There aren’t too many slow nights in the association anymore with the way Twitter makes every night an NFL Sunday’s worth of excitement, and Wednesday got the NBA back on track after a slow Tuesday.
The Heat/Cavs game was worth the price of admission all by itself, with Wayne Ellington making a name for himself in fantasy circles while LeBron James simply wrote his name down on a piece of paper and slid it under Dan Gilbert’s door.
Kyle Lowry got back on track, Gerald Henderson moved into the waiver wire pickup of the year discussion, and the McBob-Mullens combo picked up steam. Carmelo Anthony got back on the court, Monta Ellis survived (sort of), the Hawks went agro, and Gordon Hayward is in the midst of his annual March Madness reenactment.
The Grizzlies and Hornets both won on tip-ins at the buzzer, Bradley Beal went down, and Tim Duncan signed up for Medicare Part Destroy You. Deron Williams served up another piece of humble pie for the doubters, Jermaine O’Neal went down, and Spencer Hawes continued to stand up.
It’s the day after Big Wednesday folks with just 3.5 weeks to go. This is why you do all those pushups.
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RETURN OF THE KING
It’s fitting we talk about LeBron James first here, because right now he is running away with the MVP vote and a return to Cleveland with the Heat’s 23-game winning streak on the line is rich. All of that drama was supplemented by a scoreboard malfunction to start the game, which drew rolled eyes across the Internet, and then the Cavs jumped out to a 27-point third quarter lead. From there, James and the Heat came rolling back and even a fan storming the court wearing a T-shirt begging him to return in 2014 couldn’t stop the Flying Death Machine. He finished with 25 points, 12 boards, 10 assists, three steals, two blocks and three huge threes to keep the streak alive at 24 games.
I mentioned that Wayne Ellington and C.J. Miles would be a crapshoot in the battle to pick up Dion Waiters’ (knee) value, but I sided with Miles ultimately and at least for last night I did not choose wisely. Ellington started and scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting with three 3-pointers, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal in 41 minutes, while Miles scored 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting with two threes, three rebounds, five assists and no steals or blocks in just 24 minutes off the bench.
Ellington has always intrigued me since his days at North Carolina as a big shot-maker, but his career in the NBA has never really caught up. Now with plenty of freedom, I like both guys to hold standard league value with Ellington gaining a sizable edge in the beneficiary battle tonight. There was no update on Waiters’ status but both he and Kyrie Irving’s seasons are in doubt.
You can add (or keep) Shaun Livingston’s name on the standard league list, too, and he had another solid low-end night with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, three rebounds, six assists and two steals. Aside from the Cavs’ pair of four-game weeks to end the meaningful season, you know what you’re getting with Livingston and knowing is half the battle. Tyler Zeller came to play with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting (4-of-4 FTs), 11 rebounds, one steal and one block. He needs to string a few of these together before he’s on the watch list in normal formats.
NO NICKNAME LOWRY
I mentioned yesterday how a loss to the Bobcats might prompt some change to the Raptors' all-wing attack, but that wasn’t really how things went down last night. Yes, Rudy Gay went 8-of-18 from the field for 25 points and a nice line, and DeMar DeRozan took 12 shots (making seven, including a three) but the rest of the squad actually got some looks. The problem for the Raps last night was their energy on defense and their lack of bench play, and late Dwane Casey stubbornly stuck with a small lineup that didn’t work all night.
The good news is that Kyle Lowry got back into the swing of things with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block, and Jonas Valanciunas continued to produce with 18 points, eight rebounds, two steals, two blocks and a perfect 6-of-6 mark from the line. Amir Johnson was also productive with eight points, 10 boards, two steals and four blocks. Yes the numbers are inflated because they played the Bobcats, but the loss isn’t going to do anything to change Dwane Casey’s approach if I had to guess. Run and grab Valanciunas if he’s available as it looks like he’s ready to be turned loose.
Ramon Sessions can bend his injured knee but he can’t rotate it, and while he can ride a stationary bike he can’t yet workout in the pool. It doesn’t look like he will return before the end of his 2-4 week timeline and his season is seriously in doubt. This leaves the door wide open for Gerald Henderson, who continued to storm right through it with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and two blocks. Kemba Walker hit just 4-of-14 shots but flirted with a triple-double scoring 14 points with seven rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fizzled out again with two points, five rebounds and no steals or blocks in 20 minutes. Maybe the Bobcats will turn him loose and he’ll be a defensive monster, but the odds say it’s just not in the cards at this point, which is too bad for the No. 2 overall pick.
Brendan Haywood did not play due to a sore left ankle, which in reality isn’t that big of a deal, but it takes away yet another available body for Mike Dunlap to spell Josh McRoberts and Byron Mullens with. The duo played great together once again last night, with McRoberts posting 12 points, 12 rebounds and three assists and Mullens putting up 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting with three treys, five rebounds, two steals, three blocks and an 8-of-12 aberration from the foul line. I mentioned yesterday that we’d cross the Mullens bridge when we got there, and we definitely got there last night. Perhaps injuries slowed him down and caused part of the inconsistency, or maybe he’s just an inconsistent player. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle from a fantasy perspective, and with this type of upside he’s worth grabbing once again – even if we’ll have a hard time trusting him.
Nikola Vucevic bummed owners out by turning up with the flu, and with the Knicks playing small the Magic started Moe Harkless at center and brought E’Twaun Moore into the starting lineup. This randomness got the best of Jameer Nelson (four points, 1-of-9 FGs, three assists, 24 minutes) and Arron Afflalo (six points, 2-of-7 FGs, 29 minutes). Jacque Vaughn seemingly came into the game with a plan to alternate Nelson and Beno Udrih (13 points, eight assists, 24 minutes) every other quarter, and that is something we’ll surely be watching going forward. I doubt that arrangement continues, but if there is an injury or something nagging at Nelson it might explain why coach is all of a sudden messing with his veteran’s minutes, other than the obvious reason that Nelson sucked last night.
Tobias Harris (14 points, 7-of-10 FGs, five boards, five turnovers) and Harkless (11 points, six boards, three steals, one three) had mixed nights under strange circumstances, and Kyle O’Quinn (12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, 25 minutes) and Andrew Nicholson (14 points, three boards, 18 minutes) got some extra attention in a loosely contested game. O’Quinn needs an injury to Vucevic to have any appeal, and cleaning up the Magic side Al Harrington’s (knee) season was officially cast in doubt yesterday.
Carmelo Anthony returned to action last night after getting his knee drained and delivered a much-needed win, scoring 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with a full line in the process. He logged 33 minutes and this was about as good of a return-game as owners could have hoped for. Now the trick will be back-to-back games, which come up right away with action on both Friday and Saturday. Still, so far so good.
Iman Shumpert re-injured the left knee he had surgery on in the offseason and heard a “pop,” and will be evaluated on Thursday. I can’t imagine he gets rushed back into action and it opens up a few more minutes for the wing slots. Pablo Prigioni started and scored six points on 2-of-2 shooting (both threes) with four rebounds and five assists, and with Shumpert looking to miss some time he’s worth a look in 16-20 team leagues.
J.R. Smith (22 points, seven boards, two threes, 8-of-16 FGs) gets some breathing room, and Jason Kidd (five points, one trey, two boards, five assists, three steals, 24 minutes) looks like a solid pickup. Kidd’s wrist should be fine and he’ll be called upon to play a significant role down the stretch as long as he’s healthy, which may include a return to the starting lineup. Whether it’s off the bench or not, his value should remain the same.