HOT KNIFE THROUGH MARGARINE SPREAD
There’s not much to say about the Rockets last night except for that they took what the defense gave them against the Lakers – and that totaled up to 145 points. The Lakers aren’t even faking like they’re playing defense these days, so take the Rockets’ box score with a grain of salt in the appropriate places. James Harden scored 33 points on 10-of-15 shooting with 12 assists and a full line as he makes a late push to recover some of his ADP. Right now he is the No. 6 and No. 9 fantasy play on the year (8/9 cat) and that’s a pretty big save compared to where he was all year.
Terrence Jones suffered a minor calf strain late but postgame reports showed no concern over his status, and nobody was concerned about the way he played after 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting with seven rebounds, one steal, one block, one three and 6-of-8 makes from the line. Barring a bad report on his calf strain, which was called a minor, keep him locked in. Chandler Parsons added 19 points, eight assists and a full line, Jeremy Lin posted a versatile nine points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and one three, and Omer Asik went for 10 and 15 with a steal and two blocks.
Donatas Motiejunas (13 points, 15 boards, one block, 24 minutes) and Isaiah Canaan (15 points, three treys, 27 minutes) even got in on the fun, but they can be disregarded given the garbage time element. The Rockets have 2.5 games between themselves and their neighbors in the playoff seeding hunt with just five games to play, so look for them to be careful with their guys, though Dwight Howard owners can find some solace in a Jason Friedman report that suggested he could return tonight. For both Howard and more importantly Patrick Beverley (knee), the Rockets will want to get as much rest as possible while keeping rust and rhythm from being a factor heading into the playoffs.
NELLIE IS ROLLING OVER IN HIS HAMMOCK
The Lakers are a circus sideshow right now, and with last night’s 275-point total in their loss to the Rockets fantasy owners are on red-alert that any L.A. game could break the box score. Mike D’Antoni is done coaching defense for this year and garbage-time is a pseudonym for tip-off. Owners should be locked into Jodie Meeks (30 points, two threes, four rebounds, six assists, one steal), Nick Young (32 points, six threes, three assists, 23 minutes) and Jordan Farmar (15 points, two threes, five boards, eight assists, three steals, two blocks) anytime they’re in the lineup. Young is bowling for dollars right now and fighting off concerns over his knee, and Farmar’s hammy could go pop at any time. But as you can see, they are the center of the Lakers’ attack.
Jordan Hill looks to be locked into a role, if we assume that Chris Kaman (calf) is done tap-dancing with D’Antoni for the year. He scored 12 points with five rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks in 24 minutes, and operating as the team’s center he actually fits the run-and-gun style well, presuming his knee can hold up through the team’s next four games to finish the year. Pau Gasol (vertigo) is unlikely to play again this year, though he is being evaluated daily, and barring a change in reporting owners can figure that five slot is up for grabs among Hill and Robert Sacre (six points, six boards, one block, 19 minutes).
Wesley Johnson (11 points, three treys, four rebounds, five assists, one steal) is a solid play now that Kent Bazemore (foot) is done, and Ryan Kelly is a risky play but showed his upside last night with 18 points, 8-of-11 FTs, three rebounds, one steal and one block in 32 minutes. Kendall Marshall won’t have to deal with Steve Nash for the rest of the year, but with Farmar around there’s no reason to take a leap of faith after his zero-point, four-assist outing in 19 minutes.
Nash deserves bigger billing than the bottom of a tanking Lakers recap, but I’ll let the rest of the Internet handle the big, glowing profiles. Mike D set the stage for Nash to pass Mark Jackson to become the third most proficient assist man in NBA history, and it could very well be the last game that we will see Nash play.
His NCAA Tourney run with Santa Clara made his NBA future seem elementary to this young student of the game, but that was back when I was too inexperienced to realize what long odds he faced in the pros. A short, wiry and defensively-deficient point guard, he had to rely on an arsenal of make-do moves and, of course, his deadly outside shot. We can talk until we’re blue in the face about his MVP awards, which could have easily gone to Shaq or others.
But it’s going to be a while until we see an underdog artist elevate himself to basketball master the way Nash did.
PHI @ TOR: The usual suspects are all good to go for the Sixers, though James Anderson and Tony Wroten have been MIA lately. The Raptors hope to get Kyle Lowry (knee) and Amir Johnson (ankle) back tonight after they practiced yesterday, and since they’re locked in a tight and relatively important battle for seeding there is definitely motivation for both of them to get on the court. Jonas Valanciunas will play despite the DUI on Wednesday and barring something extremely unlikely happening with his court date on April 22, he’s going to finish out the year and probably the playoffs. Owners can fade both Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross with the way the injury situation looked after Tuesday night.
DET @ CLE: We’ll be tracking the Josh Smith (patella) situation and for Cleveland they’ll have the band all back together again following their presser to announce Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are indeed friends. As mentioned, the Cavs need to win out and get a ton of help, but the interesting thing will be to see how everybody plays after becoming fodder for talk shows this past week.
CHA @ WAS: This game is intriguing in the sense that the loser could end up facing the Pacers from the No. 7 slot and that may actually be desirable these days (more on that in a few). Josh McRoberts is expected to play after a sprained ankle knocked him out, and the Wizards may throw Nene into the fire against Al Jefferson, though it would come in very limited minutes off the bench. The Wiz look poised to stick Nene in an upgraded Drew Gooden role, but once at full speed he’ll be needed to carry a heavy load for this team to make any noise in the playoffs. For now, he’s a very risky fantasy start on a busy night.
BKY @ ORL: Andray Blatche was a somewhat popular play with four games this week but his sudden illness after many lineup deadlines was a buzz-kill. We’ll be watching for updates on both he and KG in a winnable game that still has playoff implications. So far it sounds like Nikola Vucevic (Achilles) will play.
BOS @ ATL: Kris Humphries (knee) is out and Jared Sullinger (quad) is expected to play. Especially if you are punting a category or two where Sully is deficient, he figures to be a safer play than normal. Avery Bradley (Achilles) apparently looks good so more power to him as he struggles to finish the year healthy. He is expected to play and would be a worthwhile start even on a busy night, though he won’t come without a spoonful of risk. Downgrade Jerryd Bayless and if you’re desperate for a big give Kelly Olynyk a look. Olynyk has been a borderline low-end play in 12-team leagues over the last two weeks. Lou Williams did not play last night with a bad hammy and his status for tonight is unknown, and that’s not having much, if any impact on how owners play their Hawks tonight.
CHI @ MIN: The Bulls will catch the depleted Wolves on the SEGABABA and they’ve got plenty of seeding to play for, so if you want to upgrade your Bulls plays by just a little bit it would make some sense. Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Dante Cunningham will all be on our radar, with Martin and Pekovic contemplating shutdowns and Cunningham contemplating lockdowns.
PHO @ NO: The Suns will be out to punish the Pellies early as they’re up to their eyeballs in the playoff chase. Anthony Davis (back) sounds like he’s in the running for a start but there’s no guarantee he stays in the game if Monty Williams doesn’t like what he’s seeing. If he’s a go, I don’t see how you can keep him on your bench barring something obvious. Eric Gordon is out for the year and red hot Anthony Morrow is the pickup, though he still carries some risk not knowing what Monty will do from night to night.
MIA @ MEM: Look for Udonis Haslem to return from his illness if I had to guess against the big frontline of the Grizz. Memphis has its work cut out for them to make the playoffs so it will be interesting to see if they keep Tayshaun Prince (ankle) on the shelf or roll with James Johnson in a bigger role.
HOU @ DEN: The Rockets step into another great matchup and Aaron Brooks gets to go at his old team. Look for Brooks to go big against Jeremy Lin and this could quickly turn into a sloppy affair, as the Rockets are coming off the SEGABABA and the Nuggets still don’t have the firepower to keep up.
SAC @ POR: We’ll be watching for updates on Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay, but in the meantime owners can get prepared for a potential blowout as the Kings travel for the SEGABABA and have no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge. Nor will they have an answer for the rest of the lineup, and it will be up to DeMarcus Cousins to keep doing the freaky big man stuff that should have the rest of the league quaking in their boots.
OKC @ LAC: The Thunder got a reprieve with an easy win and short flight to Staples Center for tonight’s marquee matchup. Russell Westbrook will go and Matt Barnes is questionable with an illness. Jamal Crawford is extremely doubtful and that puts extra pressure on J.J. Redick to quickly assimilate into the rotation. Kendrick Perkins is back on the floor and that’s almost a guarantee for a Blake Griffin episode.
IND @ MIL: Oh boy … my Pacers. Former Pacers beat writer Mike Wells went for the jugular on Roy Hibbert deep in the bottom of his column on the implosion – which is the most puzzling question I’ve seen basketball minds struggle with in some time. To that end, almost to a person – the answer has sounded like somebody giving directions that doesn’t really know the way to get there. That’s because the situation really is perplexing.
Wells asked if this was one of Hibbert’s annual mental or physical breakdowns, which haven’t been discussed since the days of Obie (Jim O’Brien). Obie used to work Hibbert hard enough that it became a factor in his underconfident play. When Frank Vogel took over, one of the notable improvements surrounded Hibbert and his newly encouraged play. At the beginning of the Pacers' downturn Larry Bird said that he would like Vogel to be more firm with the team, and when you factor in recent speculation about Vogel not being one of Bird’s guys (Obie was) -- the puzzle starts to clear up.
Right until it doesn't.
Paul George has been a mess himself, and Lance Stephenson has been the target of Hibbert’s ire and also a guy that can take the flow out of the offense. Stephenson can also be the only guy to get the offense going at times. He puts the wild in wild card. George Hill can’t (or won’t) get an edge on anybody these days, and Hibbert has been thoroughly outplayed by Ian Mahinmi lately. Vogel looks like a mess in his pressers. C.J. Watson (elbow, hamstring) could return tonight and his popularity probably couldn’t be higher as fans look for anything to change the equation of a terrible second unit being weighed down by a suddenly very slow Evan Turner.
Whether it’s in-between the ears entirely, or some combination of fatigue, lack of confidence and a sudden decline in Hibbert’s physical abilities, the Pacers are in hot water. I’ve never seen anything like it and it has included multiple, public spats that go into figurative circles. Nothing gets fixed, and until recently, nothing gets decided. Now Vogel is talking about benching/resting some of these guys, and I’ve been advocating anything that shakes things up, and now we just have to see where the pieces land. The team once hailed for its chemistry is going to stick all of these unstable elements into the playoff pressure cooker and see if it explodes.
It has taken a panic button to get to the point where all of the cards are (again) on the table. I’m going to wait one more time and see if in Hibbert lies the key, with Wells’ observation being both the cause and solution to the Pacers’ lynchpin problem. If the message has been sent and received, it’s possible they can still get it right. If they get it right, they’re built to beat the Heat. I don’t know if that even keeps me on the bandwagon, but the supposed matchup advantages that Indy has in that series are too hard to quit – so I’ll sit here for a little while longer rearranging chairs on the deck.
The Bucks are injured enough to where most of their guys are at least worth a look. Brandon Knight should be in most if not all lineups, and Ramon Sessions has been a fine start lately. The big man duo of Jeff Adrien and Zaza Pachulia has been productive, and Khris Middleton is a decent risk-reward play as he tries to regress in the right direction shooting the ball. John Henson broke out on Saturday with huge numbers and that alone makes him worth a look after a terrible second-half of his season.
Good luck out there.