• One Big Thing: The Western Conference playoffs we should’ve had

    You know the story. For a while now, it’s been ‘the East is a much weaker conference; the West is loaded’ and the like. This year the narrative flipped a little bit, with the bottom half of the West looking a lot weaker than we’ve come to expect.

    However, there’s no denying that the West is home to the big guns of the NBA; with four of the top five or six legitimate contenders (I’ll let you decide as to whether the Clippers or Raptors are #5) residing out West.

    At one point we were looking at a team chasing the best season ever and another approaching a perfect home record and it wasn’t even the same team. The West might be top heavy this year, but it definitely has the heavy hitters.

    Claims of the West’s unfairness used to be reserved for runners-up or teams further down the standings who would have seemingly trampled their way through the East or, at the very least, punched their playoff ticket. In a lot of ways, that’s still true. I’d be hard pressed to pick Cleveland or Toronto over any of the Warriors, Spurs or Thunder.

    Even at the playoff fringes, I’d take Utah over Detroit and Indiana in a heartbeat (we won’t talk about what that might imply for my beloved Raptors). Maybe even a properly coached Sacramento team or the Nuggets if they catch some breaks, but that’s a different story for a different time.

    In the past it’s been easy to look at teams who get bounced from the Western Conference playoffs and think about the alternate timelines where different groups get to the finals. From KG’s Timberwolves to the run and gun Suns to Carmelo’s Nuggets and the Deron Williams-led Jazz, there’s a bevy of interesting units that could’ve given the Finals a fresh face.

    Every year these ‘would-be’ teams would fall to the Lakers, Mavericks or Spurs — the same bullies taking everybody’s lunch money each and every year.

    The Thunder have been a jacked-up version of a ‘would-be’ squad, even making a brief appearance on top before the Spurs and Warriors starting chipping their logos into the Mt. Rushmore of great NBA teams.

    With all due respect to the lower seeds, Round 1 was always just the appetizer. The West’s final four would be our main course.  Two historic teams, one squad with a superhuman duo and the almost-contending All Stars we all love to hate.

    This year it isn’t the quality and depth of the West that’s unfair. It’s that life isn’t fair, nor predictable.

    It’s just assumed that guys can go through thousands of minutes of basketball without a scratch — that they can play through minor bumps and bruises and still perform. Think about every collision; every hard screen, every contested rebound, every dive for a loose ball.

    Now extrapolate that over the course of one season. Of two. Keep going, but add international competitions. Add college, high school, and AAU. Add casual pickup basketball too. Maybe they got hurt during those, maybe they didn’t. But they got hurt now. All that to set up what’s looking like hoops nirvana and it’s gone in a flash. A wet spot on the court that somehow dodges those giant mops.

    A swipe at the ball and that’s it — a swipe at the ball! That’s when the body fails you. During the innocuous. Right now, of all times. We were ready for the ultimate basketball show and with a snap of the fingers half of it disappears.

    We’ve heard it so much it’s cliche — life isn’t fair. Usually the weight of that statement falls on some poor team that was almost good enough to get over the top.

    The two- and three-seed matchup between Oklahoma City and San Antonio has thankfully been spared from any series-shifting news. The Thunder are probably lucky to get past Dallas in five games, as the amount of chippy and borderline dirty play would’ve only increased moving forward.

    Maybe San Antonio could have used a more competitive warmup series, but I doubt rust comes into play. I have the utmost confidence in this matchup being great. Both of these teams are a delight to watch and it’s going to be a big time duel. Let’s keep those guys in bubble wrap until the series starts because right now it’s the clear main event on the card.

Fantasy News

  • Bruce Brown
    SG, Detroit Pistons

    Bruce Brown Jr. put up eight points with 10 boards on 3-of-10 shooting in a loss to the Blazers on Sunday.

    Brown Jr. is the first guard in Pistons history to have 10 or more rebounds in four consecutive games. He can be left on the wire as the Pistons rotation is a complete mess and his role is unknown.

    Source: Johnny Kane on Twitter

  • Brandon Knight
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    Brandon Knight played well in a loss to the Blazers on Sunday as he put up 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

    Knight knocked down three triples and added two rebounds and three assists to the box score. Langston Galloway chipped in 13 points with four rebounds and four assists. This is more of a fluke game for Knight, but Galloway should be owned in deeper leagues for his shooting and passing ability.

  • Christian Wood
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Christian Wood put up 26 points with nine boards in 31 minutes of action in a 107-104 loss to the Blazers on Sunday.

    Wood shot 9-of-15 from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He also added one assist and two blocks to the stat sheet. Wood is undoubtedly the best fantasy player on the Pistons and should return top-50 value for the remainder of the season.

  • Mario Hezonja
    SG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Mario Hezonja (left ankle sprain) returned from injury on Sunday and recorded one assist in 12 minutes of action.

    Hezonja should not be on anyone's radar as he has fallen out of the fantasy spectrum. Leave him on the wire.

  • CJ McCollum
    SG, Portland Trail Blazers

    C.J. McCollum set season-highs with 41 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists in a win over the Pistons on Sunday.

    McCollum shot 15-of-30 from the field and knocked down six triples. McCollum actually set a career-high with 12 assists as he found ways to get his teammates involved in this one. His value gets boosted when Damian Lillard is out, but he remains a middle-round value for the remainder of the season.

  • Carmelo Anthony
    PF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Carmelo Anthony put up a season-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting in a 107-104 win over the Pistons on Sunday.

    Anthony brought his efficiency back up after his recent struggles from the field, which helped the Blazers pull out a close victory. Trevor Ariza, who had been trending up as of late, put up just two points on 1-of-4 shooting in 36 minutes. Ariza should bring top-100 value, while Anthony remains a late-round option for standard leagues.

  • Terrance Ferguson
    SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Terrance Ferguson exited the game early with back stiffness as the Thunder beat the Spurs on Sunday.

    Ferguson had zero points, one rebound, one assist and one block on 0-of-2 shooting in 10 minutes. We should receive an update on the extent of his injury in the coming days.

  • Andrew Wiggins
    SF, Golden State Warriors

    Andrew Wiggins had an awful shooting performance as he went 3-of-16 from the field for eight points against the Pelicans on Sunday, but salvaged this line to a degree with 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal.

    Wiggins has been surprisingly versatile with the Warriors thus far, and before tonight he had been shooting well as the number one offensive option. If Wiggins can continue to be a decent contributor in the steals and blocks department he will be a useful fantasy option in standard leagues. Once Stephen Curry takes the court Wiggins' offensive contributions are going to take a hit, and he will need to diversify his fantasy profile.

  • Jordan Poole
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    Jordan Poole kept up his momentum while facing the Pelicans on Sunday, tallying 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and one 3-pointer.

    Poole is worth a move in deeper formats as he has emerged with a reliable role for the Warriors lately. We've seen the Warriors play roulette with there roster all season though, Poole's turn in the spotlight is likely to end sooner than later. If you are looking for a hot flyer he is worth a pickup until Stephen Curry returns.

  • Juan Toscano-Anderson
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Juan Toscano-Anderson had a night to remember against the Pelicans on Sunday, dropping 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three 3-pointers, two blocks and one steal.

    The absence of Marquese Chriss (left calf) gave Toscano-Anderson the runway he needed to go off. It's hard to imagine JTA becoming a regular piece for the Warriors, who were also without Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry is supposed to return before the season is all said and done as well. Keep him in mind while Chriss is out, but Toscano-Anderson is not a pickup yet.