• (Editor’s Note: The Layup Line is a part of our Premium Membership package, and a great way to get a quick breakdown of the upcoming night’s action. Because there’s only one game on tonight we’re offering this edition up as a free read. If you’d like to see more, Premium subscribers will get a fresh Layup Line every afternoon to help get them set for the NBA slate.)

    It’s Thursday Night and that means there’s going to be some quality, nationally televised PLAYOFF basketball being played in between wondering if Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy are really the best options we have to listen to at this point in the season. Only one feature game tonight and it’s all knotted up at two a piece so let’s get after it.

    Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets

    When the Warriors throttled the Rockets in the second half of Game 1 in Houston, much of the thought was that the defending champs were back in a big way and their appearance in yet another NBA Finals was a foregone conclusion. Houston responded by taking the Dubs to the woodshed in Game 2. Still, there remained this feeling that the Warriors would just need five instead of four to move on. Game 3 in Oracle only added to that conventional wisdom as the Warriors did what they do best and destroyed the Rockets on their home court. Houston responded yet again by beating the Warriors on their home court for the first time in the playoffs and did so in an ugly, grind-it-out type of game. The best of seven has become a best of three and Golden State’s coronation is no longer the certainty it once was at the start of the series.

    Should We Jump Off The Tallest Building In The World? Should We Lie Down On The Lawn and Let Them Run Us Over With Lawnmowers?

    Since there’s only one game tonight, I’ll just run through a number of random thoughts I’m having about for each team.

    The Warriors need to put Game 4 behind them real quick, but they need to do a much better job preparing for Game 5. That could mean digging deep and getting themselves back to mentally being the Ultimate Warriors we’ve come to know. But mostly, it just means getting back to some of the basics. More ball movement, better shot selection and getting to the rim. Their offense looked as bad and as out of sorts in Game 4 as it had at any point during the current Warrior era. Some of that is just teams reaching the point where they become battle weary, but they need to remember what got them there in the first place and it wasn’t because of those kinds of slugfests.

    The Warriors had 14 team assists, again, that won’t cut it. It won’t for the Rockets either who had only 12. The reason the Warriors offense is so dominant is that they have a knack for always finding the open man whether at the rim or from deep. Did I mention that they need to get back to that?

    Andre Iguodala’s injury has exposed the Warriors bench. Kevon Looney played 25 largely ineffective minutes. Shaun Livington was one viral play on Harden away from being mostly irrelevant this series. Jordan Bell has looked like a rookie that has missed significant time. Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee haven’t seen the floor much to match up against the smaller and faster-paced Rockets. Which means that their primary bench scoring is mostly in the hands of (gulp) Swaggy P.

    Still the Warriors aren’t going to keep shooting below 40% which means that it might have just been a collective bad night that was exacerbated by how extra handsy the Rockets were in Game 4.

    I feel like Draymond should wear Rec Specs to add to his tenacity, awkward looking shot, and overall persona. Just go full Horace Grant with it.

    I don’t know how badly Klay Thompson is hurt, but the whole reason why the Warriors looked the WARRIORS again was that Thompson was shooting more and making the Spurs and Pelicans pay for leaving him open. He’s disappeared, as Curry and Durant seem to have had a monopoly on the basketball.

    And we still have yet to see one of THOSE games from Steph where everything he throws up is going in. You know, the heat check Steph that is the most exciting player in the game. Durant has been carrying the offensive load and in Game 4 he was trying to do it all and it wasn’t working.

    DeAndre Hopkins Approves

    That CP3 corner to corner pass to Ariza that helped put the dagger in the Warriors in Game 4 was magical. Just Point Godding at its best. If Deshaun Watson isn’t 100% by the time the NFL season starts, perhaps the Texans give Chris Paul the starting QB job.

    I’m surprised Ryan Anderson hasn’t been on the floor more in this series. He may not be 100%, but the Rockets also need some scoring options beyond Eric Gordon when the world starts to collapse on James Harden.

    Same thing with Luc Mbah a Moute. Isn’t this series what you got him for? To chase the Warriors around on D and steal and easy bucket or two? He averaged 25 minutes on the season and he’s a DNP in Game 4? How much is his shoulder still bothering him? I know the Warriors bench is thin without Iggy, but the Rockets have whittled down to a seven-man rotation and I hope that Beard & Co. don’t get completely gassed.

    Eric Gordon put in some clutch shots and free throws and still hasn’t shot the ball well outside of Game 2. Clint Capela hasn’t had a big scoring outburst either. One of the two of them is due for a game that could swing the series entirely in the Rockets’ favor.

    People worrying about James Harden being shook by Shaun Livingston or by not taking that three just don’t realize he looks that way all the time. Harden will win the damn MVP of the league or end Draymond’s life on a dunk and still look like he’s sitting through a lecture on accounting for paint drying companies. It’s uncanny.

    It’s just nice to have close basketball games again even if it was more plodder than pinball machine. I don’t want to be greedy, but, ah screw it, I hope we get a series decider that winds up as one of those 131-130 games that we all know that both teams are capable of and expected when this series first began. There’s no guarantee that the Finals will match the firepower of this series so the next three games might be the last chance we have at a true barrage of star power and firepower. Appease me basketball Gods!

Fantasy News

  • Derrick Jones Jr.
    SF, Miami Heat

    Derrick Jones Jr. won the Dunk Contest on Saturday in an epic showdown with Aaron Gordon.

    Jones and Gordon extended the Dunk Contest into overtime and treated us to some of the best dunks in recent memory. Jones put on a spectacular performance with one 360, between-the-legs dunk that was reminiscent of Vince Carter. Gordon dunked over Tacko Fall in his final dunk and put up dunks worthy of a trophy himself. Jones earned the nickname of Airplane Mode on Saturday and is an option at the end of your bench in 14-team leagues.

  • Buddy Hield
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Buddy Hield beat Devin Booker and Davis Bertans with 27 points in the final round of the 3-Point Contest on Saturday.

    Hield had to hit the final shot to beat Booker by one point and take home the 2020 3-Point Contest trophy. Hield is third in made 3-pointers this season with 207. He has been on a roll lately and is a top-30 player over the past month while averaging 21.1 points and 4.5 threes per game. Hield should have a top-50 finish to the season.

  • Bam Adebayo
    C, Miami Heat

    Bam Adebayo beat Domantas Sabonis in the final round of the Skills Challenge to take home the victory on Saturday.

    Adebayo beat Spencer Dinwiddie, Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis on his way to winning the 2020 Skills Challenge. Adebayo was able to showcase his talents on Saturday and has been a top-40 player in 9-cat leagues this season. He will have early-round value moving forward.

  • Evan Turner
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Evan Turner is set to work out for the Clippers, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Turner is working on a buyout with the Wolves and Minnesota never had any intention of holding ET back from other work. He's only appeared in 19 games all season and would be at the end of LA's rotation, so there's minimal fantasy impact if Turner finds his way to the Clips.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Miles Bridges
    SF, Charlotte Hornets

    Miles Bridges took home the MVP Award of Team USA's 151-131 win over Team World in the Rising Stars game on Friday night, scoring 20 points, grabbing five boards, dishing out five assists and chipping in three steals.

    He hit some big shots, including a couple of three of three pointers (3-of-7 3PT). The MVP winner was not immediately obvious after the game and Bridges was the beneficiary of a wide open field. He is clinging to value in standard 12-team leagues and has been a little better of late, averaging 20 points and seven rebounds over the past two weeks. If you have an open roster spot, Bridges offers consistently average production if you need a space-filler.

  • Collin Sexton
    PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Collin Sexton played 20 minutes Friday in the Rising Stars game in Chicago, putting up 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.

    Sexton was not pleased about being left off the original roster for Team USA. He got an opportunity due to Tyler Herro's injury and had a good showing Friday evening. He has been very consistent thus far, holding top-125 value on the season and ranks in the top-75 over the past two months. Keep running him out there.

  • Brandon Clarke
    PF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Brandon Clarke was in the starting lineup for Team World in the Rising Stars game Friday night and put up 22 points on 11-of-15 FG and added eight rebounds.

    Clarke has the best shooting percentage out of all NBA rookies this season, sitting at a cool 62.3% from the floor. He didn't let up Friday, only missing four of his 15 shots. Clarke has sneakily almost cracked the top-75 in standard leagues this season and needs to be owned across the board. The Grizzlies are surprising everybody and currently hold a spot in the playoffs, so Clarke should maintain his value.

  • RJ Barrett
    SF, New York Knicks

    RJ Barrett had 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and chipped in three steals in the Rising Stars game Friday against Team USA.

    He had a decent night shooting the ball, going 11-for-17 from the floor, although he missed all four of the triples he attempted. Barrett's fantasy output has really been disappointing so far this season. He ranks outside the top-300 and fantasy managers, if you've managed to hold on to him all the way to this point, should be hoping the Knicks decide to really commit to letting their young guys loose after the All Star break.

  • Wendell Carter Jr.
    C, Chicago Bulls

    Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle sprain) is hoping to play next Thursday, the Bulls' first game after the All-Star break.

    Carter has been sidelined since leaving Chicago's game on January 6 and was hit with a 4-6 week timetable, so a return out of the break would certainly line up with that. His return will likely eliminate Cristiano Felicio from the rotation while Luke Kornet will take a sizable hit to his playing time as well. Thaddeus Young also stands to lose some minutes but is worth hanging onto as long as Lauri Markkanen remains out, even if his ceiling will be lowered. Now would be a great time to make sure that WCJ wasn't dropped in any of your leagues.

    Source: Cody Westerlund on Twitter

  • Kevin Knox
    SF, New York Knicks

    After Kevin Knox played just 10 minutes on Wednesday, Knicks coach Mike Miller said, "Just having minutes isn’t the end-all."

    Miller's starting to get questions about why some of New York's younger players are still buried in the rotation, often in favor of lower-upside veterans. Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. are obvious cases, with Frank Ntilikina and Allonzo Trier in a similar boat. Miller believes that development is more than just playing a lot. "It’s about how these guys get better just if they get 10 more minutes in a game. There are a lot of things that go into the development to make these guys better… I think there are other ways and other factors [than minutes]." Leon Rose might think otherwise, but it doesn't sound like changes are coming unless it's via an edict from above Miller in the organization.

    Source: New York Post