August 9, 2020, 2:12 am
We’re officially in the stretch run of the NBA’s resumption, with teams starting to really gear up for the postseason. Now, that means different things to different teams — the Jazz just rested four of their starters on Friday, while the Blazers are emptying the tank and limiting the number of players who see the court. The Raptors have been playing it pretty straight to get guys in rhythm, whereas the Celtics have been monitoring Kemba Walker’s minutes. Standings will shape priorities, and reading those tea leaves might put you ahead of the curve in your resumption leagues.
One thing that came a bit out of left field was the triumphant return of Jamal Murray on Saturday. Fresh off a four-game absence due to left hamstring issues, Murray was expected to be on a 22-minute limit. He said as much himself after a double OT win over the Jazz, in which he played 39 minutes. The shooting was painful at 10-for-25 from the field and 1-for-4 at the line, but Murray jumped right back into the deep end with 23 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, a block and a pair of 3-pointers. He wasn’t expected to play this much this soon, and a number of fantasy GMs were probably burned with this big line sitting on benches given the anticipated minutes limit.
The Nuggets wanted this one bad as they try to lock in the third seed in the West. Up to this point, it was believed that freshness and health for the real playoffs was the top priority. On Saturday, getting the W clearly took precedence. As we get down to the photo finish, knowing who’s going to be on the gas pedal will be key. Murray and the Nuggets juked everyone out today.
Add(s) of the Night
It’s getting pretty thin on waiver wires out there, with any strong game likely generating some transactions in your leagues. Given the thinned player pool and the large weight that each single game holds, most of the players who were widely available in season-long leagues — Gary Trent, Cameron Johnson, Aaron Holiday, etc. — are already gone. Let’s dig deep and go with:
Jevon Carter, PG, Phoenix Suns
Carter played 26 minutes in Phoenix’s win over the Heat, posting 20 points, four rebounds, three assists, a steal, a block and six 3-pointers while going 7-of-10 from the field overall. He’s now played 25, 26, 11, 21 and 26 minutes in the Suns’ Orlando games so far, and while this is the first game in which he’s score more than seven points (or even attempted more than six shots), he does have a steal in every contest. At this point you’ve got to follow the minutes and hope you strike gold with a hot hand. Carter fits the bill from tonight’s slate.
As always, you can check out our Pickups of the Night article for a larger breakdown of today’s potential adds.
We’re not saying you have to drop anyone that ever appears in this section, as your place in the standings is going to be the deciding factor, but it might not be the worst idea in the world.
This one hurts on a spiritual level, but the context could not look worse for Richaun Holmes. He’s already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, a full day ahead of time, due to a right hip issue. He’s looked to be lacking burst in the bubble and that would explain that, though the Kings have also frittered away a chance to make some noise — it rarely felt like more than one King had any zip at a time. Luke Walton’s got them working more slowly and methodically than they ever should, and that alone is going to depress fantasy appeal across this roster. With Sacramento one loss away from elimination, we could be looking at a shutdown for anyone with a chance of being a future contributor.
Between Holmes’ current injury, the shutdown risk, and the crappy brand of ball that the Kings are playing in general, it might be time to find a fresh body for your fantasy rosters. After an early-round campaign, Holmes was not even close to positive production in the bubble.
As you know, Jamal Murray (hamstring) was back from a four-game absence while Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) remained out. Tough scene there, though The Blue Arrow gave Denver a huge lift today.
Kawhi Leonard sat for rest but he’ll be back tomorrow. Patrick Beverley (left calf) was all over Twitter but not on the court, and he figures to be handled cautiously. It’s possible that his bubble run might be over until the playoffs, but hopefully tomorrow brings better news. Montrezl Harrell remains away for personal reasons and won’t have time to make a huge fantasy impact given the minutes cap he’ll have whenever he does get back.
Myles Turner and TJ Warren, aka TJ Scorin’, played through minor injuries against the Lakers, who listed a bunch of people as probable who were never in danger of missing the game. Danny Green (right hip soreness) did sit out, and Alex Caruso (neck) started in his place while playing through a questionable tag.
This isn’t the section for this and everyone’s talking about him, but man, Warren is on the run of his life. Keep shooting, my guy.
Jimmy Butler (right foot) sat out again on Saturday, while Goran Dragic (left ankle) missed the contest as well. The Heat aren’t super comfortable with their standing (or at least they shouldn’t be) so we would expect both guys to give it a go as soon as they’re truly back to 100%. Kendrick Nunn missed the loss to the Suns for personal reasons.
Seth Curry (sore right leg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (left hip) played through their injuries, with Curry looking particularly off in his return from a brief absence. The sharpshooter was anything but on Saturday, netting two points on 1-for-7 FG in 21 minutes.
For Sunday, Steven Adams (left leg contusion) will sit out. He’s almost perpetually in need of a day off and never, ever gets one, so this should help him in the long run. Plus, Nerlens Noel gets a chance to pop off, which should make any hardcore fantasy player smile. 6MOY finalist Dennis Schroder (personal) is still out of the bubble as well.
Russell Westbrook will miss another game due to a right quad contusion but there doesn’t seem to be any panic out of H-town yet. It sucks for fantasy players but Westbrook doesn’t look to be dealing with something serious.
As we said, Richaun Holmes (right hip) is out. Kent Bazemore (left calf) is questionable, with those Russ-less Rockets set to put Sacramento out of its misery.
Serge Ibaka got poked in the eye on Friday but is probable for tomorrow.
Aaron Gordon is questionable due to a left hamstring strain, and the Magic look to be limping across the line while jockeying for the seven spot with Brooklyn.
Those Nets are yanking the big guns out of the lineup yet again, with Jarrett Allen (ankle), Caris LeVert (rest) and Joe Harris (groin) all doubtful for Sunday. Have fun plugging all the minimum-priced Nets into your DFS lineups.
News came down today that Ben Simmons was heading out of the bubble for surgery on his left knee. The patella subluxation he suffered earlier this week resulted in a loose body forming, and he’s likely going to be done for the season as a result. It’s possible that he comes back if Philly manages a deep postseason run, but that won’t mean anything for fantasy players. Consider this the latest bump in a Sixers season that was full of peaks, valleys and weird turns. Now, as for what’s left for us to do…
Firstly, Shake Milton is going to be locked in as a primary playmaker. We shouldn’t expect him to recapture the top-100 form he displayed during Simmons’ previous absence, as that also coincided with injuries to Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson, as well as the fact that Milton went on a heater that’s unlikely to be replicated. Still, despite a rocky go of it in the bubble so far, Milton’s back to must-start status.
Secondly, Al Horford is going to move back into the starting lineup. He’s been a quiet middle-round option all year, cruising below expectations, and while he’ll be back into a few more minutes it doesn’t seem like Simmons’ absence will be the cure-all. The presence of Embiid has always been the bigger roadblock here, and Horford is still not going to get enough minutes at center to revitalize his fantasy game. Expect an improvement, but anyone hoping for vintage top-40 Horford might be asking a bit too much.
On the bench, the Sixers figure to go with a committee approach to filling the secondary playmaker role. Mercifully, it means fantasy GMs won’t be running to pick up Raul Neto. Furkan Korkmaz should get some extra minutes and is a fine 3-point specialist with the upside to pour in 20 points on any night. Alec Burks can play some combo guard and will give the Sixers a more dynamic scoring presence than Korkmaz, though he’ll also be more boom-or-bust. Matisse Thybulle might get some of the defensive matchups that would’ve gone to Simmons, which makes him a risky but appealing option for some juicy steals and blocks numbers. You can make a case for any of Philly’s bench guards (except Neto, probably), and which one you want to scoop will depend on your exact needs.
One dark horse for a marked improvement is Josh Richardson, who has struggled to fit in with the Sixers this year. His numbers were down pretty much across the board, and he had a nice run in Miami as the lead ball-handler in spurts. His lagging defensive numbers and woeful shooting had more to do with his disappointing fantasy season than usage, but perhaps putting Richardson in a more primary role will get him closer to the old production.
A Day at the Races
The big picture is settled in the East, where we know the playoff field. What’s left there is the specific seeding, with the Nets and Magic jockeying to avoid the Bucks in the first round, and instead face off a slightly-more-winnable-but-also-not-really-winnable matchup with the Raptors. Speaking of, the Raptors are one win or a Boston loss away from locking up the second seed. The real logjam is at 4-5-6, where the Heat, Pacers and Sixers are all within one game of each other. Only one of these teams will have “home court” but the real incentive is to avoid a first-round date with the Celtics, though it’s not like any of these teams presents a cakewalk for one another.
The real fun stuff is in the Western Conference, where it’s do-or-die time at the bottom of the bracket.
The longest odds belong to the Sacramento Kings, “proud” owners of a 1-5 record in the bubble. They can no longer catch the Grizzlies, 3.5 games back of the eight spot with each team having just three games left to go. They’re two games back of the Blazers, in ninth, again with both teams having three games left. The Kings can’t lose again, and even if they hold up their end of the bargain they’ll need help in leapfrogging Phoenix, New Orleans, San Antonio and Portland to force a play-in. In short, it’s not happening. For fantasy GMs, that means you might want to start scouting the bench unit. DaQuan Jeffries has been a standout on the wing, while Harry Giles should be able to get some frontcourt minutes. Maybe Luke Walton tosses Jabari Parker out there to soak up time if the Kings wave the white flag, or have it waved for them.
The Pelicans are also basically in must-win territory, one game behind the Blazers. They’ll play the Spurs, Kings and Magic — a winnable slate all things considered, but a loss tomorrow against San Antonio might clip their wings for good. If the Pelicans do find themselves out of it, you can look to guys like Frank Jackson for scoring and Jahlil Okafor for cheap double-doubles, though that might just be for the final game depending on how the race unfolds. Kenrich Williams would also be in the mix at the forward spots, and the prospect-heads would get a good look at Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes too.
Those same Spurs are also in the mix, just a half game behind the Blazers. The Pels, Rockets and Jazz are on deck, and that’s one huge game plus a couple where their opponent may rest some stars. San Antonio is already embracing the youth movement, largely due to injuries, and would probably divert some run to Keldon Johnson (who’s already playing a fair amount), Drew Eubanks and Quinndary Weatherspoon if they fell out of it.
Those Blazers could’ve done fantasy GMs a solid by coming away with a win over the Clippers today, but Damian Lillard surprisingly clanked a pair of free throws in the final minute and now the field has some hope. It was a tough loss for Portland to take with Kawhi Leonard resting, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell out and Lou Williams and Paul George both dealing with minutes restrictions. This could’ve opened the floodgates for fantasy pickups on the also-ran rosters, but playoff hopes survive for the Western field for at least one more night.
The last (but not least) team in the running is the red-hot Suns, who were coming into the bubble as a playoff longshot. It’s a daunting road with OKC, Philadelphia and Dallas on the slate, though playing the Mavs in the finale might be good timing given the likelihood that Luka and co. will know their exact standing heading into the night. At this point it looks like the Suns are going to ride this wave all the way through, with an early elimination maybe opening the door for Cam Payne, Cam Johnson, Ty Jerome, Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo to get run. Surprisingly, the Suns will not be the best bet for silly season pickups in the bubble. Full marks to Monty Williams, who has the team playing inspired ball in what’s the first meaningful stretch of games most of that team has ever played at this level. Two games behind Portland, there’s nobody running hotter than Phoenix right now.