Magic vs. Thunder
Highs: Russell Westbrook had an excellent line, as usual, with 23 points, three 3-pointers, six rebounds and six assists. The number that I most appreciate, though, is zero...the number of turnovers he had. He's been the No. 18 player in nine-cat leagues this season, and he jumps to No. 8 when you toss out his 3.5 turnovers per game. All five of Orlando's starters scored double-digit points, led by Jameer Nelson's 26 points, five 3-pointers and seven assists, Arron Afflalo's 20 points, Nikola Vucevic's 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Tobias Harris' 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. Even Maurice Harkless shook off a string of slow games to notch 12 points, one 3-pointer, two rebounds and a career-high six steals.
Lows: The Thunder turned in a thoroughly predictable game with few duds, though it was midly disappointing to see Thabo Sefolosha without any 3s, steals or blocks in 30 minutes. The Magic didn't play much defense tonight (allowing 55.3 percent shooting) and their bench finished with a total of six points on 3-of-12 field goals. E'Twaun Moore was the only player to log more than 10 minutes. Beno Udrih played just six minutes.
Tidbits: Westbrook's zero-turnover game wasn't exactly a fluke...the Magic force the fewest turnovers of any team (11.8) and they are also last in the NBA in steals (6.0).
Wolves vs. Rockets
Highs: James Harden played through a sore foot and scored a game-high 37 points with seven rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers. As usual, he did plenty of damage at the FT line (16-of-18) while knocking down 8-of-16 FGs, including five 3-pointers. He was traded to the Rockets just before or after many fantasy leagues were drafted (I was in a live draft when it broke), and it remains one of the most influential developments of the season -- overnight, Harden became an unquestioned first-round stud. The Wolves didn't have any players truly stand out, though Ricky Rubio notched 14/7/7 and J.J. Barea came off the bench for 19 points, three assists and two steals. Most outstanding in my mind was Greg Stiemsma, who had 12 points, five rebounds and tied his season-high with four swats. The Stiemer is a tempting pickup for owners in need of a low-end big man, but be mindful of Nikola Pekovic's potential return this week from an abdominal strain.
Lows: Donatas Motiejunas has mixed in a few solid games with his many duds since becoming the Rockets' starting PF, but on Friday he had just four points, two rebounds, and zero 3-pointers or blocks in 25 minutes. Cut him, if you haven't already. Alexey Shved had a feel-good game vs. the Spurs on Tuesday, but in the two games since he's averaging 7.5 points on 26.7 percent shooting. Kevin Love (hand) admitted before the game that there's a chance he won't play again this season, though he still intends to return for the final 8-12 games. He'll know more in 2-3 weeks when he goes in for a checkup and should be cleared for contact. The Wolves could get some frontcourt relief this week (see below) but for now owners can expect solid minutes for Derrick Williams, who has March averages of 17.1 points, 0.6 threes, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. On the downside, he's shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 64 percent at the FT line, with barely any assists (0.9) or steals (0.3).
Tidbits: Andrei Kirilenko (calf) could be on the verge of a return, but he has yet to appear in a game in March and may need a few games to find his rhythm. He and Nikola Pekovic (strained abdomen) are both iffy to play on Sunday and/or Monday. The good news is that Minnesota plays four straight weeks with four games a piece. James Harden's sore right foot was an issue before Friday's game (if not during it), and fantasy owners should be routinely checking for updates. The Rockets have a relatively light schedule in the coming month, which may actually be a good thing considering the quotes Kevin McHale gave on Friday. "James has got a couple things going on in his foot that's bothering him," McHale said before the game. "We’ve just got to figure out what approach is going to help him maintain at least the amount of healing that needs to take place from here on out." Follow this link for the full story on Rockets.com.
Cavaliers vs. Mavericks
Highs: Rick Carlisle inserted Rodrigue Beaubois into the second unit and wound up riding him for the majority of the fourth quarter, as Roddy raced to 18 points, three 3s, three rebounds, five assists and one steal in just 22 minutes. He was a DNP-CD in the Mavs last game and Carlisle's rotations have been crazy all year, so I'm not biting on Roddy outside of deep leagues. With Kyrie Irving (shoulder) on the shelf for the Cavs, Shaun Livingston started at PG and had 13 points, five boards, six assists and three steals. He logged 38 minutes and there is no competition beyond Daniel Gibson (scoreless in 22 minutes), which makes Livingston worth owning if you can live with a complete lack of 3-point shooting from your PG. Dion Waiters scored 21 points with three steals, but he turned the ball over five times and didn't have a single assist. Ouch. Fellow rookie Tyler Zeller double-doubled with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. The bad news is that he shot 4-of-12 from the field and he hadn't been in double-figures for nearly a month.
Lows: With Zeller effective and energetic, Marreese Speights scored just two points with one rebound in 13 reserve minutes. Chris Kaman wasn't much better for the Mavs, starting at center but playing just six minutes before being yanked for good (Brandan Wright started the second half, played with terrific energy, and finished with 13 points, five boards and a block in 26 minutes). Rick Carlisle may have been sending a pointed message after Kaman complained to the media last week about being benched two minutes into Tuesday's game.
Tidbits: According to the Dallas Morning News, a "best-case scenario" would have Shawn Marion (calf) returning "sometime next week." That rules him out for Sunday.
Heat vs. Bucks
Highs: The Heat were legitimately a 'Big Three' on Friday. LeBron and D-Wade each did their thing, coming within sight of triple-doubles, but the standout performer was Chris Bosh with 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including two 3-pointers. Bosh also had seven boards, one steal and two blocks, and he did a great job using his range to neutralize the Bucks' length and interior defense. The Bucks put up a fight but were ultimately knocked out despite Ersan Ilyasova scoring 26 points with 17 boards (zero assists, steals or blocks).
Lows: Dwyane Wade did leave the game briefly in the first half, following a scary tumble, but he returned after being diagnosed with a strained neck and cleared of a concussion. He should be ready to go vs. the Raptors on Monday. Monta Ellis (seven points, seven assists) and Larry Sanders (six points, 10 rebounds) were both held to single-digit points. It was just Monta's fourth game all season with fewer than 10 points, and he has been red hot throughout March, so don't give it a second thought.
Tidbits: Marquis Daniels had 14 points, three boards, three dimes and two steals in 26 minutes, filling in as the starting SF with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute sidelined by a sore toe. Daniels even knocked down a 3-pointer, but he doesn't deserve consideration in average leagues while LRMM is day-to-day. Surprisingly, Mike Dunleavy didn't benefit from the absence of the team's starting SF... he wound up scoreless in 16 minutes.
Grizzlies vs. Nuggets
Highs: Kosta Koufos dominated in a physical win vs. the Grizzlies on Friday, scoring 18 points and grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds. He also blocked three shots while hitting 7-of-9 shots and navigating foul trouble against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (who had 18 & 18). Koufos is a solid option in the Nuggets' four-game week. As one might expect, his big game limited JaVale McGee to four points, three rebounds and three blocks in 12 minutes.
Lows: Wilson Chandler scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting, didn't have any 3s, assists or blocks, and he turned the ball over three times. He still played 25 minutes, at least. Ty Lawson also cooled off, scoring eight points with four dimes in 35 minutes. He deferred to Andre Iguodala as a playmaker on many trips down the court, but there's no cause for concern. Lawson's defensive energy should also be noted, as his pestering helped force Mike Conley into a season-high seven turnovers.
Tidbits: The Nuggets have now won 15 consecutive games in Denver, adding intrigue to their pursuit of the third-place Grizzlies (and thus home-court advantage in the first round). They trail both the Grizzlies and the fourth-place Clippers by half a game, though L.A.'s division-best record guarantees them a top-four seed. Wherever they land, they'll be a very dangerous draw in a seven-game series. On a fantasy note...I benched Koufos in a critical weekly-league playoff matchup, choosing instead to start Cory Joseph in a 'flex' position. At face value it seems silly, especially after a night like this, but this league (30 Deep) only has six starters and my opponent's frontcourt is stacked with Dwight Howard, Amir Johnson and David West, so I punted rebounds and blocks...as of Saturday morning I'm losing blocks, steals (by one) and rebounds, but winning everything else by decent margins.
Bulls vs. Warriors
Highs: The Bulls won the rebounding battle, moved the ball well (28 assists on 43 field goals), and racked up 113 points in a road win vs. the slumping Warriors. Luol Deng had a team-high 23 points, Carlos Boozer added 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Nate Robinson scored 20 points with three 3-pointers and seven assists, while playing some admirable on-ball defense vs. Steph Curry (whom he held to eight points). Joakim Noah was perhaps the most impressive starter, though, carving up Golden State for 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, with 13 rebounds, three assists, one steal and zero turnovers.
Lows: The flipside of the Bulls' success was an abysmal night for Golden State. Andrew Bogut continues to show the effects of lingering injuries and poor conditioning, scoring one point with four boards and two blocks in 17 minutes. Klay Thompson (seven points) and Stephen Curry (eight points) shot a combined 5-of-22 from the field, and the only Warrior to play sort of well was Jarrett Jack (20 points, four boards, one steal). Golden State has dropped six of their last 10 games and they continue to slide down the standings, and their fight to keep a playoff position should forestall any lasting slumps from their go-to players.
Tidbits: Early this season most canny NBA writers addressed Golden State with words of cautious optimism, but the Warriors' awful play has steadily eroded that goodwill and Friday's lifeless defeat unleashed a torrent of fresh criticism. Numerous Warriors writers, for instance, labeled this the team's worst game all season.
NYK/LAC Bonus Tidbits: Tyler Chandler (knee contusion) and Carmelo Anthony (knee) are both questionable to play Sunday against the Clippers. Kenyon Martin is also battling a sore shin, adding to the Knicks' voluminous injury problems. For the Knicks' opponent, the Clippers, Caron Butler (elbow) practiced on Friday and hopes that he'll be able to return. If he is able to suit up, Matt Barnes will shift back to the bench.