Covering fantasy hoops at this time of year is a lot like diving into a dumpster to find a cigarette butt.
And with that let’s dive right in!
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TANK TOP THIS
The Warriors nearly screwed up their own tank job last night against the Hornets, but for all the things I’ve criticized Monty Williams for – the man does not tank with in-game decisions. Williams kept all his key guys in while the Warriors benched theirs, and the Hornets came back to win the game. The cost to New Orleans? The third-worst record in the league. Now they’re tied with the Kings and Cavs at 21 wins for the No. 4-6 slots in the draft as of tonight. The Warriors still need to lose in the finale to complete their epic tank job, as a loss would put them in a tie for the seventh-worst record and a win would give them the eighth-worst record.
As it would go, one of the selling points of the Monta Ellis/Andrew Bogut deal was the organizationally-embraced tank job to keep their first round draft pick this summer. If they land a top-7 pick, they keep it. If not, the Jazz get the pick that one day many moons ago was a glimmer in Marcus Williams' eyes. The Warriors' odds of staying in the top-7 if they lose on Thursday? 75 percent. If they win? 10 percent. Methinks they shouldn't have beaten the Wolves on Sunday. Enter the Spurs on Thursday, and as Doc put it in the blurbs, Gregg Popovich might enjoy torturing them by tanking even harder than the Warriors will be that night. And if Pop doesn’t want to play basketball god by outcoaching Mark Jackson to a Spurs loss, he can always laugh at Richard Jefferson’s remaining $23 million contract lumbering up and down the court.
Charles Jenkins played 42 minutes on his bum wheel last night, scoring 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting with five rebounds and 10 assists. With Nate Robinson (hamstring) unlikely to play on Thursday in my opinion, look for Jenkins to have plenty of opportunities but it’s anybody’s guess if he can make anything of them against a strong Spurs squad. Klay Thompson scored 16 points but was pulled because of the tank job, playing just 27 minutes. Owners shouldn’t be worried, here. He’ll be played just long enough to be promoted as basketball Jesus on the telecast, and another 27 minutes sounds about right. Mickell Gladness had four blocks and is worth a look if you’re desperate in that category, but that’s about it. Jeremy Tyler took 17 shots in an NBA game last night, and somewhere Red Auerbach is crying. Tyler (13 points, eight boards, one steal) is worth a look if you need a big man, even on a busy Thursday night as he'll get as much run as he can handle.
Brandon Rush scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting (including three treys) with four rebounds and a steal, and played just 17 minutes in the tank-a-thon. Regardless, I like Rush’s chances of putting up similar numbers before getting yanked to preserve a loss on Thursday. I don’t like Dorell Wright’s (ankle) chances of playing, because he can help the Warriors win and he’s probably on his way out of town, despite the fact that his contract is affordable and his per-minute numbers held relatively steady despite being misused by Mark Jackson. And if anybody is wondering, yes, I’m still a Warriors fan. Pain is just part of the deal.
THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT
Eric Gordon did not play for the Hornets last night and will miss the finale (shocker), leaving the skeleton crew to go to work. Marco Belinelli scored 23 points with two threes, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals, and while he’ll miss Klay Thompson’s forgetful defense he’ll be a nice play on Thursday against the Rockets for those needing threes. Greivis Vasquez is obviously a must-start player unless something strange happens, and scored 11 points with six boards and seven assists. Gustavo Ayon had 13 points with seven boards, four assists, one steal, and four blocks, but the standard Warriors disclaimer applies. He’ll have more trouble against Marcus Camby (if he plays) and Samuel Dalembert (if he plays).
Al-Farouq Aminu has major flaws, namely his handles and his confidence on offense, but he put up another solid line of eight points, 11 boards, two assists, and a steal, and I like him in most lineups even on a busy night. The capability for steals and blocks is just too tempting. Carl Landry did what Carl Landry does scoring 14 points with six rebounds and nothing else. Watch for an update on Jason Smith (ankle), but this should be the unit that gets heavy run. And one more thing, the Rockets might come out for blood after the Hornets dealt them a loss last week that all-but ended their playoff hopes, for whatever that is worth at this time of year.
THE GOLDEN GROIN
The early game between the Hawks and Clippers was enjoyable, if for anything because Chris Paul is a triple-rectified golden god of the basketball court. If his knee doesn’t fall off next year, then I’ll officially have swung and missed, and I’ll also be asking for the name of his German doctor. He scored 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting (4-of-6 from deep, 10-of-11 from the line) with five boards, eight assists, and two steals, but it wasn’t enough as the Clippers ultimately lost to the Hawks. The bad news for his owners is that he emerged with a groin injury, and though the Clippers still have to win tonight against the Knicks to avoid losing home court advantage to the Grizzlies, they’re not going to risk any more than 10-15 percent of Paul’s future health in order to do it. For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies need a win against a Magic team on Thursday that may or may not have something to play for.
Blake Griffin was the other story from last night’s game, as he put up a season-high 36 points on 17-of-23 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists, and a block. Wowza. I’d be more critical of Randy Foye’s disappearing act of zero points on 0-for-3 shooting with two rebounds and four assists, but only Griffin and Paul showed up to score last night. Mo Williams had seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in 28 minutes, and is worth a play tonight despite the result and will be a must-play guy if Paul can’t go. Nick Young (five points, one three) will be a risky play even if Paul and another (e.g. Caron Butler) are out. Butler returned from a hip injury to score nine points with seven boards, but carries plenty of risk of rest and ineffectiveness. DeAndre Jordan played 32 minutes and did his thing with a steal and two blocks with nine boards, and looks like a decent play tonight in blocks formats. Eric Bledsoe would be a sneaky play if Paul cannot go, especially if you’re hunting steals.
LIVING ON A PRAYER
The other side for the Hawks was business as usual, with Joe Johnson hitting a prayer three-pointer last night to seal the win. He finished with 28 points, seven boards, and three assists in a manageable 30 minutes. Josh Smith had 18 points, 10 boards, five assists, and a steal in 31 minutes, and Jeff Teague was a mixed bag before deciding to turn on the afterburners for 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting with three boards, two assists, one three, one steal, and two blocks in 29 minutes. Marvin Williams played his normal 27 minutes and put up 11 points with four boards, three assists, and a steal, and after a rocky start to the year he eventually developed some low-end consistency.
Ivan Johnson is high on the list of people I do not want chasing me, and aside from a poster block of DeAndre Jordan he had six points, seven boards, and two swats. Zaza Pachulia (foot) will be held out or play a very limited role in the finale, and I like Johnson in most lineups. The Hawks can protect home court advantage with either a win on Thursday against the Mavs or a loss by the Celtics against the Bucks on the same night. Both games start at the same time and Doc Rivers has said that he will play his starters to try to win home court, but I’m going to treat that as a guideline and not gospel.
As for the Celtics last night, their game with the Heat might have been the worst in NBA history. The Heat started a classic silly-season lineup of Shane Battier, Dexter Pittman, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers (flu), while the Celtics ran with Avery Bradley, Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Hollins, Brandon Bass, and Paul Pierce. The Celtics won by the whopping score of 78-66 and you had to squint real hard to find useful fantasy lines. Bradley, a popular play this week, scored eight points on 2-of-10 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and three steals, Pavlovic scored 16 points with two threes, a steal, and a block, and Bass went for eight and eight. Pierce played just 18 minutes and scored eight points with six turnovers and not much else. Marquis Daniels made some noise with 13 points, five boards, four assists, two steals, and a block, and E’Twaun Moore went for seven and seven with a three. As for Thursday’s outlook, the only fringe Celtics I have the stones to play are Bradley and maybe Daniels, assuming guys get ruled out at the last second.
Of the hurt guys, it’s safe to assume that Kevin Garnett is going to go after Doc River’s comments, with Greg Stiemsma (sore feet) being the next most likely guy to go based on what we know. From there, Rajon Rondo (back) ranks ahead of Ray Allen (ankle) in terms of his chances to play, and Allen’s injury has many wondering if he’ll be effective during the playoffs. Mickael Pietrus (knee) could use all the rest he can get, but if the Celtics are really going to try to win on Thursday then he could see the court. I’d need a bunch of starters to be ruled out and Pietrus to be declared relatively healthy to gamble on him, though. For the Big Four and even Brandon Bass, it’s fair to wonder about how much they will play, especially if Rivers is keyed into the out-of-town scoreboard.
MEET THE HEAT
For the Heat, beat writers are already suggesting that the Big Three will be out for the finale on Thursday, setting up a repeat of last night’s whatever you call it. Mario Chalmers scored eight points with three rebounds, five assists, and a steal, or as he calls it – progress. I think Erik Spoelstra will use Thursday to continue getting his confidence back. Mike Miller had eight points, two threes, five turnovers, two steals, and a block, but might have a bit more trouble against a team like his old Wizards squad on Thursday (did I type that?). Dexter Pittman had 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocks, but for whatever added difficulties Miller will face they will be doubled or tripled for Pittman. Udonis Haslem had six points, 13 boards, and a steal, and will be a safe, low-end play if you need rebounds (unless he too is rested). Shane Battier scored five points with one three, and you have to listen hard to hear the people who claimed his addition would put the Heat over the top. James Jones hit three triples for 11 points to go with his six boards, and is a decent play if you’re trolling for threes on Thursday.