This edition of the Friday Dose begins with a survey of players at risk of DNPs in back-to-back sets, continues with recaps of Thursday's four-game slate, and concludes with a quick Injury Report.
The following players are at varying degrees of risk to sit out during back-to-back sets, forcing fantasy owners to proceed warily when setting lineups in weekly leagues.
Russell Westbrook has had three knee surgeries over the past year, and the Thunder are wisely taking a cautious route with his playing time and availability for back-to-back sets. He sat out Thursday's game as a precaution but will return vs. the Raptors on Friday, and you can't argue with his production while on the court. So far in March he's averaging 23.6 points on 48.6 percent shooting, 2.7 triples (42.2 percent from downtown), 6.1 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.7 steals and 4.6 turnovers per game.
In leagues with daily lineups, the ideal scenario is to own both Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, who absorbs most of his production as a starter whenever the Thunder rest WB. Jackson had 13 points, one 3-pointer, four boards, six assists and one steal in Thursday's road win in Cleveland, and he's worth watching closely during OKC's four remaining back-to-back sets: March 24/25 and April 3/4, 8/9 and 13/14.
Kevin Garnett (back spasms) finally addressed the media after weeks of silence on Thursday, saying that his health has improved but he remains without a firm return date. He won't play in Friday's home game and is questionable to travel for the Nets' upcoming three-game road trip, which could mean another handful of starts for Mason Plumlee. The rookie has stepped up admirably for Brooklyn over the past two weeks, averaging 8.3 points on 67.0 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in 22 minutes per game, though that amounts to just borderline value in 14-team leagues.
Andray Blatche has been worse during the same stretch, unfortunately, putting up just 9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.4 blocks in 25 minutes per game, while making 57.9 percent of his FTs. The end result is that both Plumlee and Blatche are shaky-at-best options even with KG on the sidelines. Deep-league owners scrounging for value should keep an eye on them during Brooklyn's five remaining back-to-back sets, however, since KG will almost certainly be rested a game during these sets even if his back is fully healed: March 23/24 and April 1/2, 4/5, 8/9 and 15/16.
Dwyane Wade is one of the league's most prominent back-to-back risks, and Miami has four more sets on the schedule: March 21/22 and 28/29, as well as April 8/9 and 11/12. Wade's status has been a constant mystery until at least shootaround for most games this season and that's not about to change as the Heat cruise toward the playoffs with the second-best record in the East.
Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are all DNP risks in back-to-back sets, of course, and the real surprise would be if Gregg Popovich doesn’t rest them at some point down the stretch. The Spurs play a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday, and they have three more after that on March 28/29, April 2/3 and April 10/11.
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Bucks at Warriors
Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) played only 19 minutes on Thursday, scoring 11 points with three rebounds and no other stats to his credit. David Lee abused him all night long on his way to 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, using his strength and speed to get wherever he wanted against Ersan's nominal defensive effort. As if that weren't bad enough, Ilyasova faces the prospect of missing one game during each of Milwaukee's three remaining back-to-back sets: March 23/24, April 4/5 and April 11/12. That means he'll miss either Sunday's game at the Kings or Monday's game at the Clippers.
John Henson has started the past three games that Ilyasova sat out but he's failed to dominate as he did for stretches earlier this season, and most fantasy owners will be better off without his mediocre averages in the Bucks' past nine games -- 10.7 points (including 37.5 percent FT shooting), 5.8 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 1.1 blocks. Nate Wolters also left Thursday's game with a fractured hand, the implications of which are discussed below in the Injury Report.
The Warriors welcomed Andrew Bogut (ankle) back into the starting lineup on Thursday, where he posted a typical eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, 12 rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes. He didn't block any shots but that belies his tremendous impact defensively, which was most obvious when he left the game and Milwaukee promptly formed a layup line. Jermaine O'Neal sat out again due to 'general soreness' and Golden State will be extra cautious with both of their veteran centers, whose defense will be most crucial in the postseason. Although the Warriors haven't said as much (to my knowledge), I'd lump Bogut and J.O. into the group of players iffy for back-to-back sets. Golden State has three remaining on April 1/2, 10/11 and 13/14.
Thunder at Cavaliers
Dion Waiters erupted for 30 points in a loss to the Thunder, making 11-of-25 FGs and 6-of-12 FTs with two 3-pointers, four assists, three steals and only one turnover. He and Spencer Hawes (20 points) are the alpha and omega of the Cavaliers' offense with Kyrie Irving (biceps) out at least another 10 days and Luol Deng (ankle) still day-to-day. The Cavs play a back-to-back set on Saturday and Sunday, followed by a favorable four-game slate next week, and Waiters belongs in all active lineups even if Deng does return to steal some of his production.
Meanwhile, veteran combo guard Jarrett Jack continues to struggle despite an increased role as a starter -- he's been handed 34 minutes per game over the past two weeks but has yet to provide reliable fantasy value with averages of 11.7 points, 0.7 threes, 2.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 0.6 steals. The Cavaliers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game and their half-court heavy offense is anathema for Jack's fantasy appeal.
Luol Deng's replacement at SF, Alonzo Gee, picked up two quick fouls vs. Kevin Durant on Thursday and finished with seven points, one 3-pointer, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes. He has interesting upside but makes for a risky play in standard leagues with Deng questionable to play in Cleveland's back-to-back sets on March 22/23 and 25/26. The Cavs have lost three straight games to fall 6.5 games out of the playoff race and it wouldn't be surprising if Cleveland played it safe with both Kyrie and Deng down the stretch.
Honorable mention goes to Cavs backup Matthew Dellavedova, who double-doubled with 11 points and 10 assists even while attempting the impossible -- guarding Kevin Durant. Gee's foul trouble shifted the Cavaliers' 6'4" rookie guard onto the 6'10" MVP candidate, and although he got torched it wasn't for lack of effort. Dellavedova's 39.5 percent shooting needs to improve but he's shown enough talent and tenacity that it would be shocking if Cleveland doesn't guarantee his $816,000 salary for the 2014-15 season.
Thursday's game went according to script for the Thunder, as they won 102-95 behind Kevin Durant's 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The Cavs had just given up a monster line to LeBron James and without Luol Deng they've proven incapable of checking opposing SFs, which bodes very well for Chandler Parsons if Deng is out again on Saturday. Serge Ibaka added a 16 & 11 double-double for the Thunder, Reggie Jackson had 13 points, and reserve guards Derek Fisher (12 points) and Jeremy Lamb (10 points) also gave their team a lift.
Jeremy Lamb played 26 minutes and he's worth keeping an eye on in deep leagues. Caron Butler (eight points in 26 minutes) has quashed Lamb's value lately, but Andre Roberson (four points in 17 minutes) hasn't done much with the starting SG job and it's possible that coach Scott Brooks will alter his rotations while awaiting Thabo Sefolosha's return from a strained calf. In typical 12-team leagues, however, the Thunder's platoon of fill-in wing players looks like a fantasy quagmire.