The Wizards outlasted the Raptors in triple-overtime on Thursday, a game which eclipsed LeBron James' masked return to action, a surprisingly close contest between the Bucks and Pacers, and a blowout home loss for the Nuggets in high-altitude Denver.
Knicks at Heat
Let's start in Miami, where LeBron James sported a sleek black mask to protect his broken nose, then casually poured in 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting. His 57.9 percent FG shooting ranks fourth in the NBA behind only Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, and he's only the second non-center to be above 57.0 percent since 1996-97 (the other non-center to do so is quite shocking -- Josh Childress went 57.1 percent from the field with the Hawks in 2007-08). LeBron jokingly said that he'd contacted comic book companies to develop "the greatest mask of all time" and you could argue that he took a cue from a D.C. Comics character known, aptly enough, as Black Mask. Shane Battier, as usual, had an amusing take on the situation: "I told him I'd expect nothing less from him -- fashion-forward, cutting-edge Renaissance man that LeBron is ... Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool."
LeBron didn't need to be a lone ranger, however, as Miami rolled to an easy win thanks to strong team defense and five players in double-digit scoring, including Dwyane Wade (23 points) and Mario Chalmers (11 points). Shane Battier added eight points, two 3-pointers, five rebounds, five assists and three steals for one of his most well-rounded lines all season, and the only real 'dud' was Chris Bosh's six points, seven rebounds and one block. Chalmers rarely has big nights that send owners scrambling to the waiver wire, but he should be owned in all leagues thanks to Miami's cushy schedule down the stretch -- they're the only team with four games in each of the next six weeks.
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Miami's free-wheeling victory also marked the first time since 2011 that an NBA team shot 60.2 percent or better while holding their opponent to 37.3 percent or worse. The predictable result was a 26-point loss for the Knicks, despite getting strong performances from Carmelo Anthony (29 points, three 3-pointers, seven rebounds) and Tyson Chandler (season-high 19 points, 16 rebounds). J.R. Smith added 11 points but he was the only other guy in double-digits for New York, and their bench was particularly awful -- Tim Hardaway Jr. laid the foundation for a cozy brick house with a 2-of-15 mark from the field, and as a unit the bench was just 9-of-35 (25.7 percent).
You can't discuss the woebegone Knicks without talking about Raymond Felton, who will continue to travel and play despite two pending felony weapons-possession charges. His case has been adjourned until June 2 and Felton vowed not to become a distraction for the Knicks, but that seems implausible at best in the media shark-tank of New York. His performance on Thursday doesn't give much cause for optimism -- he handed out five assists and stole the ball three times, but also shot 1-of-7 from the field to finish with two points. The Knicks play four times next week but I'm still inclined to avoid him in all 12-team formats. Ditto for Pablo Prigioni, who is averaging 25 minutes in February but hasn't scored double-digit points since mid-December (the only time he's done it this season).
Wizards at Raptors
Moving on to the triple-OT thriller in Toronto, Kyle Lowry fell one rebound shy of a triple-double with 18 points, nine boards, 10 assists, three steals and one block before fouling out after 54 minutes of action. His shot was off again (6-of-18 FGs) but the real concern for his owners is that he twisted his ankle when he landed on Marcin Gortat's foot in the fourth quarter. In typical K-Low fashion he stayed in the game for the entirety of the three OT periods, but his ankle will almost certainly worsen overnight and he should be considered questionable for Sunday's game vs. Golden State.
Terrence Ross (sprained left ankle) is also iffy for that game after leaving for good in the second quarter on Thursday. His absence left an even bigger burden for teammate DeMar DeRozan, who led all players in both scoring (34 points) and playing time (57 minutes), shooting 12-of-14 at the FT line with four rebounds, six assists and two steals. Things got even dicier for the Raptors when big men Amir Johnson (16 points, nine rebounds) and Patrick Patterson (five points) both fouled out of the game in overtime.
It was telling to see how coach Dwane Casey reacted -- initially he used Jonas Valanciunas, who had sat out the entire fourth quarter, but in the third OT period he went with Tyler Hansbrough at center. JV's fantasy owners may not want to hear this, but the move made plenty of sense. The offense tended to bog down when Valanciunas got the ball and he was hopeless against Marcin Gortat defensively.
Speaking of which, Gortat may have earned himself an endorsement deal from Pillsbury with his rolls to the hoop on Thursday. He finished with a career-high 31 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, making 12-of-23 FGs and 7-of-11 FTs before finally fouling out in triple-OT. He dominated the paint and should get tons of touches with Nene (sprained MCL) out 4-6 weeks, providing a nice boost for Gortat's owners with the fantasy playoffs on the horizon.
John Wall also had an All-Star caliber game with 31 points, three rebounds, nine assists, three steals and one block. He shot 12-of-20 from the field and was pulling up for jumpers with consistency and confidence, something you don't always see from a guy shooting 37.2 percent from mid-range on the season.
Wall, Gortat and Trevor Ariza (16 points, 10 rebounds) helped Washington overcome a 4-of-16 shooting night from Bradley Beal, and the victory leaves the Wizards just 1 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Bulls. Time will tell whether they can withstand the long-term loss of Nene, and they've been unsuccessful without him so far this season, but on Thursday they were aided by solid bench contributions from veterans Al Harrington (eight points) and Chris Singleton (13 points, nine rebounds), both of whom will assume bigger (if not fantasy-worthy) roles during the final weeks of the regular season.