• The defending champs are officially on the ropes. The Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors 98-94 at Toyota Center on Thursday night, taking a stunning 3-2 lead as the Western Conference Finals shift back to Oakland with the season on the line.

    Houston’s victory is even more impressive than it appears on the surface, and perhaps even more so than the one it got 48 hours earlier, given the struggles of James Harden and Chris Paul. Harden scored just 19 points and had more turnovers than assists, shooting 5-of-21 from the field and missing all 11 of his attempts from beyond the arc. Paul didn’t have a field goal in the first half, but finished with 20 points on 6-of-19 shooting and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. He also had seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and no turnovers, an especially notable feat in a game marred by errors from both teams. Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points, coming up huge in another epic fourth quarter marked more by grit and hustle than offensive heroics.

    The Rockets shot 37.2 percent overall, and connected on just 13-of-43 from long range. They had 12 assists and two fast break points, paltry numbers owed as much to Golden State’s defense as the labors of Harden, Paul and spot-up shooters. None of it mattered in the end. Houston, for a second straight game, defended the Warriors better than anyone thought possible.

    Kevin Durant scored a game-high 29 points, but shot just 8-of-22 and didn’t notch an assist, frustrated by the Rockets’ perfectly-timed help defense. Klay Thompson, shaking off a leg injury sustained on Tuesday, was excellent on both ends, making Harden’s life hard while netting 23 points on 14 shots. Steph Curry had 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, putting up a respectable fight defensively but never finding a consistent rhythm on the other end. Draymond Green stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 15 rebounds and four assists. Golden State’s stars had 15 turnovers between them, though, six of which were owed to Green – including a fumble in the open floor as the Warriors tried to tie the game in its waning moments.

    Unlike Game 4, this one was close from the beginning. After Houston jumped out to a 6-0 lead by virtue of sloppy Warriors turnovers, the first half was ultimately played to a 55-55 draw despite Harden and Paul failing to produce offensively. The latter came out like gangbusters after intermission, though, draining three triples in the first five minutes of the third quarter and taking control of the Rockets’ offense.

    After his final three of the third quarter, right over the top of Curry, Paul gave his longtime rival a taste of his own celebratory medicine.

    Paul’s third-quarter scoring binge hardly put Golden State away. On the contrary, it was Houston, with Harden invisible, that needed every point it could muster to keep up. The Warriors had a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, but it quickly became apparent the late-game struggles they endured on Tuesday hadn’t entirely gone away.

    Golden State shot 7-of-17 from the field and 3-of-8 from three in the fourth quarter, respectable numbers against an elite defense – one specifically designed to beat them. But when it mattered most in crunch time, the Warriors routinely devolved into isolations and post-ups that the Rockets were mostly able to thwart with strong individual defense and textbook help elsewhere. Durant missed all four of his shots in the fourth quarter, bothered by the physicality of Gordon, often switched onto him, and the activity of Houston’s help.

    Good things happened on Thursday night when Golden State moved the ball and got into its offense quickly. But again without Andre Iguodala, still nursing a left leg injury, the Warriors sorely lack the sense of calm and comfort needed to consistently find cracks in an ironclad defense like the Rockets’.

    “I feel great about where we are right now,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “That may sound crazy, but I feel it.”

    Golden State definitely has ample reason for confidence. Iguodala should be back by Saturday’s game, and the Warriors were better offensively than they were in Game 4 despite another loss and pedestrian box-score numbers. Clean up some errors, and the reigning champions should come away victorious at Oracle Arena. There’s Paul’s health to consider, too, after he injured his hamstring in the final seconds and was forced to watch the finish from the bench.

    It’s not over, basically. But after the Rockets out-gritted them to come within a game of the NBA Finals, it’s also officially time for the Warriors to worry. Let’s see how they play under pressure on Saturday.

Fantasy News

  • Josh Okogie
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Josh Okogie played well against the Lakers on Sunday as he put up 18 points and four rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting.

    Okogie knocked down three triples and made all seven of his attempts from the stripe. Jarrett Culver chipped in 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Keita Bates-Diop scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with two blocks. All three should not be on standard league radars, but Bates-Diop offers the highest upside.

  • Shabazz Napier
    PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Shabazz Napier put up 13 points with six dimes in a loss to the Lakers on Sunday.

    Napier shot 5-of-9 from the field and put up solid numbers in just 15 minutes of action. Jeff Teague contributed with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 24 minutes. Teague is a late-round value, while Napier is a deep-league assists and steals specialist.

  • Robert Covington
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Robert Covington put up 16 points with seven cash counters in a 142-125 loss to the Lakers on Sunday.

    Covington hit three triples and added three steals and one block to the stat sheet. Covington is trotting along with his typical top-50 value and consistent defensive stats. He is one of the most consistent players in the league when it comes to fantasy.

  • Alex Caruso
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Alex Caruso put up 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in a win over the Wolves on Sunday.

    Caruso added four rebounds, four assists and two steals to the stat sheet. He made two of his three attempts from beyond the arc. He was second on the team in minutes with 30 and he is worth a look in deep leagues.

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    LeBron James put up 32 points and 13 assists in a win over the Wolves on Sunday.

    James shot 12-of-20 from the field and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Although Anthony Davis has asserted himself as the top option on the Lakers, James is still a top-10 fantasy asset and underdog MVP candidate.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis dropped 50 points on 20-of-29 shooting in a 142-125 victory over the Wolves on Sunday.

    Davis added seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and one block to the stat sheet. AD took over this game and led the Lakers to the win.

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put up 21 points with nine rebounds on 5-of-14 shooting in a win over the Blazers on Sunday.

    Gilgeous-Alexander shot 5-of-14 from the field and 9-of-12 from the stripe. SGA is just outside top-100 value on the season and is looking like a late-round scoring specialist. Dennis Schroder chipped in 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with three triples and two assists. Schroder provides solid scoring and passing value for standard leagues, but is outside top-150 on the season.

  • Chris Paul
    PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Chris Paul put up 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting in a win over the Blazers on Sunday.

    Paul made two of his six attempts from beyond the arc and added three steals to the box score. He is the best fantasy player on the Thunder this season and is a solid top-30 option.

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Nerlens Noel put up 13 points and 12 boards in a 108-96 win over the Blazers on Sunday.

    Noel has outplayed Steven Adams this season and did so once again on Sunday night. Adams put up six points, nine rebounds and four assists on 2-of-6 shooting. Noel added one steal and two blocks to the box score as well. Both guys are worth owning in standard leagues and Adams has a huge buy-low window right now.

  • Carmelo Anthony
    PF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Carmelo Anthony had a horrible shooting night on Sunday against the Thunder as he put up nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.

    Anthony added eight rebounds and three assists to the stat sheet. He has been a late-round value since his signing and top-70 value over the past two weeks. He is worth owning in all formats, especially now that Rodney Hood is out for the season.