THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF MIAMI
It was a prototypical LeBron James game in the Heat’s eventual takeover of the Suns last night, and the game’s No. 1 player ended up with 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting (11-of-14 FGs), nine boards, three assists, five steals and two threes in 41 minutes. There are plenty of reasons to buy into James’ legacy as an NBA player, and though I’ve questioned where the Heat stand on the list of great teams – the fact that James has done what he has done with his supporting casts is nothing short of incredible.
Last night’s performance against the Suns doesn’t do anything to move the needle on his legacy or start etching him into the NBA’s Mount Rushmore. But what he does with a savvy but depleted Heat team in this year’s playoffs will, as a three-peat essentially opens the door for him. Win and he gets into the discussion. Whether he stays in Miami or goes somewhere else, he's almost certain to negotiate a better roster situation than he has right now with Dwyane Wade on his last legs and Chris Bosh not getting any younger.
If he wins this season, he'll have taken the fatally flawed Cavs to the limit (before tapping out) and he'll have carried most of the load in a three-peat. If he doesn't make it, he'll have titles against a dysfunctional Thunder team and a Spurs team five years past its prime. Any subsequent titles won't require the Herculean lift of the first two. Even if he wins a couple more it will likely be as a No. 1A or as a No. 1B, which will pale in comparison to what his legacy will be if he does that and goes for the trifecta this year as the No. 1, 2 and sometimes 3.
Add to that type of run and then we'll start the exercise of figuring out who to knock off of basketball's Mount Rushmore (Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Anthony Randolph).
For fantasy owners, the next two months should be great. LeBron looks like he’s in incredible shape and he’ll have a message to send before finally gearing down for the playoffs.
Dwyane Wade did not play last night because that’s what he’s all about this season, and Chris Bosh was effective with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds but he did not have any steals or blocks. Mario Chalmers has been hit or miss lately and last night won’t do much to change that assessment on a 13-point, one-assist night with two steals and a three. While LeBron could end up taking some of Chalmers’ touches during the aforementioned surge, it seems much more likely that this is more of a dip in the point guard’s production and a buy-low moment.
The Suns played down to the size of Miami last night and though they hung in they eventually lost. Owners of Miles Plumlee (14 minutes, two points, six boards) can find some solace in the fact that he was likely benched because he couldn’t make the Heat pay on the offensive end of the court, though my game plan would always be to pound the Heat at all costs.
It was your otherwise typical outing for the Suns. Gerald Green had a ‘good’ night with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five threes, five boards, one steal and one block, and when you factor in the bad nights he has been a top 40-50 value over the past 30 games. Plan accordingly.
Channing Frye hit 6-of-13 shots for 15 points and that’s usually good news as it came with three treys and six boards but no steals or blocks. P.J. Tucker was a necessity against James and turned in a good line with 14 points, eight boards, five assists, one block and two threes. Frye is a must-own guy returning mid-round value with a heavy tilt upward in 9-cat leagues, and Tucker is a late-round guy that comes and goes but is extremely hot right now with early round value this week.
Goran Dragic finally slowed down with 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting with two threes, three boards, nine assists, four steals, one block and a 5-of-5 mark from the line. Owners can cut him some slack as he’s returning top 15-20 value on the season, but let me be the first guy to suggest selling that action high before the All Star break. There’s enough ambiguity about Eric Bledsoe’s injury to return a stud, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a story run about Bledsoe’s timetable this weekend. With the Suns talking with the Lakers about a trade that could benefit them now in a playoff run, that would seem to indicate that Bledsoe’s season is not in jeopardy. That’s enough fog for owners to clear a decent profit, albeit with some risk, but that’s the business we have chosen.
Markieff Morris logged 33 minutes and put up 12 points, three boards, two blocks and a steal, which as usual will whet the appetite but it’s anybody’s guess if owners can catch him when he’s hot. As just a lower-end late round value in 12-team leagues on the year, it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll ever tap into the elusive upside. He fits the profile of a player one would want to hold, but I wouldn’t pass up on a mid-level free agent to do it.
Maybe it was the announcers but the Thunder/Blazers game just wasn’t all that exciting for a heavyweight fight that went down to the wire. Neither team could buy a bucket late but the Thunder were able to prevail on the road because Kevin Durant was Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge (5-of-22 FGs) was banged up and ice-cold. Durant saw coverage from two excellent defenders in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews but still threw down 36 points on 15-of-28 shooting with 10 rebounds, a three and a steal, though the eight turnovers and meager two assists effectively throw a bone to Batum and Matthews for the job they did.
Beyond Durant it was a roller coaster at best with the starters going scoreless deep into the game, but Reggie Jackson was able to claw back and finish with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a three, and Serge Ibaka still managed 11 boards to go with his seven points, one steal and two blocks. There was a Jeremy Lamb sighting as he hit a big shot late and finished with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, two threes and a steal. Owners can view his value skeptically in standard leagues until Scott Brooks extends his role, but so close to the All Star break he might be setup for a nice game if Thabo Sefolosha (hand) misses Thursday’s game.
Wack fantasy leaguers tracking Kendrick Perkins (two points, three boards, 27 minutes) and Derek Fisher (six points, two threes, 15 minutes) were probably thrilled with the outcome. Fisher has been on fire from distance lately, hitting 19 of his last 34 shots from deep for 56 percent. The regression on that bad boy is going to make for good theatre as the youngsters will likely get pushed aside while it’s going on.
Also in the head-scratching department, the Thunder couldn’t inbound the ball down the stretch and Durant was forced to get open on his own way too many times late.
Playoff opponents will live with their counter to Durant's isolation (a highly committed double) over something with screen-action heading toward the hoop. The Thunder better have something drawn up when that happens. Improv just isn’t going to cut it.
STOTTS AND STUFF
I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it here or not but I’m fairly shocked by how much I find myself nodding in agreement with whatever Terry Stotts does in Portland. I love the aforementioned cross-matches on defense, the out-of-bounds plays, using Wesley Matthews in the post and Nicolas Batum as a facilitator – or my favorite – a defensive philosophy that discourages the stupid diving gambles by help defenders that leave 3-point shooters open. Since Gregg Popovich isn’t allowed to win the award anymore, Stotts would have my Coach of the Year vote and it wouldn’t be close this season.
The Thunder win last night’s game if they get anything resembling normal play from LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit just 5-of-22 shots for 12 points, 12 rebounds and a block while dealing with general soreness and a potential groin injury. The All Star break couldn’t come at a better time and Aldridge has put distance between himself and the athleticism questions entering this year. That has always been contingent upon his ability to stay healthy and I’ve had concerns about how hard the Blazers are riding him all year. Aldridge has proven me very wrong about him all season long, and again the break is timed perfectly. Owners can only hope that he takes it easy when he’s in New Orleans.
The Blazers roll into Staples Center to face the Clippers on the SEGABABA tonight in what could be a heavily contested game between playoff adversaries. Even though Aldridge told Blazer’s Edge that he would be playing tonight, just watch out for a surprise DNP.
The rest of the box wasn’t earth shattering but there was an outstanding performance from Robin Lopez (17 points, 14 boards, one steal, two blocks, 7-of-9 FGs) and Batum hit 5-of-8 shots (3-of-5 3PTs, 5-of-5 FTs) for 18 points and four assists while dealing with Kevin Durant on the other end. Damian Lillard (16 points, 5-of-15 FGs, three boards, seven assists) and Wesley Matthews (2-of-10 FGs, 11 points, 7-of-8 FTs, two steals) also share some of the blame for last night’s loss, and with some slippage lately they're both in solid buy-low territory.
Joel Freeland went down to a knee injury and will be out 4-8 weeks, and I’ll discuss Chris Kaman in detail later but he looks like a great fit for Portland heading into the trade deadline. To be clear there have been no reported rumors on that and I haven’t heard anything myself, but the Blazers already needed to add a backup big to solidify their position as strong contenders to come out of the West. At $3.2 million expiring this season, the Blazers would be silly not to find a way to make that work.