The Buckaroos tried to win one game after the other and that’s not quite like putting one foot in front of the other for Milwaukee, who is on the radar more than ever because of their ongoing five-game week. Larry Drew pulled his magic on Monday by giving Jeff Adrien the kiss of death, which was a declaration that he had earned consistent minutes going forward before deploying him for five whole minutes. I wasn’t too high on Adrien given the lack of versatility in his fantasy game but a 20-10 game and that declaration had me biting on the five-gamer. Luckily he came through with 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in his 20-minute stint. Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) was a late scratch and that helped things along, but in general this keeps Adrien on pace for helping owners this week even if he doesn’t have much breathing room.
Zaza Pachulia was another deep league guy I rolled the dice on and he’s ahead of pace after a nine-point, six-rebound night including a career-high 10 assists. He didn’t have a steal or block but the hope with him in those formats was that he would have 2-3 games like this and not otherwise crap the bed. John Henson got a start at his natural power forward position and scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocks in 32 minutes. Earth to Matilda, he likes the weakside and he’s probably confused as all hell about where to stand half the time with so many different lineups. I’m still holding on Henson but between the wrist and ankle injuries of the last few weeks and his seemingly shaken confidence I’m not above dropping him if he continues to falter after this mini-turnaround.
Giannis Antetokounmpo missed all five of his shots and finished with four points, five rebounds and four assists in his 22 minutes off the bench, and he’ll need a big game to pan out for owners after two substandard outings. O.J. Mayo was a DNP-Fat, Ramon Sessions kept up his 14-team per-game pace with 11 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three, Khris Middleton scored 11 points with four boards, one steal and one three, and Brandon Knight put up 21 points with four assists and a trey in the loss.
TAKING WHAT THE DEFENSE GIVES YOU
There was a J.J. Barea sighting in Minnesota as the pint-sized guard finally got to play off the ball a bit against Milwaukee’s smaller backcourt. He scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting with two threes, four assists and a steal in 28 minutes off the bench, but the Bucks aren’t on the schedule every night. He’s still waiver wire fodder. Kevin Love scored 27 points with 10 rebounds, six assists, three treys and three blocks as his top 2-4 season continues, and Kevin Martin took advantage of the opponent with 26 points, two threes, one steal and a 6-of-7 mark from the line.
Ricky Rubio went for 11 and 10 with three steals and one trey and for all the consternation about his scoring he’s a top 25-30 play on the year. Corey Brewer hit just 1-of-8 shots for four points, five boards, three assists and two steals in his 35 minutes, and while he hasn’t been hitting many threes lately he has racked up 2.0 steals per game while shooting somewhat respectably over the last two weeks. It has added up to late-round value and owners eye-balling the Wolves 3-4-4-4 schedule to finish out the year have good reason to buy into that in most formats. He has rendered Chase Budinger (10 minutes) a true backup.
IN YOUR HEAD. IN YOUR HEAAAADDD. BEVERLEY. BEVERLEY. BEVERLEY-LEY-LEY-LEY-OH-OH-OH-OH….
I woke up to a Grantland discussion between Bill Simmons and Andrew Sharp about Patrick Beverley and if that didn’t alert the basketball public then last night’s game certainly let the alley cat out of the bag – or whatever feral nomenclature was bandied about in our never-ending attempt to nickname everything.
To that end, I’ll throw some mud against the wall and nominate The Choke Chain, The Master Lock, and Cabin Fever.
Beverley returned to the scene of the so-called crime at the OKC corral in a made-for-TV heavyweight bout with Russell Westbrook and it lived up to all the billing. Westbrook got multiple licks in throughout the game and Beverley wasted no time going right at Westy prior to a timeout – sending a message that if you’re going to call time on his side of floor then you may want to cover the ball up and play through the whistle.
Everybody got into it with everybody and when Scott Brooks yelling at James Harden and vice-versa is the 10th most intriguing thing that happens that’s how you know it’s real.
I can’t get enough of players around the league getting pissed off about Beverley. It’s the ultimate sign of respect. Beverley is a constant mental and physical drain upon the opposing team’s point guard, with the ability to ride his opponent at the hip, elite instincts on and off the ball, and the ability to challenge everything. That Westbrook made Beverley look mortal on that end is a testament to the freakish counterpart.
Beverley had his moments too and though it felt like the Rockets were dominated, they were in the game all the way to the end before a tough foul by Beverley on a Westbrook three ended up being the nail in the coffin.
While opposing point guards have been voicing their opinions on Beverley all week, the Thunder have had the little man in their head for a while and last night it actually helped them as they played with intensity and togetherness we haven’t seen in a while.
But after a year of organizational trash talk in Beverley’s direction and all of the talk from some in the OKC media implying that he is a dirty player – the echo chamber appears to be overly concerned about a clean, freak play rather than the real systemic issues that cost them championships in the two years prior to that. After the game, from the players to the coach and some in the media, they made Beverley out to be the guy on your high school team with no talent that tries way too hard.
And that’s too bad. As fans and analysts we want titans to carry the weight of their own actions into battle, rather than excusing themselves as victims of a castaway crook. It’s not just lowbrow but it’s also disingenuous – because if push came to shove Beverley and Westbrook would make for a nightmarish backcourt that 29 other teams would love to have.
But none of that matters now. The rivalry is not just born but it is carved into stone. These two teams hate each other and if there is a basketball god I speak for all of us in asking for seven games with all the chips in the middle.
HARDENED BY TRADE
The game itself had no real fantasy implications on the Rockets’ side. Dwight Howard had his first game in a while in which a lack of aggression pervaded, as he scored just nine points with 10 rebounds and a block but never stuck a shoulder in anybody’s chest to move them out of the way. After a month or so of doing exactly that I’m not ready to declare his recent renaissance over.
James Harden is on autopilot right now and posted another monster line of 28 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block, three treys and a perfect seven freebies. Over the last month he has been fantasy’s No. 1 play in 8-cat leagues and No. 3 in 9-cat leagues, and with two four-game weeks to end the season he could very well be the fantasy playoff MVP. That’s not a bad consolation prize for a top 3-5 pick that has returned only top 8-10 value on the year – a significant drop in that section of the rankings.
Terrence Jones was quiet on the glass with just three boards but had a steal and two blocks to go with his eight points, Chandler Parsons scored 19 points with six rebounds, four assists, two steals and three treys, and Jeremy Lin got caught up in the wash with just eight points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 24 minutes off the bench. I was never on the ‘drop Jones’ bandwagon and he has played at a top-100 level over the last two weeks so I’m not starting now.
Lin has looked a lot better in the last week than he did for the last month or so, and I’m comfortable projecting him a hair above his season-long value as a late-round guy with upside in 8-cat, 12-team leagues. In 9-cat leagues you’ll want to downgrade him a round or two.
Beverley scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and two steals, and needless to say he was a little bit preoccupied last night. That can often be the case and he has slowed down after a nice month-long stretch, but owners will probably want to throw last night’s game out the window when making a wholesale evaluation. He has been a top 75-100 value over the last month and has a fairly stable late-round floor.
THE YOUNG AND THE OLD
Kevin Durant makes 42 points on 12-of-22 shooting (5-of-8 3PTs, 13-of-16 FTs) with five rebounds, four assists and a block look like a regular night and that’s all you need to know about the guy. It still amazes me how at the end of games the Thunder can’t get the ball in his hands to execute whatever play they aren’t going to run. Russell Westbrook scored 24 points on 6-of-14 shooting (1-of-4 3PTs, 11-of-14 FTs) with four rebounds, seven assists and four steals, and there is not a player on this side of LeBron James that is scarier with a head of steam. I’m fine with criticizing his shot selection so long as first you knock the coach for rolling the ball out there with a directive to aggressively freelance, but anybody criticizing this guy for the contributions he’s making on a nightly basis isn’t seeing the forest through the trees.
If the Thunder are to prevail this year it will be because Serge Ibaka is easily the best No. 3 player in the league. Like Durant, he quietly scored 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting with 16 rebounds and four blocks, and he gives the team a great shot to play small ball with him at the five stretching out defenses. I like what Caron Butler (11 points, three treys, five boards) and Derek Fisher (six points, five assists, one three) bring in terms of toughness but durability issues aside for Butler they’re not going to be able match up with elite teams on the defensive side of the ball. In a seven-game series teams with good coaching will make Fisher pay for his lack of recovery speed and Butler is an every-play blowby so the hope there for Thunder fans is that they can do just enough to get by.
The chance to develop Reggie Jackson (nine points, one assist, 21 minutes) and Jeremy Lamb (three minutes) has come and gone, with both players losing their confidence and nerve at the same time with different results. Jackson is trying too hard now to impact the game in a diminished role and Lamb is sleepwalking just as his sleepy countenance would stereotypically suggest. Scott Brooks knows who he’s going to war with – and along with Kendrick Perkins the old guys are going to decide whether or not they raise the Larry O’Brien in June. The Big Three are locked and loaded and poised to overcome the system limitations and strategic disadvantages more so than ever before, but we always knew that would be the case.
DUD FOR DALLAS
Dirk Nowitzki tied the great John Havlicek for No. 12 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and other than the Mavs putting the West’s No. 6 seed mostly out of reach there wasn’t much to say about their dud against the Warriors. Dirk finished with 12 points, six boards and a steal in an off-night, Monta Ellis scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, two steals, a block and three in his old Oakland stomping grounds, and Jose Calderon put up the obligatory 13 and five with two triples but had six turnovers in the loss.
Shawn Marion played his last card with owners on a zero-point, three-rebound night in which he missed all six of his shots. The decline has been precipitous and there’s no reason to project him as anything but a deep league guy going forward. Brandan Wright scored nine points with six rebounds and one block in his 16 minutes, and that was about as good as it got out of the Dallas center position. That’s probably not changing. Vince Carter hit just 3-of-10 shots for 10 points, two threes and one steal in 22 minutes, and a two-week stretch shooting north of 46 percent is probably going to catch up with him. He’s earned some rope with owners with solid play over the last month. Devin Harris left last night’s game with a sore right Achilles but hasn’t been ruled out for tonight’s game against the Jazz.
BEAT THE TEAMS YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BEAT
Don’t look now but the Warriors have won 10 of 12 games since the All Star break and given themselves some cushion in the West with a three-game lead over the Grizzlies and Mavs who currently occupy the last two slots for the playoffs. One can’t argue with the wins over Houston, Indy and Phoenix and if you want to throw the Mavs into that mix, fine, but the rest of the teams they’ve beat have a combined 40 percent winning percentage this season. It all falls into the beating the teams you’re supposed to beat category, and though I like my guys playing the relatively clean ball they’re playing right now they still have to figure out how to get Steph Curry off the ball. The only hope there is that Andre Iguodala finds a gear he hasn’t shown all season.
Curry (10 points, four assists) played 22 minutes as he works through a quad injury and he’ll have his hands full tonight with Chris Paul and Co. so the rest makes sense. None of the Warriors were particularly necessary last night in a cakewalk, so last night isn’t the one to get on Iguodala for his four points, five assists and two blocks. There’s plenty of ammunition from the rest of the season for exactly that.
Andrew Bogut rolled with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting with 10 rebounds and one block in 30 minutes, as he continues to prove skeptics that questioned his durability (including yours truly) terribly wrong. Klay Thompson hit 6-of-10 shots for 14 points, two threes, one steal and five turnovers, David Lee went for six and 11, and Jordan Crawford dusted off his jumper to score 19 points. If Crawford ends up with any fantasy value this season it will be an admission by the Warriors that they’re desperate for a penetrator and they won’t hit that panic button until the playoffs.