May 15, 2021, 12:12 am
With the Wizards’ 120-105 win over the Cavs tonight, Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are officially locked into the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Consequently, the Chicago Bulls are also officially eliminated from playoff contention and will miss the postseason for the fourth season in a row.
Westbrook led the Wizards to this crucial win with yet another triple-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists. He was without Beal (left hamstring) but was backed up by Rui Hachimura, who scored 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and Davis Bertans, who hit 3-of-11 shots from deep.
But the war isn’t over for Washington. They still have a chance to move up to the eighth or ninth seed, though they’ll need to rely on the Pacers and Hornets losing their final two games this weekend. Even if things don’t play out in their favor, they’ve performed well enough for us to imagine a scenario where they knock both the Pacers and the Celtics out of the play-in tournament and ultimately clinch the final playoff slot next week.
Lines of the Night
Hamidou Diallo – vs. Nuggets: 18 pts / 12 rebs / 3 asts / 1 stl / 2 blks
Sidelined for four games by health and safety protocols, tonight was Diallo’s first outing since May 4. He shot poorly (44.4 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from the line) but stuffed the box score in 35 minutes. Diallo hasn’t made strides to improve his efficiency but he has frequently flashed his ability to put up big counting numbers this season. If Detroit parts ways with some of their vets this offseason, Diallo will be someone to keep in mind heading into next year’s drafts.
Ignas Brazdeikis – vs. Sixers: 21 pts / 6 rebs / 2 blks
Brazdeikis went 9-of-12 from the field and 3-of-5 from deep in the Magic’s 97-122 blowout loss to the Sixers tonight. He signed a 10-day contract with Orlando at the beginning of May and re-signed for the remainder of the season earlier this week. He’s been a great asset for deep leagues throughout his seven games with the Magic and could be a solid DFS play on Sunday.
Markus Howard – vs. Pistons: 20 pts / 3 rebs / 2 asts / 1 blk
An undrafted rookie, Howard has been relegated to garbage time all season but got a spot start for Facundo Campazzo (rest) tonight and went off. His 20 points are a career-best and were had on great efficiency (9-of-14 from the field and 2-of-5 from three). If the Nuggets rest Campazzo again on Sunday, look to Howard as a worthy gamble in DFS.
Louis King – vs. Grizzlies: 27 pts / 2 3pts / 9 rebs / 3 asts / 3 stls / 2 blks
Of the Kings’ five starters, all but Buddy Hield were on the sidelines tonight. So King, an undrafted rookie from the 2019 draft class, scorched the Grizzlies and packed the stat sheet to the brim.
Justise Winslow – vs. Kings: 25 pts / 4 3pts / 13 rebs / 4 asts
Winslow is about to finish off yet another disappointing season, but at least he’s going out with a bang. After receiving his usual short-lived dosage of hype earlier in the year, he’s floated along as a total nonfactor in all but the deepest fantasy leagues.
Jalen Harris – vs. Mavs: 31 pts / 5 3pts / 2 rebs / 3 asts / 1 stl
With the Raptors in full tank mode, they once again rested the entire starting lineup and let their young guns run free. Harris, who Toronto snapped up with the 59th pick in the 2020 draft, had the best game of his career and knocked down 12-of-20 shots from the floor. He barely played throughout most of the season but has finally been able to get some real NBA experience over the past two weeks. He went off tonight and nearly helped the short-handed Raptors upset a Mavs team still fighting for playoff positioning.
Jordan Poole – vs. Pelicans: 38 pts / 4 3pts / 4 rebs / 6 asts / 1 blk
The Warriors-Pelicans 125-122 barnburner was stacked with great performances from several second and third-string players. Aside from Poole’s career-best scoring, his teammate Mychal Mulder also dropped 28 points with 7-of-13 shooting from three while Nico Mannion nearly notched his first triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. On the Pelicans side, Nickeil Alexander-Walker fired back with 30 points, four threes, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block and Naji Marshall hit new career-highs in scoring and rebounding with 20 points and 13 boards.
Weekend Games to Watch
The final weekend of the regular season will be chock full of load management and completely meaningless basketball games. But the Lakers and Blazers are still competing to determine which team will avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament, which means they’ll play some of the only must-watch games on the schedule for the next two days. Not only will these games decide which team ends up in the play-in, but they’ll also have large consequences for what the Western Conference playoff bracket looks like.
Saturday, May 15th
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers – 1 PM EST
LeBron James and company could kill the tension of the weekend if they lose this game early on Saturday. The Lakers need to go 2-0 in order to have any hope of finishing in sixth place, so a loss here ends their hopes entirely. An under-the-radar storyline is also that the Pacers are at risk of falling to tenth place and losing homecourt advantage for the first match of the Eastern Conference play-in. If they drop this game, they’ll be tied with the Wizards, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.
Sunday, May 16th
Portland Trailblazers vs. Denver Nuggets – 9 PM EST
Sitting one game above the Lakers in the standings means the Blazers’ fate rests entirely in their own hands. They hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the purple and gold, so taking down the Nuggets on Sunday will guarantee they avoid the play-in tournament, no matter how many games the Lakers win this weekend. They’d also buy themselves an extra week of rest, an invaluable benefit for Damian Lillard, who will most likely be tasked with upsetting Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the first round.
To complicate matters, it’s in the best interest of the Nuggets to lose this game and give the Blazers a freebie. If Denver wins here, they risk not only pushing up to the third seed but allowing the Lakers to move up to sixth at the same time. They’d then be up against LeBron and Anthony Davis in the first round, rather than (as it currently stands) Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans – 9 PM EST
Sunday could end up being an incredibly tense night, as the Lakers and Blazers are playing at the exact same time. If the Lakers put this game away, they won’t know if they’ve succeeded at escaping the play-in until the match ends and the results of the Blazers-Nuggets roll in. We can only hope both of these games on Sunday come down to the wire and we’re forced to flip from one to the other to keep up.
Jerami Grant and the Burden of Stardom
While comparing fantasy rankings for the first and second half of the season, I noticed that Jerami Grant experienced a particularly brutal decline in his per-game ranking. During the first half of the season (defined as December to the end of February), Grant was ranked 35th overall in 9-cat, while he dropped to 199th overall during the season’s second half (defined as March through May).
One of the frontrunners for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Grant undoubtedly had a breakout season. But during the latter months of the year, his numbers dropped across the board. Most notably, his rebounding average dropped from 5.3 to 3.5, his 3-point efficiency fell from 36.3% to 32.1% and his free throw shooting waned from 88.9 percent on 6.3 attempts per game to 77.9 percent on 6.5 attempts.
His mediocre second-half free throw shooting sticks out like a sore thumb. That specific drop in production screams one thing: fatigue. It’s no surprise that he would wear down during his first season as a primary ball handler. When Grant appeared on The Lowe Post podcast in February, Zach Lowe specifically asked him about how different it feels to be a team’s leading scorer and what effect that was having on his body. “It’s definitely a lot different,” Grant responded, “It’s a lot more mileage on your body. It’s a lot more tiring on the body and mentally you have to prepare for the game differently.”
Grant’s body wearing down throughout the season shouldn’t give us any pause about drafting him next year, though. An offseason’s worth of rest should mean he’s able to start his next campaign on the same top-40 pace at which he kicked off his breakout 2020-21 season. But, the experience of rostering Grant over the past six months does teach us one lesson for next year. Unless the Pistons add another significant offensive presence to the roster to assist Grant (or one of their many rookies takes a leap), then we will need to be on guard for another second-half decline.
Marcus Smart (left calf) – Out for Saturday
Evan Fournier (right knee) – Probable for Saturday
Kemba Walker (knee) – Out for Saturday
Jayson Tatum (left ankle) – Probable for Saturday
Robert Williams III (left foot) – Out for Saturday
Joe Harris (hip) – Questionable for Saturday
Miles Bridges (health protocols) – Out for Saturday
Tomas Satoransky (left ankle) – Questionable for Saturday
Daniel Theis (hip) – Out for Saturday
Kevin Love (right calf) – Out on Friday
Maxi Kleber (right Achilles) – Out on Friday
Paul Millsap (rest) – Out on Friday
Aaron Gordon (rest) – Out on Friday
Jerami Grant (left calf) – Out on Friday
Wayne Ellington (left calf) – Out on Friday
Cory Joseph (left ankle) – Out on Friday
Mason Plumlee (left ankle) – Out on Friday
Isaiah Stewart (personal) – Out on Friday
Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green (finger) – Out on Friday
Stephen Curry (posterior) – Out on Friday
Andrew Wiggins (left knee) – Out on Friday
Domantas Sabonis (left knee) – Questionable for Saturday
Caris LeVert (right knee) – Questionable for Saturday
Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard (rest) – Out on Friday
Paul George (rest) – Out on Friday
Reggie Jackson (left Achilles) – Out on Friday
Patrick Beverley (rest) – Out on Friday
Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis (groin) – Questionable for Saturday
LeBron James (right ankle) – Questionable for Saturday
Dennis Schroder (health protocols) – Questionable for Saturday
Jonas Valanciunas (back) – Out on Friday
Kyle Anderson (finger) – Out on Friday
Jaren Jackson Jr. (back) – Out on Friday
Ja Morant (back) – Out on Friday
Brandon Clarke (thigh) – Out on Friday
Kendrick Nunn (left calf) – Questionable for Saturday
New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Ingram (left ankle) – Out on Friday
Lonzo Ball (finger) – Out on Friday
Steven Adams (left ankle) – Out on Friday
New York Knicks
Derrick Rose (left ankle) – Questionable for Saturday
Oklahoma City Thunder
Luguentz Dort (right knee) – Out on Friday
Deandre Ayton (left knee) – Questionable for Saturday
Richaun Holmes (right knee) – Out on Friday
Marvin Bagley (leg) – Out on Friday
San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan (rest) – Out for Saturday
Dejounte Murray (back) – Questionable for Saturday
Jakob Poeltl (rest) – Out for Saturday
Kyle Lowry (rest) – Out on Friday
Yuta Watanabe (right ankle) – Out on Friday
Bradley Beal (left hamstring) – Out on Friday