Last night had an historic feel, as Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki fittingly hit massive milestones on the same night, Paul Pierce just missed 25,000 career points, and on a sad note The Ultimate Warrior passed just three days after getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Whatever your thoughts are on pro wrestling, James Hellwing was an icon in the late 1980s and by the end of last night there was plenty of nostalgia in the air.
If that wasn’t enough the night was chalk full of news, a bang-bang block of LeBron at the rim to decide a game, and plenty of big lines. There will be 12 games tonight that will go a very long way toward deciding the leagues that are still going. To be honest I haven’t done any research about how many injuries or shutdowns there have been this year compared to years’ past, but I can sense a groundswell forming against playoff leagues that wrap up in any of the last three weeks. It’s just too long of a year to be decided on a roll of the dice during silly season.
Unfortunately there is not a good answer for playoff formats that doesn’t include starting the playoffs right after the trade deadline, which is chopping off a significant part of the year and moving the deciding fantasy weeks into an awkward period when franchises stumble around after changing paths. This, of course, presumes that the deadline ever becomes a thing again.
I’m a Roto guy through and through and that's where owners can avoid all of this, but fantasy playoff leagues aren't going anywhere so maybe the industry can figure out better ways to end leagues early. A random and fun idea could be to introduce a follow-up re-draft league for the final five weeks of the season -- like a playoff league but without the elimination aspect. And if a second draft is too out there for your tastes, when might be the right time to start your playoffs? Right after the All Star Game? The Trade Deadline? There is no perfect or elegant solution, but hearing from you guys that you lost because 'insert player here' is nursing a minor injury isn’t paying the bills, either.
Speaking of paying the bills, let’s do this.
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Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $70,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Wednesday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $9,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the FanDuel link.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
It’s hard to get on a guy for his first night off all year, but Josh Smith’s late scratch due to patella soreness is an easy target on a number of levels after the Pistons snagged a win in Atlanta. Rodney Stuckey joined the starting lineup and quickly put up 29 points on 8-of-17 shooting with four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one three, a whopping eight turnovers and an equally as big 12-of-14 mark from the line.
The book on Stuckey is pretty simple – he’s a nightly risk that can start to fill it up when he holds the ball a lot. It’s debatable if Brandon Jennings (seven points, 3-of-10 FGs, six assists) will play along or if Smith will remain out, but Stuckey is worth a look at a minimum with three more games this week and Will Bynum (foot) also on the injury report.
If Smoove decides to play it safe with his knee, Andre Drummond (19 points, 17 boards, two steals, two blocks) and Greg Monroe (21 points, 13 boards, two steals) will continue to profile as early-round and late-mid round producers, respectively. Kyle Singler got his four-game week off to a bad start, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting with four rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes. The playing time is there and teammate injuries aren't hurting matters, so consider giving the top 75-100 play (9/8 cat) over the last two weeks another shot.
The Hawks caught a nice break in the schedule with wins over Philly, Cleveland and Indy in the three of the four games prior to last night. But they lost six in a row before that and last night they punted on a chance to slam the door on the Knicks for the last spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Outside of Paul Millsap (24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block) and Jeff Teague (15 points, 5-of-9 FGs, nine assists), the team got a combined 6-of-26 shooting out of Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll and that was enough to sink them against a struggling Pistons team with nothing to play for.
Korver and Carroll are fine bets to bounce back in the next one and have three more games this week, and that schedule advantage also gives extra consideration to Pero Antic (13 points, nine boards, two threes, one steal, one block) and Elton Brand (four points, seven rebounds, one steal, two blocks).
The Hawks are now 1.5 games ahead of the Knicks with five games to play, while the Cavs have a reverse magic number of one to be knocked out of contention, which includes any Hawks win or Cavs loss. At this late juncture the Hawks might get some side-eye if they start sidelining guys after comments by Danny Ferry downplaying a playoff run, so I’d cautiously expect Atlanta to go all out until an eight-seed is crowned.
The Nets swept the season-series against the Heat on a career sequence for Mason Plumlee, who rose for a big boy’s conversion in heavy traffic on one end and followed it up with a statement block at the rim on LeBron James in the game’s final seconds. I guess I’m obligated to give my take that it wasn’t a foul, not in the spirit of the way games are (and should be) called at the end, nor in the letter of the law which clearly states that the hand is a part of the ball. If you want to talk about contact during liftoff, there’s an argument to be made but I’ll refer you back to the bit about spirit. Not only did Plumlee get the ball first and then the hand that was connected to it, but he also gave the Nets a solid confidence-booster heading into the playoffs.
Shaun Livingston has been great over the last month or so, but has slipped over the past few games and last night he had just four points, two rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 28 minutes. I wouldn’t read too much into Marcus Thornton’s big night, as the two operate on different planes, but Livingston can’t be considered a must-start player right now. He has three more games this week and two next week, so the schedule is right for he and his teammates, and owners will probably want to give him another chance to redeem himself in tonight’s game against the Magic. The Nets are 2-3 games away from their neighbors in the playoff chase, so the right combination of wins or losses could spin them toward silly season with just five left to play, but for now they need to keep winning.
As for Plumlee, he scored eight points with eight rebounds, one steal and three blocks in 30 minutes, and though I like his chances of contributing in the playoffs he’ll have a hard time holding 12-team value the rest of the way, especially once Andray Blatche (illness) and Kevin Garnett (rest) get back on the floor. The schedule, however, does give him a boost in some formats – and he also profiles as a younger guy to take on minutes if the vets get any shot at rest.
If you want to take a shot on Thornton he’s the type of guy that could get you the four triples he hit last night or play just 10 minutes. Lil’ Buckets finished with 16 points, six boards, four steals and a block in his 28 minutes, and going on a tangent he’s the type of player a la Mike Miller that could come into a Finals game and hit five big ones in 10 minutes to tip a game.
TWO BIG GAMES
For as terrible as Indy has been, it’s pretty amazing that the Heat haven’t been able to pull away and last night’s loss put them just one-half game ahead of the plummeting Pacers. The Heat and Pacers square off on Friday and a Pacers win will clinch the tiebreaker, so needless to say it will be critical in the race for home court advantage. So if I’m gambling on the DNP situations I’d guess the Heat would try to keep the pressure on Indy with a solid effort against the Grizzlies tonight, push hard in Friday’s tilt, and then take a look at the standings for the following games against Atlanta, Washington and Philly.
Aside from the big rejection, LeBron James turned in 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals, Mario Chalmers was quiet with seven points, five boards, a three and a steal, and Chris Bosh scored 12 points with six boards and two blocks. Dwyane Wade (hamstring) will sit as long as the team is at all concerned about his playoff status, and some light games against inferior competition seem like a logical time to get him back in the water rather than a bloodbath versus Memphis or Indy.
SPIN THE WHEEL
This game had trap written all over it for the Spurs as they lost Tony Parker (back) for last night and at least the next game on Thursday. Gorgui Dieng matched up decently against Tim Duncan (10 points, 4-of-11 FGs, six boards, four blocks), and Manu Ginobili left with a calf injury once the Wolves had all-but taken the game. The Spurs are going to be in cruise control for the No. 1 seed with a magic number of two and four games to play, but it is worth noting that Gregg Popovich said that he would prefer and expects Parker to return before the playoffs start for rhythm purposes.
Even with that little bit of information this is going to be a mess for owners and I wouldn’t begin to project absences and the like. Patty Mills (eight points, 22 minutes) and Marco Belinelli (three points, 26 minutes) can fill it up when given big minutes, but as you can see by last night’s totals they are huge risks. Boris Diaw went for 13 points, five boards, five assists and one three last night, and he’d round out a group of three randoms to look at as potential beneficiaries down the stretch. Of course, Cory Joseph (13 points, two assists, three steals, 20 minutes) started and had the most value of the goon squad last night, so anything goes here.
The Wolves have managed to play better without any playoff pressure and Ricky Rubio incidentally has been on a roll at the same time, improving his shooting percentage to 44 percent over the last month while returning top-25 value both in that month and on the year. He hit a career-high 10 field goals last night and finished with 23 points, seven assists and one steal in the win, leaving owners to ponder what kind of ceiling he has in fantasy leagues if he could ever learn to shoot.
All the while Minny has been hit hard by injuries, with Chase Budinger and Shabazz Muhammed looking done for the year, and Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic also heading that way.
Kevin Love (back spasms) hit just 5-of-15 shots for 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, one block, two threes and a perfect seven freebies, and the only concern here is his talk about wearing down, the scope of which is beyond owners' control and impossible to predict. Corey Brewer paid off owners that recognized the schedule play with 14 points, one three, three boards, two assists and four steals, and he’s positioned very well with the team banged up. Robbie Hummel started and scored nine points with seven boards, one steal and a three, but it would take a similar looking injury report to add him as a desperate, deep league play.
As for Gorgui Dieng, I was never in favor of dropping him so run and grab him if he’s available after his 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, 15 boards and one block. His floor will be late-round value and he has an outside shot at early round value if everything breaks his way. J.J. Barea (seven points, four assists, five turnovers, 21 minutes) is an interesting desperation add for his proficient categories and the five games the Wolves have left. If Pek stays out, Ronny Turiaf (10 points, nine boards, one block, 21 minutes) is also worth a look for his big man stats.
I’LL TAKE CLASSIC CONTEMPORARY PARADOXES FOR $500, ALEX
Dirk Nowitzki, once known for his lack of killer instinct is now known for exactly that, and last night he passed Oscar Robertson for No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It will go down as a classic contemporary Dirk line, as he hit 9-of-11 shots for 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and two threes, and the future Hall of Famer helped lead the No. 7 Mavs to a key win in the playoff chase. Up two games on No. 9 Memphis and owning the tiebreaker Dallas is in a great position with just three games to play. They can also take a tiebreaker over the No. 8 Suns, who are a game back, with a win on Saturday.
Shawn Marion (10 points, six boards, one steal, one block, two threes) has been an under-the-radar top 100 play for the last two weeks, and though he had a sharp foot pain during the game he made it seem like a non-issue for the Mavs’ next game on Thursday. Both he and Monta Ellis (back) will be good to go as the Mavs push forward for their playoff spot. Samuel Dalembert (10 points, six boards, two blocks) keeps cranking. With so little season left to go one has to think that Rick Carlisle might try to ride this multiple-week hot streak into the playoffs.
The Jazz could get ugly as Gordon Hayward’s future is a bit fuzzy, Ty Corbin’s future is certainly in doubt, and the team doesn’t have much firepower since nobody has panned out quite like many, including Jazz management thought. Derrick Favors (19 points, seven boards, one steal, 27 minutes) and Enes Kanter (15 points, 19 boards, two rare blocks, 28 minutes) still can’t play a ton of minutes together, and may never be able to, while Trey Burke (four points, 2-of-8 FGs, five assists) has been more liability than game-changer at the point.
Kanter is worth riding the rest of the way with Marvin Williams (eight minutes) a tough bet for big minutes due to various injuries, no matter how badly Corbin wants and needs him in the lineup. Richard Jefferson (15 points, two threes, 6-of-17 FGs) is a desperation option for 3-pointers in this shallow group.
TAKE A BOW
The Thunder took care of business against a totally depleted Kings team last night, which would prove to be as good of a time as any for Kevin Durant (23 points, four rebounds, four assists, two threes) to snap his streak of 25-point scoring games. Thabo Sefolosha (15 minutes, two points) returned to the starting lineup and Caron Butler took a lot of open threes, finishing with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six triples, five boards and one steal in his 26 minutes. Butler is worth a look after a six-game stretch of mid-round value including 3.0 triples per game.
Reggie Jackson started and played 25 minutes on his way to 13 points, four rebounds, five assists, one steal and two threes before the starters gave way in the blowout. Jackson figures to be the guy whose minutes take a hit when Sefolosha gets back up to speed, but he could easily avoid the landmines as Russell Westbrook (rest) and others are ahead of him in line for rest.
MISSING: PIZZA GUY
The Kings are in full-on evaluation mode of Ray McCallum right now, perhaps because of necessity but also so they can figure out how much they’re willing to pay Isaiah Thomas. Last night was a step backwards for McCallum, who couldn’t get anything going against Reggie Jackson, an oft-criticized defender by his local press this season. Finishing with seven points on 3-of-14 shooting, two rebounds, five assists and two steals in a whopping 45 minutes, he took some of the shine off of his must-start status but he could easily back it up with a big one – even against a group of Portland, LAC, and Phoenix in the next 3-of-4 games all playing hard right now.
As for Thomas, all I can tell you is that he’s definitely hurt. He wants to play. Mike Malone wants him to play, but none of them are going to push beyond what’s medically prudent to get him out there. There’s definitely an air of silence around the situation and nobody reporting on the team is saying anything optimistic about a return. That all points in the wrong direction for owners, and it is what it is – another reason to fix playoff formats.
Travis Outlaw is a sneaky pickup right now and I think he has earned the right to shoot the ball a good amount for the rest of the year. Aside from DeMarcus Cousins (24 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Rudy Gay (back), Thomas and to a way lesser degree McCallum, Outlaw is the only King to have anything resembling an offensive game. Ben McLemore? Nope. Until he can finish, shoot and dribble a whole lot better he’s simply hammering his way into low-end stats as a full-time player. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds and one three in 39 minutes, and is only worth a look if you’re desperate for threes.
Outlaw has been firing away with reckless abandon and last night he dropped 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and one three in 36 minutes. He was certainly helped by the absence of Gay, but that could be an ongoing thing depending on how conservative the Kings want to be about his back and that’s before we even talk about a potential trip to be with his wife for the birth of his child. Outlaw could easily end up being the Kings’ No. 2 scorer for the rest of the season, and should he take that mantle he would have a crack at late-round value with some upside. The Kings also have three more games this week to sweeten the pot.