Shaquille O'Neal's number was retired by the Lakers on Tuesday, a fitting tribute for the big man who helped L.A. win it all in 2000, 2001 and 2002. So what if his tenure ended with a public feud with Kobe Bryant, Jerry Buss, Mitch Kupchak and anyone else who questioned his imperial demands? His speech during halftime on Tuesday was appropriately irreverent, amusing and grandiose. He laughed openly and agreed with the crowd's chant of "We Want Phil!" He implied that he had combined the talents of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. He even concluded his speech by name-dropping his "famous friends." Consider this a warm-up for his inevitable induction speech to the NBA Hall of Fame, and click here for a reminder of the hurricane which was Shaq in his prime.
Bulls vs. Wizards
Nazr Mohammed finished Tuesday's four-point loss to the Wizards with his first double-double of the season – 12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and one block. Seven of his boards came on the offensive glass and he'll retain a big role as long as Joakim Noah (foot) is sidelined, but he doesn't have fantasy value unless you're truly desperate for rebounds.
Nate Robinson's streak of solid bench performances continued with 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting, one 3-pointer, two rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. Kirk Hinrich (eight points, four rebounds) is still on a minute-limit due to his foot injury – he played 26 minutes on Tuesday and his restrictions make Nate a safe-enough option in all 12-team leagues.
The loss stings for Chicago, but the biggest blow may have been Taj Gibson leaving after 10 minutes with sprained knee. He will have an MRI on Wednesday. With Noah already out of commission, any missed games for Gibson would lead to heavy minutes for Nazr Mohammed and Carlos Boozer, with more small lineups than usual (aka more Nate and Daequan Cook). Boozer immediately benefitted with Gibson out, scoring 19 points with 12 boards and five assists (one shy of his season-high). Interestingly, Boozer's FG percentage has plummeted from 53.2 percent last year to a career-low 47.8 percent despite minimal changes in his offensive play selection (according to Synergy) and shot charts (according to NBA.com). For instance, he made 46.7 percent of his shots from 8-16 feet last season, but is hitting at just 35.9 percent from the same range this year. The most obvious culprit is Derrick Rose's absence, which robs Boozer of easy looks and a stellar pick-and-pop partner, so fantasy owners should anticipate a bump in Boozer's efficiency in 2013-14. The Bulls return to action vs. the Nets on Thursday, and they play four games in the final full week of the NBA season.
It was John Wall's brilliance which carried Washington to their second straight win, and it paid off for fantasy owners with 27 points (8-of-17 FGs, 11-of-13 FTs), eight rebounds, nine assists, three blocks, and just one turnover in 37 minutes. The Wizards are 22-18 since Wall's return and would have been a solid playoff contender had he been healthy from opening day – consider that the eighth-place Bucks are one game below .500 at 36-37. Wall's 2012-13 season has been a quintessential example of player development – frequently criticized for his shaky jumper, which allowed teams to sag under screens and neutralize his speed, Wall has responded by improving his shooting every season:
2010-11: 40.9 percent FGs, 76.6 percent FTs
2011-12: 42.3 percent FGs, 78.9 percent FTs
2012-13: 44.3 percent FGs, 82.3 percent FTs
He was abysmal from beyond the arc last season, shooting a combined 3-of-42, but he's even keeping defenses honest this year at 31.4 percent from downtown (11-of-35).
Bradley Beal (who has also thrived alongside Wall) finished Tuesday's game with eight points, five rebounds and one assist in 28 minutes, a far cry from his 24-point return on Saturday. His owners shouldn't panic, though he looked like he was laboring at times, and we'll keep an eye on him in case he's still playing in pain (for what it's worth, he said after Saturday's game that he felt no pain "at all"). Starting SG Garrett Temple had just two points, two rebounds and no other stats in 14 minutes – whether he keeps the job is debatable, but either way he's a non-factor in fantasy leagues. Martell Webster's value is also on the decline, as the presence of a healthy Beal and Trevor Ariza serves to limit his playing time (22 minutes) and shot attempts (2-of-7 with zero 3-pointers). He could get hot on a given night and earn more touches, but it's not a possibility most fantasy owners should gamble on.
What has happened to Kevin Seraphin? He had two points on 1-of-5 shooting vs. the Bulls, with five rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes off the bench. Early this season I was convinced that Seraphin would overtake Emeka Okafor (10 points in 22 minutes) or Nene (10 points, seven rebounds in 28 minutes) as the Wizards leaned toward developing younger players, but that has proved to be wishful thinking. The biggest problem is that he simply hasn't played well enough -- he continues to settle for mid-range shots (usually a little half-hook) and he plays too soft around the rim (shooting just 51.6 percent within eight feet). Physically he has unlimited potential, but he'll need to work hard all summer to harness it in 2013-14. On a related note, Jan Vesely picked up a DNP-CD after getting nine points and eight rebounds in one of his finest games of the year on Sunday.
Knicks vs. Heat
LeBron James (hamstring) and Dwyane Wade (ankle) were held out again vs. the Knicks, leading to a season-high 37 minutes for Mike Miller. He took full advantage, scoring 18 points with four 3-pointers, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks, further proof that he's feeling (relatively) healthy heading into the playoffs. Chris Bosh led the team with 23 points, six boards and four assists, while Udonis Haslem (sore feet) added eight points in 20 minutes. Rashard Lewis also started and played 27 minutes at SF, but he was scoreless on just two shot attempts, with three rebounds and three turnovers.
They were also without Mario Chalmers again tonight, so Norris Cole logged 42 minutes at PG to finish with 14 points (6-of-12 shooting), one 3-pointer, three rebounds, two steals and seven turnovers. Cole was a great selection with the No. 28 pick in 2011, but his PG bona fides are cast into doubt by his uninspiring career assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.46. The result of Tuesday's makeshift lineup was a loss, but after beating the Spurs in San Antonio without LBJ or Wade, and nearly upsetting the Knicks, the Heat have to be rather pleased with the performance of their B-team.
Carmelo Anthony was the alpha and omega for New York on Tuesday, tying his career-high with 50 points in a road win vs. the short-handed Heat. He knocked down 18-of-26 FGs and 7-of-8 FTs, while going 7-of-10 from downtown, and even Shane Battier's uncanny hand-in-your-face defense couldn't cool him off. The Knicks are vying with the Pacers for the No. 2 seed in the East, and for now there are no indications that Melo will get any precautionary rest down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Tyson Chandler (neck) returned to action but had just one point, two rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes. It's not surprising to see him struggle after missing the past 10 games, and owners may want to bench him until he finds a rhythm. The good news is that New York plays three more times this week, and they also play four games in the final full week of the season. Chandler's return sent Kenyon Martin back to the bench, where he scored nine points with six boards and one steal in 24 minutes.
Jason Kidd was scoreless despite playing 27 bench minutes, though his goose-eggs don't raise any eyebrows considering he averaged just 5.1 points in March. I somehow missed this, but in February he scored a mere 2.7 points per game, on horrific 19.6 percent shooting (his handful of attempts usually come from downtown, of course, so he deserves a bit of slack). Fantasy owners should continue to avoid him unless his rebounds (4.4), assists (2.8), 3-pointers (1.3) and steals (1.6) are good enough medicine to swallow nights like Tuesday.
Mavericks vs. Lakers
Kobe Bryant had 23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and two blocks in Tuesday's crucial win vs. Dallas, while Dwight Howard had 24 points and 12 rebounds. Pau Gasol, who looks better with every game, added 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Those numbers are all somewhat predictable, however, and Earl Clark was the guy who truly stood out with 17 points, three 3-pointers, 12 rebounds, one steal, five blocks and zero turnovers in 29 minutes off the bench. He's been whisper-quiet for weeks, scoring a combined 16 points in the previous six games, and there's no reason to think he can make a habit of double-digit scoring, let along a line like this.
Rounding out the starting lineup, Steve Blake had 11 points, three 3s, five rebounds and one steal in a fill-in start for Steve Nash, while Jodie Meeks scored eight points with two 3s, six rebounds and three assists. Mike D'Antoni only played seven guys as he approached this like a playoff game, but Antawn Jamison had only four points in 17 minutes.
For the Mavs, Chris Kaman started at center and scored a handful of quick points, but foul trouble limited him to 20 minutes and he ended the game with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, six rebounds and two steals. Kaman has been playing limited minutes when he isn't a DNP-CD, and it's impossible to trust him given Rick Carlisle's season-long shuffle at the center position. In related news, Elton Brand was scoreless in 13 minutes and Brandan Wright had six points, three rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes.
The Mavericks, still growing out their playoff beards, stayed within 10 points for most of the game but eventually ran out of gas in a 20-point loss, which makes their postseason chances even more remote. The boxscore was littered with ugly lines and can be summed up by the fact that Kaman’s 14 points were a team-high for Dallas. Starting PG Mike James was scoreless, playing 21 minutes compared to Darren Collison’s 11 points, six assists and three steals in 29 minutes.