THEY’RE GOING TO JARED
The Celtics were about to play spoiler last night until a late Hawks run lead to a loss, but for fantasy owners the news was good on a number of fronts. Avery Bradley (ankle) returned to action and backed up talk from coaches and teammates saying he was near 100 percent, as he scored 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting (4-of-4 3PTs, 4-of-4 FTs) with four rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes. Pick him up.
Jared Sullinger isn’t going to magically become efficient at this stage of the year, but he brushed off concerns over his quad with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, one steal, one block and one three. Unless field goal percentage is a concern, the late-round value is a decent pickup right now with Kris Humphries (knee) looking at a shutdown. Brandon Bass (six points, three boards) and Kelly Olynyk (five points, nine boards, one three, 15 minutes) both disappeared, with Olynyk having just desperation appeal in deeper leagues.
Jerryd Bayless (five points, 21 minutes) is back to being waiver wire fodder, but he might have one more spot-start in him if the injury situation turns in his favor. Rajon Rondo (19 points, four rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, two threes) said there is a “3 percent” chance that he plays in both games of the upcoming back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s being literal about that.
JOURNEY TO THE MIDDLE OF THE EAST
The Hawks’ win over the Celtics put them two games ahead of the Knicks with four games to play and anything goes with the way they’re capable of putting together a losing streak. Jeff Teague had a nice night with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, three treys, 4-of-4 free throws, eight assists, two steals and a block. Playing at a top 30-40 level over the last two weeks, he has hit 51 percent of his shots from the field and 93 percent from the foul line in that span. The late push has moved him into top 40-70 value (8/9 cat) on the year and removes some of the sting from his lack of development this season.
Pero Antic’s ankle is in bad shape, though conspiracy theorists might choose to believe the Hawks are still tanking, but the bottom line is that he’ll only be startable with clear reports that he’s feeling better and in the lineup. Elton Brand, in the meantime, is an advisable play if Antic remains out after going for 13 and 13 with three assists, three steals and one block. Even if Antic returns, he’ll be a decent low-end play for big man stats and four games left to go.
DeMarre Carroll (13 points, eight rebounds, four assists) and Kyle Korver (17 points, four threes, five boards, four assists, one steal, one block) both bounced back from off-nights, and Paul Millsap did his thing with 14 and 14, three assists, one steal and one block in the win. As I said yesterday, the Hawks are too close to a playoff berth to get in on the silly season stuff.
BALLS AND BRAINS
To me, it wasn’t a gamble. To others including Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star, it was a mistake of the highest level. The Pacers decided to shake things up by benching their entire starting unit against the lowly Bucks, and it paid off as Chris Copeland hit a tough game-winner to take over the top slot in the East once again. Had they lost, fence-sitters would have joined Kravitz in piling on a decision to risk home court advantage on a nebulous team-building exercise.
We’ve been through this countless times but the team’s decline had reached near unprecedented levels of ‘guh,’ where ‘guh’ could be any number of things all happening at once to threaten their ability to get out of the first round – let alone compete with the Heat. For me, the only gamble would have been to let these guys try and fix things on the fly without a game-changer, and whether one wants to call it rest, punishment, or a chance to view the game from the bench they all apply to one degree or another. The latter element, however, is what made this move so genius.
Not only did they get the proverbial message and also some much-needed rest, the equal treatment of all five starters kept a guy like Roy Hibbert from shouldering an intense amount of scrutiny heading into Friday’s massive game against the Heat. Most importantly, though, the schedule gods delivered a team in the Bucks that made this game winnable from the jump, even for a Pacers second unit that has been terrible lately. That’s how bad the Bucks are.
Given that potential for winning, Frank Vogel and Larry Bird had to know that their benched starters stood a great chance of watching the starting reserves play well. So not only would they get a chance to cheer as a group from the sidelines, they’d also get a dose of humility followed by a lesson that it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
The reserves pushed the tempo when they could and tried to get easy looks, assisting on 26 buckets while hitting 48 percent of their shots from the field and 46 percent from deep. Evan Turner, who needs the ball in his hands a lot to be effective, was able to post the ugliest 23 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three treys I have seen in some time. Ugly or not, that’s about as slump-busty as it gets for a guy that appears to have lost his conditioning since coming from Philly. The Pacers simply need him to not be awful, particularly on defense, and if he can do that his arrival will be a net positive in the postseason.
Luis Scola played his typical driveway game with 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists, Copeland finished with a career-night including 18 points, four threes, two boards, three assists and one block, and Donald Sloan went for eight and eight with four boards to boot. Ian Mahinmi has been outplaying Hibbert lately but managed just three points, six boards and a block in 20 foul-plagued minutes, and none of these guys belong on fantasy rosters following this game.
The starters will return for Friday’s game in Miami for control of the top seed. For all of the criticism that Vogel has gotten lately, this move had just enough balls and brains to stop the bleeding. If the Pacers go into Miami and beat a Heat team that (incorrectly) does not care about seeding, the slingshot effect of having overcome their demons could actually send them into the postseason with some swag. You guys have watched my knees quake hanging on to the Pacers pick, and I could still hop off this empty bandwagon if they don’t fix enough of their problems in the next three games. But hitting the reset button was the last and best thing they could do to give us a measurement. If they can’t bounce back now, it’s not going to happen under the brightest of lights. But if they can simply get to the Heat in the postseason without having any major problems, they’re built to win.
MILWAUKEE: A MODEL OF FANTASY CONSISTENCY (WHAT?!)
Now that the Bucks are down to eight rotation guys on most nights, fantasy value is actually pretty stable across the board. Brandon Knight (25 points, four boards, 10 assists, 8-of-21 FGs) is a must-start player in most formats, and Ramon Sessions (20 points, four assists, two threes, 6-of-15 FGs) is right there with him as perhaps the team’s best player. Zaza Pachulia (15 points, nine boards, one block) and Jeff Adrien (13 points, 17 boards, two steals, one block) are both getting it done lately and Khris Middleton (16 points, seven boards, one steal, one three, 6-of-14 FGs) has a decent chance to see positive regression in his waning shooting numbers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (two points, one steal, 21 minutes) has gotten much more press than his stalled-out learning curve probably deserves. But he was a project coming into the year and he has already shown off his future upside by simply running around like a baby deer on the court. John Henson (seven points, four rebounds, one block, 20 minutes) was not able to follow up his big outing on Saturday, and his decline is something that will need to be looked at closely over the offseason. For now, he’s a desperation play at best with a hint of upside.
The Bulls were setup to steamroll the Wolves in last night’s win, as Minnesota was playing in the SEGABABA and Chicago is locked in a tight race for seeding in the East. With identical records, the Raptors hold a tiebreaker over them with four games to go but any way you slice it they’re going to finish the season strong. Jimmy Butler scored 14 points with five rebounds, seven assists and three treys as he tries to make things right for owners following a disappointing top 80-100 campaign. Until he starts hitting more than 40 percent of his shots his value will continue to be depressed, but obviously the upside lies in his physical ability and chance to improve next year.
Kirk Hinrich scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with two threes, three boards, four assists and two blocks, but he’ll be a desperation option at best knowing his body of work. Joakim Noah snagged his fourth triple-double of the year, scoring 15 points with 13 rebounds, 10 assists, one steal and two blocks as he caps off a top-15 season, and Mike Dunleavy was start-worthy with 15 points, two threes, five boards, three assists and a perfect five foul shots. D.J. Augustin continued to pay off the patient with 21 points, four threes and a steal, and Taj Gibson posted a workmanlike 13 points, five boards, one steal and three blocks in the win.
Give Kevin Love credit for playing banged up late in the year and assuaging some fears that he’d be hit by the shutdown bug. Unfortunately, hyper-extending his right (shooting) elbow in last night’s game might be too much to overcome and beat writers have called him questionable for Friday’s game. He hit just 7-of-20 shots for 17 points, 10 boards, three assists, two threes and one block, and if he can’t go then Robbie Hummel (seven points, five boards) might be worth a look in deeper leagues.
Gorgui Dieng did his thing with nine points, eight boards and three blocks, and unless the Wolves want to activate Nikola Pekovic (ankle) because they’re going to sit Love I just can’t see him returning. Dante Cunningham (six points, one steal, 15 minutes) would theoretically be worth a deep-league look if Love sits, but he’s in the thick of the off-court stuff so owners are basically betting that the court becomes his safe haven. Good luck with that. Corey Brewer scored just nine points without any threes, but had four steals to keep the schedule-play in owners’ good graces at least a little bit. Kevin Martin (foot) did not play and I can’t see him being rushed back, and J.J. Barea missed the game with back spasms. If Barea can get on the court he’ll be an interesting desperation play for some popcorn stat + threes potential.
You can count the Grizzlies as a team that the Heat would not likely want to face in the Finals, which says both something about the depth of the West and also a lot about where this Heat team will stand in history if they three-peat. LeBron James put the team on his back for the millionth time this season, scoring 37 points with a full stat line, but it wasn’t enough as the Heat’s lack of depth and indifference toward seeding gave way to the hungrier Grizzlies squad.
Mario Chalmers scored 12 points with four rebounds, three assists and a steal, and Chris Bosh scored 13 points with six boards, two steals and two blocks. Both are safe plays when active, but everybody will be a candidate for rest and though it would be stupid, I wouldn’t be out-of-this-world shocked if some guys rest for Friday’s big game against the Pacers. Miami has already squandered a golden opportunity to step on their throats. Rashard Lewis scored 17 points with four threes, three rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes, and outside of the usual suspects he’ll be a good place to start if you’re sifting the bottom of the trash can. The Heat fell to a half-game behind the Pacers, who beat the lowly Bucks with their reserves last night. They could care less about playoff seeding, as their one and only concern right now is making sure that Dwyane Wade has another run left in him.
FEED THE HOGS
The Grizzlies are in proverbial must-win territory as they’re a full game behind the Suns for the last playoff spot in the West, and both the Suns and No. 7 Mavs don’t have any overwhelming problems as of late. They punished the Heat down low behind 20 and 14 from Marc Gasol and 25 and 11 from Zach Randolph. Mike Conley brought his A-game with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, six rebounds, three treys and two steals, and Tony Allen (24 minutes, six points, three steals) played some good defense on LeBron to give the Grizz a nice old-school Grit and Grind look.
Courtney Lee scored 18 points with three triples, three assists and one block, and he’s still a hard guy to trust as he alternates decent games with terrible ones. James Johnson drew the start for Tayshaun Prince (ankle) and finished with five points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks in 24 minutes, and Grizzlies fans have to be wondering if he can hold onto this type of role in the playoffs. The lack of consistent playing time has to have some unknown story attached to it, because his versatility and athleticism is a welcome addition to the squad. Meanwhile, Prince is merely a placeholder player that knows where to run and doesn’t get in the way.
THE RACE FOR EIGHT
The Suns got a much-needed win to keep their one-game lead over the Grizzlies following Memphis’ key win over Miami, and the race including these two teams and the Mavs is going to go right down to the wire. The Phoenix box was very normal, with Goran Dragic scoring 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, nine assists, two threes, one steal and three blocks leading the way. Eric Bledsoe struggled early but bounced back to finish with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, one three, six boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks, and Gerald Green got hot with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, four threes and not much else in his 24 minutes.
I’m going to respectfully disagree with our blurber that Bledsoe’s return hasn’t hurt Green, who has returned just top 110-125 value on averages of 26.0 minutes, 16.5 points and 2.6 threes since Bledsoe’s return. Even with respectable shooting percentages, the decrease in scoring hasn’t been enough to float deficiencies in defensive stat categories, though lately Green has been a top-60 play by hitting an unsustainable 3.3 triples per game on 50 percent field goal shooting over his last six contests. Hopefully for owners, the predictable downswing is scheduled to begin in the postseason.
Miles Plumlee put a nail in his fantasy coffin with just two points and six boards, P.J. Tucker did his low-end thing with 15 points, nine boards and a steal, and Channing Frye’s disappearing act continued on a four-point, five-rebound night including a steal and block. Markieff Morris (10 points, six boards, not much else) is slumping hard over his last three games and isn’t quite a must-start player, but has plenty of upside and a top-75 return when one expands the sample to two weeks.
LIMPING TO THE FINISH
The Pelicans are a wasteland right now and with Anthony Davis (back) not playing last night it’s pretty amazing that they kept the game close before falling to the visiting Suns. Your guess is as good as mine with regard to Davis but we all know they have no reason to play him. Tyreke Evans (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, 29 minutes) and Brian Roberts (two points, 1-of-8 FGs, four rebounds, two assists, 20 minutes) both hit the NBA.com writeup as having played “banged up,” and the play here is to keep Evans in lineups unless he gets ruled out and Roberts is an extremely tough start even in deep leagues.
Austin Rivers is worth a hard look if the Pelicans’ injury report goes nova, and last night he put up 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds, eight assists and one block in 30 minutes. You can almost guarantee a very crooked shooting number if he's given the keys. Owners are basically taking a risky gamble on popcorn stats if they’re making decisions early on Thursday morning.
Luke Babbitt (12 points, two threes) will be worth a look if you’re hunting the deep ball, with Anthony Morrow (14 points, one three, four assists, one steal) being a much safer play in that respect. Jeff Withey rounds out the bottom of the fantasy barrel after scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and a block, while Greg Stiemsma’s four points, eight boards, two steals and two blocks might have some appeal if you’re hunting defensive stats. I have a hard time bringing up Darius Miller’s 14 points with a straight face. Gambling on this mess is akin to playing one of those claw games on your way out of an IHOP, but somebody has to get the numbers, right?