The Pelicans pulled off an NBA trifecta with three wins in three nights, the Rockets won despite missing Chris Paul (hamstring), and Kemba Walker delivered 46 points in the biggest blowout of the 2017-18 season. It was a busy six-game Thursday in the NBA and there's a lot to discuss, but we’ll begin with the prospect of more DNPs for Houston's key players.
Rest for the Rockets?
The hamstring injury Chris Paul suffered late on Tuesday kept him out of Thursday's game. It's a predictable move from the Rockets since CP3 is 32 years old and they're easily in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed (up 4.5 games on Golden State), but it’s still a bitter pill for owners in the fantasy playoffs.
Mike D'Antoni said that Paul will "probably" be cleared to practice on Thursday, adding, "He has a good chance of playing this weekend. We'll see." The Rockets play home games on Saturday (vs. New Orleans) and Sunday (vs. the lowly Hawks), so there's a chance that CP3 will still miss one of those games even if he does return this week. If he does miss more games, James Harden's assists should get a boost and Eric Gordon is usually the big winner rotation-wise...more on that below.
The broader injury news for Houston is that CP3's absence is part of what could become a trend – D'Antoni said Houston wants to strategically rest players when they can get as many days off as possible. "We'll look at the schedule and probably take advantage of a game [followed by] a couple days off," D'Antoni said. "If they're going to rest, [give them] three days off, try to get the max out of it. We might do a couple shifts like that with different guys."
Looking at Houston's schedule, that could mean certain players rest vs. the Bulls next Tuesday – they don't play again until Friday, for a total of four days off. A home game vs. OKC on Apr. 7 also gives a lengthy break in the schedule, but that might hinge on how much breathing room Houston has for the No. 1 spot. In terms of which players beyond CP3 might be rested – James Harden is an obvious candidate, with his 35.6 minutes per game ranking top-15 in the league. Houston doesn't exactly have a young roster, of course, with 10 different players age 29 or older, so there could also be DNPs coming for Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and even Joe Johnson. We already know Luc Mbah a Moute (left knee tendinitis) will miss a few games after leaving Thursday's game early.
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Rockets 100, Pistons 96 (OT)
As for the game itself, Eric Gordon was Houston's only real headline from a fantasy perspective – he played 42 minutes as a starter, scoring 22 points (8-of-19 FGs) with five assists, three 3-pointers, three rebounds and two steals. Clint Capela had another double-double, Trevor Ariza hit three more 3-pointers with a steal, P.J. Tucker scored 10 points with eight rebounds, and the bench was led by Joe Johnson's 11 points. Assuming they stay active, those last three guys could all get more minutes while Luc Mbah a Moute is on the shelf.
Meanwhile, James Harden's streak of three games with 30+ points ended vs. Detroit. He shot 4-of-20 from the field (0-of-8 from deep) but was also 13-of-18 at the line with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. Mike D'Antoni recently called him the "best offensive player [he's] ever seen" – that may have been intended to bolster Harden's claim to the MVP award, but that doesn't mean it was hyperbole. His offensive arsenal is ridiculous, but his ability to draw – and make – free throws is almost unparalleled. He made six freebies in the OT period alone on Thursday, and that was basically the difference. Just keep an eye on his status down the stretch – in addition to Houston's desire to rest key guys at opportune moments, Harden did tweak his ankle after landing on Blake Griffin's foot during tonight's game.
On the Pistons' side, Reggie Jackson struggled in his second game since Dec. 26, scoring four points on 2-of-13 shooting with three rebounds and one steal in 20 minutes. Significant rust was predictable since he missed 37 straight games, but remember that R-Jax was only posting top-120 overall value (9-cat) while healthy to begin the season. I'm not enthusiastic about his rest-of-season value, especially with Blake Griffin facilitating the offense more often than not these days.
Because of R-Jax's return, Ish Smith has shifted to the bench, but he was productive on Thursday with 18 points on 8-of-14 FGs, eight rebounds, three assists, two triples and one block. That makes three consecutive solid games for Ish. The first two came against the Kings and Suns, but maybe playing extra minutes against second-unit competition will get him going. Luke Kennard was also impressive off the bench with 14 points, four rebounds, two dimes and two steals in 33 minutes. The rookie seems to have found his niche as a score-first guard with 3-point specialist appeal. He'll help your FT% on the rare occasions he gets to the line, and might chip in a steal and a few combined dimes/boards, but the upside remains quite low.
Getting back to Blake Griffin...he was coming off a 10-assist game vs. the Suns on Tuesday, his highest since joining the Pistons, and proceeded to drop a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on Thursday. He's averaging 24.0 points over the past 10 games and has flipped the switch after an awful stretch around the All-Star break. He'll always be more valuable in points-leagues, but he's showing versatility with 1.9 triples and 79.2% FTs on the season…both of which are easily career-highs. I'm still not drafting him in roto leagues next season.
Stanley Johnson tied his career-high with five steals in his previous game vs. Phoenix, but played just 14 minutes tonight to finish with five points, three rebounds, one assist, one block and one 3-pointer. Andre Drummond did his thing with 17 points and 20 boards, and the remainder of Detroit's active roster was too mediocre to merit discussion.
Hornets 140, Grizzlies 79
The Hornets destroyed the Grizzlies with the largest margin of victory in the NBA all season, and it was all about Kemba Walker. The All-Star scored 46 points on 13-of-18 FGs and 10-of-10 FTs, with a whopping 10 three-pointers. He joins Steph Curry as the only players this season with double-digit triples in a game, and could have gone even higher if he weren't limited to 28 minutes in the blowout. Charlotte has given no indication that they’ll rest veterans, at least so far, so Kemba's owners should keep their fingers crossed.
Dwight Howard's owners had a bittersweet experience on Wednesday, when his monster 32-point, 30-rebound game was coupled with his 16th technical foul of the season. Because of his mandatory one-game suspension, Willy Hernangomez moved into the starting lineup and had 10 points, 12 rebounds (five offensive), two assists and two blocks. There are multiple asterisks, though, since he played 19 minutes and this came against a Grizzlies team without Marc Gasol. Willy is worth grabbing in deep leagues as a flier, but I'm still not picking him up while Dwight is active.
Jeremy Lamb has been the highest-scoring bench player in the East this season, but Thursday's line as a starter was all about the extras – 12 points with nine rebounds, six assists, two 3-pointers and one steal. He's basically must-start in fantasy with Nicolas Batum (Achilles) out indefinitely. Frank Kaminsky added 14 points and four 3-pointers in 20 minutes off the bench, and even Dwayne Bacon had 15 points, five assists, three boards and two steals in 31 minutes. Bacon's minutes have crept up in a hurry without Batum, but tonight's line has all the signs of a blowout-based fluke.
Memphis was playing the second of back-to-back games, so as usual they rested Marc Gasol, and the result was this almost unwatchable blowout. That makes four consecutive back-to-back sets in which Gasol has missed a game, and the only good news is that the Grizzlies have just one more set on April 8-9. Gasol’s absence allowed Deyonta Davis to start at center – he was coming off a solid 16 & 11 double-double, but finished Thursday's game with just four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes. If Gasol isn't shut down there's no way to trust Davis.
Tyreke Evans was back with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in just 19 minutes as a starter. He's going to be extremely annoying to own thanks to DNPs, so use him with caution. Andrew Harrison (wrist) was out tonight and a lingering wrist injury could explain his lousy game in just 16 minutes on Wednesday. Or it could be a simple precaution in the second half of a back-to-back set...it's hard to tell with the Grizzlies these days. Harrison was actually quite good for points-league value prior to his injury, but owners should look for safer options.
Jarell Martin scored 12 points with eight rebounds and nothing else – that's his 19th game with double-digit scoring over the past 36 games, after doing it just once in his first 28 games. Despite the increased role, he's not helping owners in leagues with fewer than 20 teams. JaMychal Green flopped with five points, seven rebounds and one assist, Dillon Brooks flopped with five points and one rebound in 16 minutes, and the only bench player of note was Wayne Selden (18 points on 7-of-12 shooting in 21 minutes). The Grizzlies have now lost 17 consecutive road games.
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76ers 118, Magic 98
Philly was coming off a blowout win on Wednesday, so their key guys were extra rested for the second half of this back-to-back set – it turns out the rest was unnecessary, as they flew past Orlando and didn't play anyone more than 27 minutes (Ben Simmons). In fact, Philly's boxscore tonight was eerily similar to Wednesday’s, other than Ersan Ilyasova hitting 7-of-11 shots for 18 points on Thursday. The Sixers are such a metronome that there's not much to be gleaned night-to-night for fantasy purposes.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said recently that Joel Embiid (17 points, nine boards and extras in 20 minutes) could be rested at some point down the stretch, but Embiid was having none of it. "I'm playing in every game," he said. "We didn't come this far to rest me." The training staff will have the last word, of course, so owners should still confirm his status prior to tip-offs. Even when he does sit out, his minutes are typically divided between Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes, while his usage is sprinkled throughout the roster.
On the Magic side of things...Wesley Iwundu took over as the starting SG for Orlando on Thursday, sending Arron Afflalo to the bench. It's a move that most fantasy owners shrugged at. Iwundu had a respectable eight points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 29 minutes, but he lacks 3-point range and has yet to prove he can contribute more than steals and a handful of rebounds.
In more consequential lineup news, Mario Hezonja also started with both Jonathan Isaac (left foot strain) and Jonathon Simmons (right wrist contusion) unavailable tonight. They were ruled out in the morning, which suggests they may not be close to a return, and both have too many gaps in their fantasy resume to be worth holding at this critical juncture of the season. The Magic are still without Evan Fournier (knee) and Terrence Ross (knee) indefinitely, of course, and it's actually kind of impressive how much wing depth they've stored up this season.
Mario Hezonja had nine points, three rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer in 25 minutes, while shooting 3-of-9 from the field. He's at just 37.2% from the field in March and it's safe to wonder if he's simply worn out after averaging 27.5 minutes in a featured role for most of February. Despite the disappointing return-on-investment lately, I'm happy to hold him for as long as Isaac and Simmons are both sidelined.
Pelicans 128, Lakers 125
Can we call it a trifecta? The Pelicans won their third game in three nights on Thursday, and fantasy owners must love the razor-thin margin for error in the West's playoff race. That has helped prevent DNPs for guys like Davis and Rajon Rondo, the latter of whom was coming off a quiet offensive night with just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. He made up for that in a hurry with 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting, 10 assists, three steals, two rebounds and one 3-pointer, continuing his post-DMC run of terrific value. Backcourt mate Jrue Holiday wasn't shabby with 26 points, six assists, three boards and a 12-of-16 mark from the field, and Ian Clark also chipped in a solid 13 points with three steals and a triple off the bench.
Clark may have salvaged his status as a low-end option, but Cheick Diallo burned owners with just two points, seven boards and no other stats in 19 minutes. With a combined one assist, one block and zero steals over the past four games, I'm not eager to hold him while AD is healthy. Nikola Mirotic was also a disappointment with five points, six rebounds, two steals and zero 3-pointers, making 1-of-7 shots in 16 minutes. He's in a horrific shooting slump (30.1% over the past nine games) and category-based owners fighting in a fantasy playoff almost have to cut him.
Not much needs to be said about Anthony Davis' fantasy dominance right now. He continues to put up ludicrous numbers, the Pelicans continue to win, and his fantasy owners continue to be grateful they gambled on him staying healthy this season (seven total DNPs, and just one since Jan. 10). The Rotoworld crew seems to be building a consensus around AD as the No. 1 pick next season, which I get due to his otherworldly ability to carry teams every week. If I had to draft today, I'd still lean toward Karl-Anthony Towns, especially in 9-cat leagues...but I'm extra conservative when it comes to my top players. If I can lock in top-5 value from 22-year-old KAT, with the prospect of zero DNPs, I doubt I'll pass that up. Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the mix, James Harden gets a huge bump in 8-cat formats, Kevin Durant is still a No. 1 roto option per-game...and a lot can change in the offseason, of course.
The Lakers fell on the road despite having four starters with 22+ points – Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The lone exception was Lonzo Ball, who added 13 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks to satisfy most fantasy owners. He shot just 2-of-15 from the field but the truly absurd part was his 1-of-12 line from downtown. Confidence isn't one thing he lacks, because he somehow took (and missed) four 3-pointers in the final 4:36 of this game, including a pair of head-scratchers with under a minute left in a one-point game. Hey, it's a learning process for the rookie.
Anyone who owns Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez already knows how well they've played in recent weeks, but I wasn't among those who predicted the resurgence. After a thoroughly disappointing start to the season, including season-low numbers in most categories, I wrote off Lopez as a squandered fantasy pick – a veteran on a one-year contract, playing for a losing team. I also figured Kuzma wouldn't regain his lofty early-season value after a rough February in which it looked like he'd crashed into the rookie wall. Being proved wrong is part of the fun of fantasy basketball.
Jazz 119, Mavericks 112
Derrick Favors returned after missing one game with a sore knee, and the Jazz promptly bounced back from a dreadful loss to the Hawks. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block, and even shot 1-of-2 from downtown in 31 minutes of action. Missing Tuesday's game allowed him to get a full four days' rest, so maybe the DNP was simply designed to keep the veteran fresh for a final playoff push. Wishful thinking? We’ll find out.
Joe Ingles kept up his recent all-around play with 18 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three 3-pointers. He made 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from downtown, which is no surprise – Ingles ranks second among qualifying players for 3-point percentage (44.3%), trailing only Darren Collison. That's worth filing away if you're in a league that includes 3PT% as its own category.
I'm still holding Jae Crowder in most situations despite another quiet line tonight – 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, four boards, two assists and one 3-pointer in 32 minutes. This game was all about Utah's starting five, so here are the other guys' stats for your enjoyment:
Donovan Mitchell: 26 points (11-of-22 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), five boards, four assists, three steals and one 3-pointer
Ricky Rubio: 22 points (8-of-14 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), five boards, three assists, five steals and four 3-pointers
Rudy Gobert: 11 points (3-of-4 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and five blocks
It's worth mentioning that Gobert is now shooting 19-of-23 from the line (82.6%) over his past four games...sorry everyone, I just jinxed him.
Utah's win resulted in their first season-series sweep vs. Dallas since 1998-99 – Dirk Nowitzki's rookie season. It's a sign of the times, and Dirk was very quiet in this game with four points on 2-of-6 shooting, one rebound, one steal and one block in 25 minutes. Harrison Barnes needed 18 shot attempts to score 21 points, Dorian Finney-Smith scored six points with five boards in another start, and even FG% phenom Dwight Powell was held to just five points on 1-of-5 FGs and 3-of-4 FTs. Rudy Gobert will have that effect on opposing centers.
There were some unexpected bright spots in the backcourt, due largely to the absence of Dennis Smith Jr. (ankle). Yogi Ferrell chipped in 20 points on 8-of-16 FGs with four boards, three dimes and three 3-pointers, and starter J.J. Barea (left rib muscle strain) had a team-high 23 points, five triples, eight assists and two rebounds in 28 minutes. Thanks to his playing through injury in a meaningless game, Barea passed Mark Aguirre for 8th-place on the Mavs' all-time games played list (566) – next up on the list is Shawn Bradley at 582 games. Kyle Collinsworth (left knee hyperextension) also played through injury tonight, but you'd be forgiven for not noticing him in five minutes of action. Ferrell looks like a solid 'hold' in most scenarios with DSJ's return date uncertain, and Barea is a fine option whenever he's active – just be sure to double-check the injury report.
Kings 105, Hawks 90
Dennis Schroder was coming off a career-best 41-point game vs. the Jazz, so what was his reward? A DNP-CD vs. the Kings on Thursday. This is a 24-year-old with four years' NBA experience, but you can't put a boundary on tanking. Isaiah Taylor started at PG because of Schroder's absence, notching 18 points (7-of-10 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), three boards, three assists and two steals. Schroder should be ready to go vs. the Warriors on Friday, so this is really just worth remembering during the Hawks' next back-to-back on April 3-4.
John Collins (ankle) was out tonight and is questionable for Friday, which continues to create daylight in the frontcourt for Mike Muscala (eight points, four boards in 24 minutes) Tyler Cavanaugh (21 minutes) and Miles Plumlee (22 minutes). Dewayne Dedmon is still the frontcourt player to own while Collins is out, easily, and he finished Thursday's road loss with 13 points, 10 rebounds, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 26 minutes. The key is that Dedmon continues to get it done in multiple categories.
Taurean Prince was quiet with seven points on 3-of-10 shooting, four boards and four assists in just 23 minutes. He did have one steal and one 3-pointer without any turnovers, so it wasn't a total loss. The playing time also isn't a concern, since Atlanta went with a fantasy-destroying 10-man rotation – everyone played at least 21 minutes, but nobody played more than 27 minutes. That's about as ugly as it gets.
And yet...there's still the Kings. Zach Randolph (illness) was out on Thursday, which is an increasingly common occurrence. In his place, Skal Labissiere put up nine points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one 3-pointer in 30 minutes. He shot 4-of-14 from the field, but the all-around line was plenty for most owners and he remains a strong start even when Z-Bo is healthy.
Skal's starting frontcourt partner, Willie Cauley-Stein, didn't fare well with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, six boards and three assists in 19 minutes. Tonight, it was veteran Kosta Koufos dominating the center spot with an uncommonly great line – 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, four steals, four blocks and zero turnovers in 32 minutes. Koufos shot 7-of-11 from the field after going 0-of-3 in his previous game, and he hasn't missed a game since late February. When forecasting the Kings' frontcourt rotation on a nightly basis, your guess is as good as mine.
De'Aaron Fox continues to give owners whiplash with his shooting performances, and on Thursday he went just 1-of-11 from the field for four points, five boards, four assists and one steal in 20 minutes. He's better in points-leagues and is barely worth owning in 9-cat leagues right now – over the past few weeks, he's averaging 12.7 points on 46.0% FGs and 62.1% FTs, with just 0.7 threes, 2.2 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.2 turnovers. Unlike a lot of guys in the top-150 range, though, at least Fox has explosive rest-of-season upside.
Frank Mason III got hot off the bench tonight for one of his best lines all season, scoring 16 points with eight assists, seven rebounds, one steal and one block in 30 minutes. This came vs. a Hawks squad missing Dennis Schroder, and of course De'Aaron Fox was unusually quiet, but it's at least a glimpse of Mason's upside. He should already be owned in deep leagues and could make some noise in 12-team if Garrett Temple (ankle) misses extended time.
That sums up the action for Thursday. I filled in for today’s Daily Dose because Jonas Nader was unavailable (Happy Birthday, Jonas!), but we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled programming on Saturday. If you have any questions or comments, you can always reach me via email or on Twitter @Knaus_RW. Good luck this week!