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Wolves at Rockets
Gorgui Dieng paid off immediately for owners who scraped him off the waiver wire after Nikola Pekovic aggravated his ankle bursitis -- the rookie center piled up 22 points, 21 rebounds, four assists and one steal in 38 minutes vs. the Rockets, despite playing vs. noted defensive specialist Omer Asik (12 points, five boards, four blocks).
I noted in a blurb last week that Dieng's shot-blocking is huge for a Wolves team which ranks dead last in that category, and he's managed to avoid the two pitfalls I described: "Just keep in mind that his overall value is severely limited by a raw offensive game (42.6 percent FGs, 44.4 percent FTs) and a tendency to get into foul trouble (7.4 fouls per 36 minutes)." Dieng's three starts provide a tiny sample size, but thus far he's avoided those caveats. At this late stage in the season skepticism should give way to belief -- with averages of 14.7 points, 14.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.0 blocks, Dieng needs to be in fantasy lineups as long as Pek remains sidelined (he's questionable to return Sunday).
If you were waiting for a sign to cut Corey Brewer, it was provided in neon colors on Thursday as he went scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting with zero rebounds or assists in 17 minutes. He's been shooting a solid 46.2 percent from the field this season, but that includes a poor 28.3 percent mark from downtown. Robbie Hummel, Chase Budinger and Luc Mbah a Moute all played well off the bench on Thursday and the result was a dud from Brewer and starting SG Kevin Martin, who scored six points in just 20 minutes.
K-Mart's inability to defend James Harden was a primary cause for his lackluster evening, and he'll try to bounce back in another tough up-tempo matchup with Eric Bledsoe on Sunday. The Wolves have three consecutive four-game weeks on the horizon, giving Martin's owners some leeway even if he does have a few more duds scattered across Minnesota's final games. The same holds for Ricky Rubio, who followed up Wednesday's tremendous triple-double with a mere five points, two rebounds, eight assists and zero steals in 25 minutes. As usual for the Rockets, Patrick Beverley deserves much of the credit for pestering Rubio into an off night.
Rubio said recently that he hopes to add a floater to his repertoire, and there's no doubt he needs to step up his scoring to be a well-rounded threat next season. He's improved to 35.6 percent from downtown this season, which is tolerable, but he's just 38.0 percent on all shots inside the arc. Flip Saunders' comment from back in September is as true today as it was then: "[Rubio is] going to have to be a threat [to score]," Saunders said. "Is it going to happen right away? No, but I know one thing: He’s going to get better because that’s his DNA, to work hard and become better." Even with his offensive flaws, Rubio has returned top-40/top-50 value in eight-cat/nine-cat leagues this year, respectively.
The Rockets ran past the Wolves, scoring 129 points for their second straight victory. James Harden scored 28 points with six 3-pointers to lead all Rockets' scorers, but he was one of seven guys in double-figures. Among the nicest surprises were Jeremy Lin (who double-doubled with 11 points and 10 assists in 30 minutes) and Donatas Motiejunas (who scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, with one 3-pointer and six rebounds).
Motie's big game, much like Omer Asik's 12 points and four blocks, were a direct result of Dwight Howard's absence after having a cyst removed from his ankle. Dwight downplayed the injury and there's a chance he'll return as soon as Saturday in Cleveland.
Wizards at Trail Blazers
The Wizards caught a bad break when Marcin Gortat appeared to injure himself during pre-game warmups. He limped into the locker room with a lower back injury and was unable to play vs. the Blazers, leaving Kevin Seraphin to score four points with two rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes as a starting center. The biggest beneficiary was Drew Gooden, whose 18 points and nine rebounds led all reserves and kept Washington competitive until the final minutes. Gooden has been terrific since being signed out of free agency, and even with Gortat healthy he's done enough to deserve fantasy owners' attention in the Wizards' upcoming three-game week.
The Blazers earned their second straight win behind Wesley Matthews' game-high 28 points on 8-of-16 field goals and 8-of-8 free throws. He hit four 3-pointers and added five assists and a steal for a well-rounded game, and he was joined in double-figures by Damian Lillard (23 points, 10 assists), Nicolas Batum (12 points, 14 rebounds) and Dorell Wright (15 points, three 3-pointers, seven rebounds).
Nicolas Batum has apparently been possessed by the spirit of Dennis Rodman since March 1. He's not taking ill-conceived trips to totalitarian states, but he is averaging a ridiculous 13.0 rebounds over his past 11 games, which on a season-long basis would rank second behind only DeAndre Jordan's 13.8 boards per game. LaMarcus Aldridge's absence with a badly bruised back has certainly helped Batum's cause, but it's this type of unpredictable versatility that makes him such a coveted fantasy player -- if his rebounding falls off, he'll make up for it with increased assists, 3-pointers, steals and/or blocks. He's been a solid top-40 option all season but he also hasn't missed any games, so on a cumulative basis he jumps into the second round.
Another Blazers player worth highlighting is Dorell Wright, whose 15 points, three 3s, seven rebounds and one steal came in just 20 minutes of action on Thursday. This is not a fluke, as few players can pack as much punch in limited playing time as Wright. On a per-36-minute basis, in fact, he has season averages of 13.3 points, 2.8 triples, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and only 1.4 turnovers. His 38.5 percent shooting is largely due to 70 percent of his attempts being beyond the arc, and Wright would be a solid pickup if Batum or Wes Matthews were ever injured for an extended period of time. As things stand with Aldridge's return date unknown, Wright is best suited to deeper leagues on a day-to-day basis, though Portland's juicy five-game schedule makes him more palatable if Aldridge is ruled out in advance.
LaMarcus Aldridge provides a nice transition into a brief Injury Report (many players have already been covered above). Aldridge is day-to-day after recently shedding his crutches, but it seems very doubtful that he'll return for Saturday's game vs. Charlotte. He will travel with the Blazers on their five-game trip, which is an encouraging sign, and his fantasy owners can only pray that he's ready in time for Portland's glorious five-game schedule next week.
LeBron James' sudden absence with back spasms on Wednesday has all the hallmarks of a precautionary DNP, but owners should be on red alert for updates as the Heat prepare to host the Grizzlies on Friday. At the moment LBJ remains questionable, though I'd be surprised if he doesn't return (and hugely disappointed since I own him in multiple fantasy playoffs).
Anthony Davis (illness) returned to practice on Thursday and should be fine for Friday's game in Atlanta.
Wilson Chandler (hip) is expected to play on Friday after missing one game following an injection in his hip. He's been slumping lately, presumably due to the injury, so hopefully the shot and rest will get him back on track.
Ty Lawson (sinus infection) is also expected to play, and the best news for his fantasy owners is that the initial report of a groin injury has since faded from the picture -- it seems his recent one-game absence was due strictly to his illness. Aaron Brooks freaked out to the tune of 27 points and 17 assists in Lawson's absence, but lightning won't strike twice and he's not worth owning while relegated to backup PG duties.
Jameer Nelson (sore knee) remains questionable for Orlando's back-to-back road games on Saturday and Sunday. With any luck we'll have an update later on Friday.
Andre Drummond (neck) looked good during Thursday's practice and he is questionable to return on Friday. If he does play, Greg Monroe will shift back to PF, Josh Smith to SF and Kyle Singler to SG, sending Rodney Stuckey back to the bench.
Nate Wolters fractured his left hand during Thursday's loss to the Warriors, an unfortunate injury which will likely end his rookie season. Wolters had been playing heavy minutes as the Bucks' starting PG alongside Brandon Knight, and without him Ramon Sessions instantly looks like a nice fantasy pickup for his ability to score in bunches, knock down high-volume FTs, and chip in enough 3-pointers, assists and steals to pile up middle-late value in most eight- or nine-cat leagues.
Wolters' injury should also result in more playing time for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who started the second half at SG and finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and one steal in 31 minutes of action. He initiated much of Milwaukee's action in the second half and is worth a speculative add for anyone willing to absorb lousy shooting percentages -- he's made a mere 37.0 percent of his shots since the All-Star break. It's worth pointing out that O.J. Mayo never left the Bucks' bench last night. He's owed a guaranteed $8 million in each of the next two seasons and at 26 years old you'd think the Bucks would use the final weeks of the season to give him a shot at redemption, but at the moment Mayo is buried somewhere beneath coach Drew's doghouse.
Andrew Bynum has serious swelling in his knee, which is the one thing he was hoping wouldn't happen upon his return, and he should be considered 'out indefinitely.' His solid play in limited minutes is somewhat encouraging as Indiana looks ahead to the playoffs, but it won't amount to anything if he can't stay on the court.
James Anderson (thigh) is a game-time decision on Friday, as the 76ers look to snap their franchise-worst 22-game losing streak. Amazingly, their 15-53 record is still better than the Bucks’ 13-56.
Jonas Valanciunas (sprained lower back) is questionable to play vs. the Thunder on Friday.
The Clippers are on the verge of welcoming back Darren Collison (illness) on Saturday, and Jamal Crawford (calf) is also questionable to play in that game. J.J. Redick (bulging disc) made a sudden return to practice on Thursday but he's closer to doubtful for Saturday's game, as L.A. will be extra cautious to avoid aggravating his injury. The fact that he was even on the court is encouraging since the Clips had reportedly considered shutting him down for the season.
Jordan Farmar (groin) is out at least two weeks and can safely be cut in all leagues. With Steve Nash (nerve irritation) doubtful to play again this season, that leaves Kendall Marshall as a solid PG option the rest of the way...as long as you don't mind getting hammered with poor FG and FT percentages. (UPDATE: I missed the fact that Nash intends to play on Friday, but he's shown zero ability to maintain his health after his short-lived appearances this season, so this doesn't change his or Marshall's outlook very much). Chris Kaman also needs an MRI on his sore foot, but even when healthy he's not a part of Mike D'Antoni's preferred rotations. On the positive side of the injury ledger, both Jordan Hill (knee) and Nick Young (knee) will be available off L.A.'s bench on Friday.