Playoff stakes are only getting higher for leagues that wrap up in the next three weeks, and though the injury list is certainly stocked right now it doesn’t feel like we’ve been inundated with shutdowns just yet. Kyle Korver, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Pau Gasol, Ersan Ilyasova, Eric Gordon, Jameer Nelson, and Isaiah Thomas are all in danger of missing anywhere from a game or two to the rest of the year. The Spurs and Heat could rest their guys at a moment’s notice. I’d like to say the silly season will dodge the next three weeks, but I wonder if this is the year that the tanking (aka strategic rebuilding) puts a dent in playoff formats.
But we’re going to pretend I never said that and get to the business at hand. There was plenty to talk about with the four games on the slate last night, and we step into a pivotal 10-game night on Big Wednesday that will shape the course of your week.
For all of your fantasy news and NBA analysis in real-time, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $100,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Wednesday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $15,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the FanDuel link.
NO YOU CAN HAVE IT. NO *YOU* CAN HAVE IT
The Raptors let up last night against a Cavs team that did everything in their power to gift wrap the game late, but they certainly didn’t deserve to win with their own bumbling play at the end of the game. It’s hard to get on their case too much with Amir Johnson (12 points, nine boards, one steal, two blocks) playing through knee and ankle ailments, Kyle Lowry (22 points, five boards, 10 assists, three steals, three treys) playing through an illness, and Patrick Patterson (elbow) still out.
DeMar DeRozan looked more like last year’s bricklayer than I’ve seen in a while, hitting just 5-of-16 shots and 3-of-7 free throws to finish with 13 points, three rebounds, eight assists and a steal. He’s in the midst of a 41.6 percent shooting clip in March, with December being the only other month this year that he has dipped below 43.8 percent. He’ll be fine and though the slog of April isn’t usually the time for weary legs to perform at their best, there’s a decent chance he’ll go on a bounce-back hot streak.
Jonas Valanciunas (four points, three rebounds, 18 minutes) has been left behind this year – whether that’s an indictment of him or Dwane Casey remains to be seen – but in the meantime Toronto needs to find a way to get him playing better on both sides of the ball when teams with center depth come knocking in the playoffs. Terrence Ross hit four treys for 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with not much else, and he’s been just about as M.I.A. as JV recently so unless you’re desperate for threes the play is to watch.
Patterson was cleared for contact practices and he’s much more valuable to the Raptors than he is in fantasy leagues, particularly because he’ll be welcomed with open arms to spell the beat-up Johnson. Both profile as low-end 12-14 team guys whenever Patterson returns. Greivis Vasquez was called upon to pick up the slack and responded with 16 points, four threes, four rebounds and four assists, but hit just 4-of-13 shots including a few missed threes late and an embarrassing drive to the hoop on the game’s final play.
You gotta love the character that Vasquez is, as he laid on the court for a healthy three seconds to lament the carnage of his turnover and then grabbed at his ankle before semi-hobbling off the floor. As entertaining an interview as anyone in the league, he took responsibility for the turnover after the game but it looked a lot like when somebody trips over a crack in the sidewalk and stumbles into a fake jog. As the Raps get back to full strength his role will be scaled back down to the late-round level it has been over the past month. That said, he’s hot right now and returning mid-round value over the past week so give him a look – presuming the sniper that got his ankle isn’t in the arena for tonight’s game against the Celtics.
The Cavs couldn’t inbound the ball last night – an ongoing problem for them this year – and it almost cost them a win as they bogged down in the final quarter before the Raps imploded on their own. Still, it’s promising that Jarrett Jack (13 points, five boards, five assists, two steals, one block) and Dion Waiters (24 points, 10-of-19 FGs, one three, three rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks) are moving the ball as well as they are, begging the question of whether or not Waiters has been the wrong guy in the crosshairs this year. Speaking of the annual late-season invisible man, Kyrie Irving (biceps), he was able to take some shots in yesterday’s practice but his season is still in doubt according to Mike Brown.
For all the talk of Jack’s knee impacting his play, he looks fine now that he’s on the ball. That development should have been understood before the Cavs signed him to a sizable deal to do the exact opposite of that next to Irving. The Cavs are 4.5 games out of eighth place in the East with 10 games to play, and my guess is that they need to extend their current two-game winning streak to about six games for Irving to have a shot to come back, but that’s just a guess.
Spencer Hawes (11 points, seven boards, three steals) has been persona non grata in fourth quarters lately, as he has hit just 7-of-29 shots from deep over his last seven games and showed a noticeable lack of zeal when on the floor in the other three quarters. Maybe he ran out of Obama toilet paper or maybe he is just packing it in, but the Cavs have been going small late in games and that has made Hawes a tough start lately. With three games per week over the last two fantasy playoff weeks owners may want to find contingency plans.
Aside from throwing the ball away on the Cavs’ last inbound play, Anderson Varejao scored 11 points with eight boards, two assists and a steal in his 23 minutes, but he’s still a risky play at best and better suited for deeper leagues for now. I knew there was a reason I was stubbornly making excuses for Luol Deng, who has also enjoyed life without Irving. He scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shots (including two threes) with six rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block in 40 minutes. Deng has been a top 15-30 value over the last five games and though his ankle/Achilles is an issue, I can’t imagine not rolling with him unless Irving somehow returns. Just keep an eye on that injury report.
Tristan Thompson went for 15 and 13 with a block and also hit 9-of-10 free throws. That pushed him into the bottom of the top-200 for a two-week sample, and needless to say the fantasy deficient big man would only be worth a look if you’re hunting points and boards. Even then he’s a nightly gamble.
Portlandia is panic-central right now and all eyes are on the potential return of LaMarcus Aldridge (back) on Thursday after last night’s loss to the tanking Magic. He worked out yesterday and interrupted his workout to grab some food in the media room, which is a good sign since he’s back in the public view after a week of Belichickian injury reporting.
The panic is well-founded, however, as Aldridge is the key to everything the Blazers do and incidentally, the most recent example of what overreliance on any one player can do to a team.
The intrigue here is whether or not the top 25-30 fantasy play this season is going to return too early with the Blazers suddenly on the ropes. They’re 2.5 games ahead of ninth place Phoenix in the West, with three teams currently in between them and that will give them some much-needed cushion. However, the last time that Aldridge returned from his groin injury he hit just 40 percent of his shots from the field over seven games and the offense stalled as it struggled to revert back to featuring the big man.
Aldridge insists that this time is different because unlike the last return, he isn’t going from the couch to the court, but durability has always been his undoing in fantasy leagues. He needs every ounce of his physicality to keep defenders from pushing him into an even higher degree of difficulty on his turnaround jumper, and shooting from where he does he's prone to big dips in productivity when he falls out of rhythm. Factor in season-long efficiency numbers that have always been candidates for regression -- with a big increase in FGAs over last season and no corresponding decrease in percentage – the challenge he faces in fantasy leagues during this return is sizable.
If Aldridge falters the Blazers will follow suit, but if everything clicks both he and the Blazers will be as dangerous as any. Unfortunately, betting on a guy with a history of hip and mid-body injuries isn’t comfortable, and two three-game weeks to finish out the fantasy playoffs isn’t helping matters.
Dorell Wright (eight points, eight boards, 3-of-11 FGs, two threes, 26 minutes) will return to the bench but I’m not so sure that his minutes will be impacted all that much since he’s only playing 22.2 mpg over his last four contests anyway. The Blazers seem to like his ability to stretch the floor and Thomas Robinson (two points, five boards, 16 minutes) still isn’t ready to give consistent minutes for a contender. What it all means is that if you plugged in Wright for the five-game week there’s a chance he can eke together enough value to justify your play, but he certainly isn’t winning any matchups for you as he missed the window of opportunity as of late.
Mo Williams tweaked his knee and finished with just three points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three while hitting just 1-of-6 shots in 20 minutes. Part of the Blazers’ struggles have been due to using him a little bit too much and without any real strategy for the second unit. Of course a player like Aldridge can swing a coach's fortunes, but for all the glowing things myself and others have said this year Terry Stotts has had a tough month or so. Stotts’ uneven response to the Aldridge situation, along with a handful of minor complaints, hav knocked him a half-step back in Coach of the Year talk, also known as the most unbearable topic amongst awards voters on the Internet today.
Robin Lopez has been the team’s rock through all of the tumult, and last night he put up 20 and 13 with two blocks to continue his top 30-45 season. Assuming the Blazers’ roster doesn’t undergo a significant change, I can’t imagine drafting his twin brother ahead of him next season. Nicolas Batum (six points, 3-of-9 FGs, nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block, six turnovers), Damian Lillard (17 points, two assists, 5-of-17 FGs) and Wesley Matthews (18 points, 5-of-13 FGs, four threes, three assists) are enjoying the extra touches but they could probably use their big man back simply to reset their waning confidence.
POOF. WE WON A GAME.
The Magic have been a consistent fantasy squad this season for the most part and that will help herd owners through the final slog of three-game weeks. Tobias Harris has been a revelation over the last month despite a rocky week or so, and last night he added another 25-point, 11-rebound game including two threes and a block to the game log. He has been a top 45-65 value in that span while hitting 49.4 percent from the field and 88.7 percent from the line on 3.8 attempts per game. If he keeps up his current level of production he has an outside shot of living up to his mid-to-late round draft day ADP despite missing 21 games this season.
Nikola Vucevic has dealt with a bit of inconsistency for various reasons lately, but none serious enough to keep him from putting up the 22-point, 10-rebound double-double last night. He added two steals and a block and should be locked into lineups until further notice. Kyle O’Quinn managed just six points and six rebounds in his 23 minutes last night, but the steal and block kept it copacetic as he battles to maintain late-round value with the schedule working against him.
The knee injury for Jameer Nelson and potential for shutdown has been talked about a lot in this space, but he said that an MRI checked out okay and that he’s trying to return soon. We’ll see. Victor Oladipo continues to start at the point and last night he had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting (no threes) with five rebounds, six assists and three steals, while Arron Afflalo was a cut or two below that with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, three rebounds, five assists and zero threes attempted on the night. Afflalo has flashed some signs that he might return to form but the last two weeks he has been borderline unplayable for those not loading up on points, threes and free throw percentage. He can’t be considered a must-start player with those types of metrics at the bottom of the top-150 over that span.
Maurice Harkless logged just 25 minutes and finished with five points, five rebounds, two assists, one three and three steals. There is some late-season breakout potential if the Magic choose to let him and some of the other young guys loose, but for now he profiles as just a low-end value in 12-14 team leagues to go with the aforementioned bad schedule.