finish with two points. The Knicks play four times next week but I'm still inclined to avoid him in all 12-team formats. Ditto for Pablo Prigioni, who is averaging 25 minutes in February but hasn't scored double-digit points since mid-December (the only time he's done it this season).
Wizards at Raptors
Moving on to the triple-OT thriller in Toronto, Kyle Lowry fell one rebound shy of a triple-double with 18 points, nine boards, 10 assists, three steals and one block before fouling out after 54 minutes of action. His shot was off again (6-of-18 FGs) but the real concern for his owners is that he twisted his ankle when he landed on Marcin Gortat's foot in the fourth quarter. In typical K-Low fashion he stayed in the game for the entirety of the three OT periods, but his ankle will almost certainly worsen overnight and he should be considered questionable for Sunday's game vs. Golden State.
Terrence Ross (sprained left ankle) is also iffy for that game after leaving for good in the second quarter on Thursday. His absence left an even bigger burden for teammate DeMar DeRozan, who led all players in both scoring (34 points) and playing time (57 minutes), shooting 12-of-14 at the FT line with four rebounds, six assists and two steals. Things got even dicier for the Raptors when big men Amir Johnson (16 points, nine rebounds) and Patrick Patterson (five points) both fouled out of the game in overtime.
It was telling to see how coach Dwane Casey reacted -- initially he used Jonas Valanciunas, who had sat out the entire fourth quarter, but in the third OT period he went with Tyler Hansbrough at center. JV's fantasy owners may not want to hear this, but the move made plenty of sense. The offense tended to bog down when Valanciunas got the ball and he was hopeless against Marcin Gortat defensively.
Speaking of which, Gortat may have earned himself an endorsement deal from Pillsbury with his rolls to the hoop on Thursday. He finished with a career-high 31 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, making 12-of-23 FGs and 7-of-11 FTs before finally fouling out in triple-OT. He dominated the paint and should get tons of touches with Nene (sprained MCL) out 4-6 weeks, providing a nice boost for Gortat's owners with the fantasy playoffs on the horizon.
John Wall also had an All-Star caliber game with 31 points, three rebounds, nine assists, three steals and one block. He shot 12-of-20 from the field and was pulling up for jumpers with consistency and confidence, something you don't always see from a guy shooting 37.2 percent from mid-range on the season.
Wall, Gortat and Trevor Ariza (16 points, 10 rebounds) helped Washington overcome a 4-of-16 shooting night from Bradley Beal, and the victory leaves the Wizards just 1 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Bulls. Time will tell whether they can withstand the long-term loss of Nene, and they've been unsuccessful without him so far this season, but on Thursday they were aided by solid bench contributions from veterans Al Harrington (eight points) and Chris Singleton (13 points, nine rebounds), both of whom will assume bigger (if not fantasy-worthy) roles during the final weeks of the regular season.
Bucks at Pacers
Meanwhile, the Pacers survived vs. the Bucks in Indiana despite blowing an early double-digit lead, turning the ball over 19 times, and allowing Milwaukee to shoot 12-of-24 from downtown. Roy Hibbert led the way with 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, while Paul George and Lance Stephenson each chipped in 18 points with a pair of 3-pointers. Evan Turner went 2-of-10 from the field but still finished with eight points, six boards, three assists and one block for a reasonable fantasy outing -- he forced the issue too often during his 20 minutes on the court, but it certainly looks like Frank Vogel wants him to be aggressive the moment he comes off the bench. The biggest X-factor is Turner's playing time, as he's averaging 23.0 minutes in his first two games in Indy.
The victory didn't come without a price, unfortunately, as George Hill went down hard and is listed as day-to-day with a bruised left shoulder. If he can't play vs. Boston on Saturday, expect to see the ball in Paul George's and Lance Stephenson's hands throughout the game, with more touches also available for C.J. Watson and Evan Turner.
The Bucks lost again, dropping their record to a demoralizing 11-46, but in one sense it was an ideal outcome -- they showed tenacity in erasing an early deficit on the road, they hung with an elite team for four quarters, and their league-worst record continues to put them in the pole position for the draft lottery. Ersan Ilyasova had another brush with decency, grabbing 11 rebounds while scoring nine points on 3-of-7 shooting. Khris Middleton scored 22 points with three 3-pointers and three steals in just 26 minutes, and Brandon Knight led the Bucks with 23 points, three triples and five assists in just 29 minutes.
Those playing times are the crux of the matter for fantasy owners -- nobody played more than Knight and coach Larry Drew gave at least 17 minutes to 10 different players (Nate Wolters, who had four points and zero assists, was low man on the totem pole). The biggest flop may have been John Henson, who failed to score and had only four rebounds and one block in 22 minutes. It stands to reason that the Bucks will feed him more minutes once the finish line comes into sight, as they have incentive to develop him while resting veteran Zaza Pachulia, but reason hasn't gotten us very far when forecasting coach Drew's rotations. I really can't argue against dropping Bucks players other than Knight, Middleton and Ilyasova if you're scrapping for a spot in fantasy playoffs, but remember that the Bucks play nine games over the upcoming two weeks (five games in Week 20). It's a vicious slider from the schedule-making gods.
Nets at Nuggets
The Nets bounced back from a 44-point loss on Wednesday to hand out their own lopsided drubbing in Denver, beating the Nuggets by a final score of 112-89. The Nets led by 21 points after one quarter, holding Denver to just eight points in the period, and with the outcome foregone the rest of the game was dreadfully dull.
Paul Pierce led the balanced attack with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and one assist, and the blowout led Jason Kidd to deploy 13 players, none of whom logged more than 27 minutes. Recent arrival Marcus Thornton had a forgettable evening, scoring 10 points with zero rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes, Andray Blatche had nine points, nine boards and four steals in under 20 minutes, and Jason Collins contributed three points and his customary four fouls. The Nets are currently sixth place in the East, despite having the worst points differential (-2.4) of any projected playoff team.
The Nuggets can hardly be chastised for the ugly loss, as they only had nine healthy players and were without Ty Lawson (ribs), Wilson Chandler (sprained knee) and Darrell Arthur (strained hip). Timofey Mozgov evoked nothing but shrugs in his second consecutive start at center, posting nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes. Newly-minted backup J.J. Hickson scored 14 points with seven boards in 22 minutes and this has all the signs of a pure minute-share at center, to the detriment of both players' fantasy value.
It's unclear how much longer Lawson will be out, or how serious Chandler's knee injury is, but their absence lends distinct upside to guards Aaron Brooks and Evan Fournier. Brooks hit three 3-pointers to finish Thursday's game with 13 points, three assists and one steal, and his 36 minutes were higher than anyone but Fournier (eight points, five assists, four turnovers in 44 minutes). The Nuggets play four games in each of the next three weeks, so keep a close eye on Rotoworld's injury report for updates.
News and Notes
On the buyout front...Caron Butler officially signed with the Thunder on Friday, Danny Granger is expected to sign with the Clippers, and Jimmer Fredette is nearing a deal with the Bulls. Ben Gordon has also been mentioned as a buyout candidate, with teams like the Clippers and Rockets possibly vying for him if he clears waivers. All four guys can give you a handful of points and 3-pointers, and the perimeter-starved Bulls are a particularly nice landing spot for Fredette, but I'm avoiding them all in standard leagues.
DeMarcus Cousins' not-so-sly punch to Patrick Beverley earned him a one-game suspension, which he'll serve Friday vs. the Lakers. Carl Landry is expected to start in his place, but Landry isn't a great fantasy option -- Jason Thompson is a somewhat safer option, while extra minutes will also filter down to Reggie Evans and possibly Aaron Gray. The ever-unpredictable Cousins may have lashed out at Beverley because of an incident in January, when he hurt his ankle after having his shot rejected by Beverley.
On the Lakers' side of the ledger, Nick Young (knee) is questionable to face the Kings, Xavier Henry (knee) is also questionable after playing a D-League rehab assignment on Thursday, and Steve Nash (nerves) is out.
I've updated my schedule grid so that it reflects only the remaining seven weeks of the regular season. If you haven't read Steve Alexander's "Schedule Breakdown" column in the Season Pass, it's not too late. At the very least it's required reading for owners in head-to-head leagues.
Anthony Davis (sprained left shoulder) is questionable to play on Friday. I noted in Thursday's blurb that Davis missed time with a sprained left shoulder last March, and it wouldn't be surprising to see New Orleans play it safe by resting him for at least one game. We should know more after shootaround. For owners clamoring for updates on Jrue Holiday (stress fracture), I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. He's not practicing and the Pelicans have given no indication of when he might return.
For the Cavaliers, Dion Waiters (knee) and Anderson Varejao (back) are questionable to face the Jazz, although both guys have resumed on-court activities in recent days. C.J. Miles (ankle) is closer to doubtful.
Goran Dragic (ankle) hopes to play after missing one game, and coach Jeff Hornacek almost said outright that his star PG will be active. "He comes back pretty fast. Obviously, with a great training staff, Goran is a tough kid so he’ll play," Hornacek said. "It probably won’t be 100 percent but he'll still play." Owners can expect to have the Dragon active, but it's always wise to double-check his status before tip-off. Elsewhere in the Suns' roster, Slava Kravtsov (ankle) and Leandro Barbosa (toe) are both iffy to return to action, and although Eric Bledsoe (knee) has no clear return date he's been practicing without any setbacks. A return in the next week or so seems very plausible.
To end on a high note, Gregg Popovich said that Tony Parker (general soreness) will return to action "Sunday at the latest," which leaves open the possibility that he'll play Friday vs. the visiting Bobcats. Just be aware that the Spurs play back-to-back sets on March 11/12 and March 21/22, prime opportunities for precautionary DNPs for the usual suspects Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.