Heat at Spurs
The Heat ran out of steam in the fourth quarter on Thursday, losing the period by 16 points on the way to an 87-111 drubbing in San Antonio. The loss squandered a bounce-back effort from Chris Bosh, who scored five points on Tuesday but led Miami with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting vs. the Spurs, while adding seven rebounds and two steals. Bosh is averaging just 28 minutes in March but that may actually be a good thing -- he's probably the least likely of Miami's key veterans to pick up precautionary DNPs during the busy finale to the regular season (see schedule grid).
That favorable schedule is worth remembering if you own Mario Chalmers, who scored only five points on 2-of-7 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. The subtle upside is that he also had one 3-pointer, two steals and one block to salvage some fantasy appeal, the kind of numbers which have given him late-round value over the past dozen games.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $100,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $15,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Friday. Here's the FanDuel link.
Dwyane Wade's owners may not be as pleased about all of Miami's four-game weeks. He scored 17 points on Thursday and continues to produce whenever he's on the court, but a few precautionary DNPs seem inevitable with four back-to-back sets looming in March (9/10, 18/19, 21/22, and 28/29). With a bit of luck his DNPs will be spaced out enough to allow him at least three games in each remaining week of the regular season.
LeBron James suggested that Miami's sleeved jerseys may have contributed to his 6-of-18 shooting night vs. the Spurs, and he reminded reporters that he shot 0-of-7 from beyond the arc while wearing sleeves during the All-Star game. I'd be very curious to see aggregated numbers of team/player FG percentages while wearing sleeves vs. traditional jerseys, especially if the numbers were in some way weighted to account for opponents, home vs. away, and days of rest. My guess is that no difference would be found, but who knows? It's just as likely that the problem is psychological. If LeBron is even peripherally aware of extra fabric brushing, bunching or clinging to his shoulders or arms during his shooting motion, who's to say it's not a competitive disadvantage in a game where the opponents' limbs are unencumbered? We're talking about a four-time MVP and a guy who just last week dropped 61 points with a protective mask, so it's not as though he's inventing excuses to explain a single sub-par shooting night. Manu Ginobili also said on Thursday that the new sleeved jerseys will take a while to adjust to, adding that he wears his one size bigger to allow for extra room. Just something to keep in mind.
There were no other real surprises for Miami. Greg Oden went scoreless in six minutes during his return from a precautionary one-game absence, Michael Beasley chipped in 11 points and six rebounds with a steal and a block in 21 minutes, and with Wade active it was a quiet night for Ray Allen (six points, five assists).
Gregg Popovich once again tweaked his lineups to perfection, starting Boris Diaw (16 points, eight rebounds, five assists) over usual starting center Tiago Splitter (seven points, two rebounds in 19 minutes). Diaw has been surprisingly good against LeBron James defensively in the past, thanks to his size and nimbleness, and Thursday was no exception. He also made 5-of-5 field goals, including a pair of 3-pointers, and he's now made 12 straight shots over the past two games. He belongs in active fantasy lineups even if he does head back to the bench for Saturday's game vs. the Magic.
Tim Duncan led all Spurs scorers with 23 points on 9-of-13 FGs and 5-of-5 FTs, 11 rebounds, two assists and one block in 33 minutes, while Tony Parker added 17 points and four assists. Both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green salvaged their evenings with some defensive stats, while Patty Mills racked up nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists in just 17 minutes off the bench. Veterans Marco Belinelli and Manu Ginobili combined for 14 points and seven assists in limited playing time and it's probably unwise to rely on the Spurs' reserves while Popovich has so many options at his disposal (he used a balanced nine-man rotation on Thursday).
Thunder at Phoenix
Oklahoma City blew a 16-point lead late in the third quarter as their defense decomposed and their offense devolved into a stagnant procession of long jumpers. Astoundingly, OKC's fourth quarter featured exactly one shot at the rim, one pair of free throws, four mid-range jumpers, and 14 shots from 20 feet or beyond (including a whopping 10 attempts from downtown). They made of few of their long jumpers, which may have been fool's gold, and the lack of offensive discipline has to be concerning for Thunder fans.
OKC's loss of late-game composure also squandered another hyper-efficient line from Russell Westbrook -- he finished with 36 points on 13-of-22 shooting, four 3-pointers, nine boards, nine assists and four steals. He played just 30 minutes, coming painfully close to recording two straight triple-doubles in a total of 50 minutes playing time (he had 13/10/14 in 20 minutes against (who else?) the Sixers on Tuesday). Westbrook has faced two of the league's worst defenses, which helps, but his court awareness, physicality and improved shooting range have been on full display. He told reporters after Tuesday's game, "I never go in looking to shoot first, pass first, rebound first. I just come in and play off instincts."
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant scored a relatively "quiet" 34 points with three 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists, four turnovers, and zero steals or blocks. He played a game-high 44 minutes and regardless of your feelings about the league's MVP race this season, Durant's fantasy-MVP credentials are already engraved on the 2013-14 trophy. Serge Ibaka added 18 efficient points, five rebounds, one steal and three blocks, but starters Steven Adams and Perry Jones III were both scoreless with zero assists, steals or blocks in just 11 minutes apiece.
Jones III should be ignored in typical fantasy leagues and he may soon lose the starting SG job to Caron Butler, who led OKC's reserves with 14 points, four 3-pointers and one assist in 29 minutes. Butler seems like the guy to own in the wake of Thabo Sefolosha's strained calf -- he may not provide much beyond points, 3-pointers, a handful of rebounds and an occasional steal, but that's better production than we're seeing from Jones III or Jeremy Lamb (seven points in 13 minutes).
Reggie Jackson has been a solid option over the past month but he flopped on Thursday (four points, three assists in 18 minutes) and his playing time has dwindled in the past four games from 34 minutes to 27, 25 and 18. The Thunder play three games in each of the next two weeks, which leaves little margin for error, so keep a close eye on Jackson's role during Sunday's game at L.A. (just keep in mind his numbers will likely be inflated vs. the Lakers).
The Suns' offense continues to amaze and they rode it to a crucial 126-120 win vs. the visiting Thunder on Thursday, led by Gerald Green's career-high 41 points. Green was scoreless after one quarter but he simply couldn't miss in the second and third periods, finishing 12-of-22 from the field, 8-of-13 from downtown and 9-of-11 at the FT line (it's worth mentioning that the Suns were wearing sleeved jerseys). Goran Dragic scored 22 points and handed out four assists but he saved his best for last, making a series of tough buckets late in the fourth quarter to maintain the Suns' precarious lead.
The Morris Bros. continue to be one of the most dynamic bench duos in the NBA -- Markieff Morris scored 24 points, Marcus Morris had 15 points, and the twins combined for 13-of-20 shooting with nine rebounds and five assists. Starting SF P.J. Tucker spent most of his energy trying to make life difficult for Kevin Durant, but he piled up a typically understated line with seven points, one 3-pointer, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals in a team-high 43 minutes. The only clear disappointment was starting C Alex Len, who scored six points and grabbed three rebounds but also committed five personal fouls in 11 minutes of action. Given the fast pace of this game, OKC's lack of a true center and the Suns' tendency to run small anyway, it's unwise to trust Len even with Miles Plumlee (knee) on the sidelines.