• Welcome, Hoop Ball readers, to another edition of The Week Ahead!

    Not many matchups in the NBA playoffs are concrete despite two games left in the season, but I will go over the likely matchups and the ones I would like to see.  The Celtics will have home court advantage over the Pacers in the Eastern Conference 4th seed and 5th seed matchup.  The Bucks will likely be hosting the Pistons, but the Heat and Hornets could potentially take the last seed.  The Bucks should steamroll any of those opponents, so there is no real favorable matchup to choose from.  The Raptors, who will also likely steamroll their first round opponent, will likely either be facing the Nets or the Magic.  The 76ers are literally in the same boat as the Raptors as they are locked in at their seed and will either be facing the Nets or Magic.  The Nets and 76ers is a series I would like to see, but I do believe the 76ers would win in a max of six games.

    The East playoffs will likely end up Bucks vs. Celtics and Raptors vs. 76ers in the Semifinals.  The Eastern Conference Finals matchup I believe will happen and I would like to see the most is the Celtics vs. Raptors.  I do believe if the Celtics and Raptors face off that the series would go seven games, but I do think the Celtics would ultimately take the series.  The Eastern Conference is much more competitive than the West in terms of who will come out of their side of the bracket.

    The Western Conference does not have any concrete matchups yet, but it should be clear to everyone who will come out of the West — the Warriors.  The Warriors will likely face the Spurs or Clippers in the first round, and both series scenarios would likely end in four games.  The Nuggets will seemingly face the Clippers or Spurs as well and will likely win, but do not put it past them to make it a six or seven-game series.  The Rockets are on track to face the Thunder in the first round, which will hopefully be a seven-game series and my favorite matchup of the first round of the playoffs.  The last matchup is looking like it will be the Blazers hosting the Jazz, which could also be a competitive series that ends in the lower seed team winning.  The Semifinals matchups will be, in my opinion, Warriors vs. Jazz and Nuggets vs. Thunder.  Then, I believe the Thunder and Warriors will face off in the Western Conference Finals, which will result in a Warriors win in six or less games.

    Thus, I believe the NBA finals matchup will be the Celtics vs. the Warriors, which is a series that could go six games, maybe seven, but the Warriors will surely end up winning the series.  No matter who the opponent is in the Eastern Conference, the Warriors will dominate the playoffs and win the NBA championship.

    Now here is an overview of the week ahead:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    2 games: 76ers, Bulls, Grizzlies, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Knicks, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wolves

    1 game: Bucks, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Hawks, Kings, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Pacers, Pelicans, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Wizards

    Best Schedule: Pistons (Grizzlies, at Knicks)

    The Pistons have not yet clinched a playoff spot, so they should not be resting their guys and should be playing their hardest to try and secure a position.  They are playing two of the worst teams in the NBA in the Grizzlies and Knicks, so it should be an easy two games to win to ensure that they do make the playoffs.  Secure your Pistons in your fantasy lineup.

    Worst Schedule: Thunder (Rockets, at Bucks)

    The Thunder are fighting for a better seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, so they do not need this schedule right now.  They are playing the Rockets, who are also fighting to climb up to the 2nd seed.  They are lucky enough to play the Bucks who could potentially bench some of their guys, but they have been benching them already so they might catch them on a day when Mike Budenholzer decides to play everyone.  Aside from Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams, do not expect a great two games from anyone on the Thunder roster.  There is no game of the week since the Thunder vs. Rockets game is likely the most important game and most of the last matchups are rather one-sided.

    Waiver Wire Watch

    JaKarr Sampson- In his first three games with the Bulls, he has averaged 23 points and eight rebounds on 65.8% shooting.  Those numbers are good for top-6 value in 9-cat leagues, so he is a must-own for the final matchups of the season.

     Ian Clark- Clark has started the last five games for the Pelicans and has played outstanding basketball in that span.  In the last week, he is averaging 24.0 points, 4.7 triples, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game on 48.2% shooting.  He is a must-own for the final week of the season.  

    Josh Jackson/Jamal Crawford- Both of these guys were outside the top-250 value for the entire season, so it is nice to see them boast top-20 value over the past week.  Jackson is averaging 22.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.7 blocks, and 2.3 triples over his last three games.  In that same span, Crawford is averaging 23.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 triples on 51.6% shooting.  This is a duo that should be owned in all formats for the final week of the season.

    Delon Wright- The newfound triple-double machine should have already been owned in most formats, but this is more of a reassurance than anything that he is owned in all formats.  He is just outside the top-50 for the past month and has only gotten better as the season has progressed, so pick him up if no one has noticed his transformation into a solid fantasy asset.

    Luke Kornet/Mario Hezonja-  As everyone know, the Knicks are playing for absolutely nothing…… not even for Zion Williamson.  The first pick odds are the same for the worst team as the second and third worst teams, so tanking has been toned down in some way.  However, that has not stopped the Knicks as the continue to play guys like Luke Kornet and Mario Hezonja crazy minutes.  Hezonja is a top-30 option over the past week and Kornet is a top-30 option over the past two weeks, so make sure they are owned in your league.

    Alex Caruso– Again…. Caruso has benefited from the injuries to Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Brandon Ingram. Teammates Mike Muscala and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should also be owned in most formats for the final game of the season if they are on the wire in your league.  Pick them up immediately.

    Injury Report

    Jonas Valanciunas (ankle sprain) was shut down for the remainder of the season with an ankle sprain.  The Grizzlies get to keep their pick if it is inside the top seven, and Valanciunas playing was putting their pick in jeopardy so this certainly helps their tanking race.  However, no one ever likes to see a guy playing his best basketball go down with an injury like this, so hopefully Big Science has a speedy recovery.

    Devin Booker (ankle sprain) will be out for the remainder of the season after spraining his ankle during Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz.  Jamal Crawford and Josh Jackson should benefit from his injury.

    Tyler Johnson (knee) underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and is out for the remainder of the season.  He falls under the category of players who were already hurt but got shut down since their team had nothing to play for. Elie Okobo, De’Anthony Melton and Jamal Crawford should benefit the most from his injury like they have since he went down.

    Josh Richardson (groin) will miss approximately two weeks with a groin injury.  This injury could have cost the Heat a shot at making the playoffs, so it is sad to see his season and Dwyane Wade’s last season end like this.  Wade and Dion Waiters will likely see the biggest minutes boost with Richardson out.

    Another week without a lot of significant injuries, so here is the list of guys who are day-to-day (there are soooo many guys that are GTD for the final games, so these are the notable ones):  John Collins, Trae Young, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Kris Dunn, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Myles Turner, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Kyle Kuzma, Mike Conley, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Jimmy Butler, Deandre Ayton, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, Jabari Parker

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

    Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!

Fantasy News

  • Ricky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz

    Ricky Rubio put up 17 points with four rebounds, nine assists and four steals in a loss to the Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He shot 7-of-17 from the field and had the unfortunate matchup against James Harden for much of this game. Harden hit him with a crossover that sent Rubio to the floor, but he missed the shot. The Jazz have been getting good performances from Rubio and Derrick Favors, but the inconsistent play from the remainder of their roster has left them with a two-game series deficit. The Jazz are heading back to Utah for Game 3 as they will try to steal their first game of the series.

  • Donovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz

    Donovan Mitchell had another poor shooting night as he went 5-of-18 from the field on his way to 11 points in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets on Wednesday.

    Mitchell shot just 1-of-8 from 3-point territory and 0-of-2 from the stripe. He also had five fouls and four turnovers while playing a team-high 37 minutes. He did add six assists and two steals, but this was a disappointing performance from the second-year rising star. Eric Gordon has been outshining him, but Mitchell has a chance to rectify things as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Derrick Favors - F/C - Utah Jazz

    Derrick Favors played well in his 22 minutes of action in a Game 2 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday, with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

    Although Favors is putting up good numbers in such limited minutes, you should not expect to see him go above 25 minutes at all in this series. He shot 7-of-11 from the field and missed both of his attempts from deep. Also, the Rockets play a lot of small ball as PJ Tucker is their power forward, so Favors is often at a defensive disadvantage when on the court.

  • Rudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert did not have a great showing in Wednesday's Game 2 loss to the Rockets as he managed just 11 points and 12 rebounds on 3-of-6 shooting.

    He made five of his seven attempts from the stripe and added one assist and two steals to the stat sheet. He did not record a block in this one which is rare to see from Gobert as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game on the season. Clint Capela has been defending Gobert well, which is making things a lot tougher on the Jazz to score and rebound the ball. Gobert will look to bounce back as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Royce O'Neale - F - Utah Jazz

    Royce O'Neale played well on Wednesday in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets as he had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three triples and four assists.

    O'Neale stepped up as Joe Ingles managed just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with five steals. He saw 27 minutes of action in this one after seeing just 15 minutes in Game 1. He has guarded James Harden on numerous possessions thus far and it seems as though Harden goes at him every chance he gets. This may be the best game we see from O'Neale all series, but he has given the Jazz some solid run off the bench thus far.

  • James Harden - G - Houston Rockets

    James Harden dominated the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday as he triple-doubled with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

    Aside from his eight turnovers, there was not much to complain about Harden’s performance. Rather, there were elements of Harden’s showing that deserve high praise such as his six triples, one block and toughness throughout the entire game. He would not back down from Ricky Rubio and actually crossed him up in the first half. The Beard is continuing his MVP-like season into the playoffs, which is no surprise given how truly great his 2018-19 campaign was.

  • Chris Paul - G - Houston Rockets

    Chris Paul put up 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting with two steals and two blocks in a blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday.

    He made just one of his six 3-point attempts and turned the ball over six times. However, he did add four rebounds and three assists to the box score as well. James Harden is clearly the dominating force for the Rockets, but Paul's stability will be crucial for the team to continue their playoff success.

  • Eric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets

    Eric Gordon outplayed Donovan Mitchell once again in Game 2 as the Rockets beat the Jazz 118-98 on Wednesday.

    Gordon scored 16 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting and 3-of-6 shooting from long-range. He also contributed one rebound, two steals and one block to the stat sheet. Gordon is tasked with guarding Mitchell, which is the toughest defensive assignment on the Rockets and he is thriving in that role. He has held him to 30 points on 37 shots in the series thus far. This series could potentially end in four games if Gordon continues to play at this high of a level.

  • PJ Tucker - F - Houston Rockets

    PJ Tucker drilled four triples on his way to 16 points in a blowout win over the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He added two steals and four boards while converting five of his eight shots from the field. The Rockets have confidence in Tucker to fire from deep and he proved them right as he drilled four of his seven attempts from 3-point territory. Surrounding James Harden with 3-and-D wing players has been their formula for success and Tucker fits that mold perfectly. When Tucker is hitting his shots, the Rockets are likely to dominate the way they did tonight.

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    Clint Capela did not have to do much in the Rockets’ Game 2 blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday as he had just seven points and 10 rebounds with three blocks.

    He shot 3-of-4 from the field and added one assist and one steal to the box score. Although the numbers were down in this one, he did what he had to do in his 29 minutes of action as he kept Rudy Gobert in check as well. Capela is an important cog in the Rockets’ formula for success, so even when he is not scoring as much he is still impacting the game in other ways.