March 26, 2018, 5:58 pm
The NBA season is running out of time as every team has 10 games or less remaining. The Eastern Conference playoffs seem just about set though, with eight teams firmly distancing themselves from the pack. All that remains to be decided is seeding as the shorthanded Celtics try to wrestle away homecourt advantage from the Raptors while the Cavs, Pacers, Sixers, Wizards, Bucks and Heat try to place themselves in a favorable position.
The West, on the other hand, is absolute insanity. The Rockets have separated themselves as the regular season kingpin of the Western Conference, clinching their 60th victory of the season last night. They hold a five and a half game lead over the ailing Warriors who appear to have yielded homecourt to Houston while they try to get everyone healthy for the playoffs. After that, it’s a mad dash for the final six spots in the playoffs.
Eight teams are separated by just six games and they all have anywhere from seven to nine games remaining on their schedules. The Blazers have some breathing room as the 3-seed with a two-game edge on number four, the Thunder. Sunday night’s 108-105 win in Oklahoma City puts the Blazers in prime position to make the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
With Portland, OKC, the Pelicans, Spurs, Wolves, Jazz, Nuggets and Clippers all scrambling to make sure their season doesn’t end in the next two weeks, let’s take a quick look at the most important games played between these teams this week.
Tuesday: Blazers at Pelicans – Two games may not be much but it’s actually the largest lead any team has on the squad directly below them in this wild West chase. Traveling to play MVP candidate Anthony Davis is not ideal though. The Pels currently own the 5-seed and trail Portland but just two and a half games. A win for the Blazers would go a long way toward locking up that 3-seed.
Thursday: Thunder at Spurs – The Thunder could have tied Portland last night in the third position in the West and gained some separation between themselves and the pack. Instead, they fell short and that makes this showdown in San Antonio even more important. The Kawhi-less Spurs are currently the 6-seed but tied with New Orleans and stand only half a game back of the fourth-seeded Thunder. LaMarcus Aldridge will look to drag the Spurs into the playoffs on his own and he just may do it – he’s averaging 32 and 9 over his last seven games.
Friday: Clippers at Blazers – The Clips are in the opposite position of Portland as they have the most work to do to get into the playoffs. Currently the 10-seed out West, LAC need all the help they can get to squeeze in. A second win in Portland to even the season series between these two could go a long way. Of course, last time the Clips were led by 25 points from Blake Griffin and helped the Clippers to a 4-0 start. That feels like a lifetime ago.
Sunday: Rockets at Spurs – Thunder at Pelicans – Jazz at Wolves – Easter Sunday is loaded with 13 NBA games on the docket but these three mean the most to the West playoff chase. The Spurs will look to put a dent in the armor of the NBA’s best team while Russell Westbrook goes head to head with Anthony Davis. With all that said though, Utah going to Minnesota may mean the most on Easter. They are currently tied in the 7-seed and 8-seed positions with the Nuggets one and a half games back and the Clippers two games back. The winner of that Jazz-Wolves contest may feel much safer on Sunday night. The loser must keep looking over their shoulder.
Enough about this real-life stuff though. Let’s talk fantasy – with only two and a half weeks remaining in the NBA season, let’s focus in on this week’s schedule, some waiver pickups and injuries you need to know about.
Games Played Breakdown
Four Games: Blazers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Hornets, Kings, Lakers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Pistons, Sixers, Suns, Warriors, Wizards, Wolves
Three Games: Celtics, Hawks, Heat, Jazz, Knicks, Magic, Nets, Pacers, Pelicans, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder
Two Games: Raptors
Toronto is our only team with less than three games this week. If you’ve got weekly lineup settings, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will be the only guys worth starting. It’s a shame to see the Raptors in this spot as they present some of the best depth in the league. This late in the fantasy season, it would be huge to be able to use guys like Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet or Delon Wright, all of which have been top-150 plays over the last month. But, alas, for this week, the Raptors don’t have much fantasy potential.
The best schedule of the week may belong to the Warriors who will welcome the Pacers, Bucks and Suns into Oracle and will also travel to meet the Kings. With all their stars ailing though, one must wonder how much Golden State could succeed this week. In the last two weeks, Quinn Cook and Kevon Looney both rate as top-40 plays while Jordan Bell and Nick Young have also had top-150 value. With their core four healing up, those are the guys to watch.
This is a very interesting week for streaming possibilities. As you can see above, 17 teams are playing four times this week while 12 more play three times. There’s certainly no shortage of games. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday all have eight games or more on the schedule while the aforementioned Easter Sunday has 13. But Monday, Thursday and Saturday could be crucial opportunities to capitalize on game volume as all three days have only five games going.
The Knicks, Hornets, Celtics, Wizards, Heat, Kings and Warriors are all in action on two of those three days, giving you a nice opportunity to hold a game volume edge over your opponent on those nights. However, only one team takes the floor on all three nights – the Detroit Pistons.
With a four-game schedule and three of them coming on the lightest nights of the week, now is the time to raid your waiver wire for available Pistons players. It’s worth mentioning that in the last two weeks, both Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard have had top-100 value and could still be available in your league.
Corey Brewer, SF, Thunder
It’s surprising to be writing about Corey Brewer in this space but here we are. Ever since Brewer reunited with his University of Florida head coach, Billy Donovan, in OKC, he has been very useful on the fantasy side, producing excellent defensive numbers. In 11 games, Brewer is averaging 10.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 3-pointers and perhaps most notably, 2.0 steals per game. His streak of eight straight games with a steal ended last night but if you’re looking for an edge on defense, this lengthy wing is the answer.
Trey Burke, PG, Knicks
While there was surprise to see Brewer in this section, there’s flat out shock to see Burke. But while Jarrett Jack has found his spot on the bench, Frank Ntilikina struggles to find his offensive touch and Emmanuel Mudiay plays his way out of a starting spot, Trey has risen to consistent play in the Knicks backcourt. In his last eight games, Burke has provided a spark for New York, putting up 14.4 points, 3.8 assists and 0.9 steals while shooting 55 percent from the field and 46 percent from deep. Perhaps most importantly, he’s playing up over 22 minutes per game in that span and that number will now likely go up as he received his first start in yesterday’s win over the Wizards.
Nerlens Noel, C, Mavericks
Don’t look now but it appears Noel is finally getting a shot. After sitting 42 straight games, Noel has played in nine of the last 10 Mavericks contests. The last three in particular have shown his ridiculous defensive potential – he’s got 11 steals and six blocks in the last three games. If Noel will stay on the floor for the rest of this tankalicious Mavericks season, Noel is a must add for rebounds, steals and blocks.
While there’s “no way” Stephen Curry (knee) will be ready for the playoffs, it sounds like the rest of the Warriors’ stars will play this week. Kevin Durant (ribs) is listed as probable for Thursday against the Bucks. Klay Thompson (thumb) could be back as soon as Saturday against the Kings. And Draymond Green (illness) is questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Pacers but if he does miss that one, he should be back on Thursday as well.
Chris Paul (hamstring) is expected to play for the Rockets against the Bulls tomorrow night but that could change as Houston may take a cautious approach with Paul. Houston plays the Bulls and the Suns this week, two tanking teams, so keep an eye out to see if the Rockets choose to play it safe and get Paul some extra rest.
John Wall (knee) does not currently have a target date for his return – not what Wall owners want to hear when he was originally said to be returning in late-March though he has been through two full practices and says he feels great. Monitor his status as the Wiz have four games this week and he could make his way back at any given time.
Gary Harris (knee) is targeting Friday’s game against the Thunder to return.
Tyreke Evans (personal) is not with the Grizzlies for their road game against the Wolves tonight. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if he’s out the rest of the week.
Hassan Whiteside (hip) has already been ruled out for tomorrow’s game against the Cavs.
Speaking of the Cavs and hip injuries, Cedi Osman (hip) is questionable for tomorrow’s game with the Heat but should make his return this week.
Nikola Mirotic (hip) is questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Blazers.
Devin Booker (hand) is questionable for tonight’s game with the Celtics while T.J. Warren (knee) is out.
While Julius Randle (ankle) is likely to play in the Lakers’ game against the Pistons tonight, Isaiah Thomas (hip) and Brandon Ingram (groin) are both out.
The Clippers are hopeful to have Danilo Gallinari (hand) back on the court tomorrow night against the Bucks.