• It’s a great time to be a fan of the NBA. Teams are beginning to tank, players are starting to rest and playoff seeds are at stake. Let’s take a look at my Starting Five, which are the most interesting story lines around the NBA in this week’s edition of the Z Report:

    WARRIORS RODEO STOPS IN SAN ANTONIO

    The crowd was energetic and the players looked hyped. The Spurs were close to becoming the only team in NBA history to go undefeated at home. However, last time the Warriors matched up against the Spurs, they mauled them. This time Golden State could feel the pressure mounting up as they pursued the NBA record for highest win percentage in the regular season. 73 or more wins was within reach and legacies were at stake. It was a playoff atmosphere — it was a championship atmosphere.

    From the opening tip, both teams executed well defensively. San Antonio switched on picks throughout the game in an effort to alleviate open shots off screens. This is partially why Boris Diaw started and played significant minutes for Tim Duncan. The switches made it tough for the Warriors to find the small creases that they need to get good looks at the basket.

     

     

    The Spurs did not use Kawhi Leonard as the primary defender on Stephen Curry. Instead, Kawhi guarded Draymond Green for most of the game.

    Offensively, San Antonio had one plan from the beginning– slow the tempo of the game and get the ball inside against the small-ball Warriors (Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green). Gregg Popovich’s strategy worked as the Spurs were able to slow down the Warriors pace from 102.15 on the season to 90.16 in this contest.

     

     

     

     

    LaMarcus Aldridge was the main beneficiary of the Warriors lineup decision, scoring 26 points with 18 points coming against the Warriors small unit at an average distance of 8.2 feet from the basket. He was obliterating Harrison Barnes and Green on the low block during the entire game.

    The Warriors defensive game plan worked well on the Spurs backcourt. Steve Kerr elected to drape Klay Thompson on Tony Parker from the beginning of the game and as a result, Parker was only 2-for-8 from the field with six points.

    However, on offense, it felt like Golden State was rushing their shots in order to compensate for the slower tempo of the game. The team was 10-for-24 on field goal attempts within 15-24 seconds left on the shot clock. This is a common occurrence for this Warriors team, but on a day where the shots aren’t falling, Kerr needed to adjust and figure out a way to get easier looks. There were numerous times when Curry had opportunities to drive on Diaw, Aldridge or Duncan when the Spurs switched on picks. Steph continued to settle for the long ball on a day where he was 1-for-12 from downtown. He was 3-for-5 with one pass that led to a score (it was not considered an assist on the stat sheet) on seven drives to the basket. The defense bended when Steph drove to the hoop.

     

     

    There was also a point where Steph was out of the game and Klay became the focal point of the offense. However, the Warriors elected to try to post him up and have him back down the smaller defenders that San Antonio implored on him. This also looked like a mistake — Klay did not make a shot on post-up fade away attempts in this outing.

    Even with this, the Warriors remained in the game. However, it felt like Kerr kept Curry on the bench too long with the game winding down. Steph did not enter the fourth quarter until there was 5:58 left in the game when the Spurs took a 75-71 lead off of a Diaw layup.

    With a couple of Curry’s rushed threes and missed opportunities, the Spurs found themselves in control of the game as Kawhi headed to the line to put the team up six with less than 30 seconds to go. The crowd knew the game was over and chanted, “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P” as Leonard hit a free throw to seal the game.

    It was over. The Spurs remained undefeated at home while the Warriors could only afford two more losses to hold the title for best regular season record of all-time.

    The Warriors have two more chances to revenge their Saturday night loss. Something tells me that having Andrew Bogut down low and Steph Curry avenging his worst shooting performance since 2014 will tilt the scales in Golden State’s favor.

     

    DIRK DELIVERS FOR DALLAS

    Sunday was the biggest game of the Mavericks season up to this point. The crowd was loud even though the fans know that their beloved team is stuck in mediocrity. A team that wishes to compete for championships cannot rely on a 37-year old to shoulder the load night-in and night-out. However, for one night or one game, the possibilities are endless.

    In a day where the Mavericks and their fans felt that they were playing in a must-win home game, Dirk Nowitzki mustered up the strength to put together a 40-point performance in an overtime win against the sixth-place Blazers. For one day, it seemed like none of the miles he has logged mattered. His awkward one-legged fadeaway and deep ball were intact.

    From the eight-minute mark of the first quarter when Dirk hit a shot in which he spun to his right and fell away to create space from Gerald Henderson, you knew today could be a special day:

     

     

    Repeatedly, Dirk came up big for Dallas down the stretch of this close game. At one point, it was tough to remember the last field goal attempt that he missed. The crowd roared as their king saved them from falling out of the last playoff spot. The most memorable moments came with two minutes left in overtime when the game was still within reach for the Blazers. The Mavericks ran their classic pick and roll with Nowitzki as the screener at the top of the three-point arc as they have for the past decade. Dirk stayed home as Deron Williams took both defenders towards the basket. Williams dished a nice pass to Dirk at the top of the arc and what was a five-point lead became an eight-point lead:

     

     

    If matching his age in points wasn’t enough, Dirk put the final nail in the coffin by hitting a trey to reach 40 points. His dramatic pause after releasing the ball made it that much sweeter. You can tell that he has the respect and loyalty from the announcers, his organization, and the fans.

     

     

    HOW ABOUT 40?! Dirk’s performance made him the fourth player in NBA history to score 40 or more points at the age of 37 and above, joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Karl Malone. It was one for the ages and kept the Mavericks one game above the Jazz for the time being.

     

    WIZARDS FOUND MAGIC SPELL

    You know that moment when things finally start to fall in place and you wonder what took you so long to realize it? I think the Wizards are beginning to catch on to which lineup causes the biggest headache for opponents. The new starting five containing John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat is a force to be reckoned with.

    The Wizards are undefeated in their last five games including games against the eighth place Bulls, the ninth place Pistons and the fourth place Hawks. The similarity in all five of these games has been the starting lineup. Since Bradley Beal’s recovery from a pelvis injury, the Wizards have been able to put the same players out on the floor to start the game. Washington only deployed this starting unit six times the entire season (one of which Beal exited in the middle of the contest), but based on the facts, they should continue to do so moving forward.

    Since the beginning of the five-game winning streak, this lineup is the most effective unit in the NBA. They have an average plus-minus of +15.5 in four out of their last five games (Beal missed a game last week) and are firing on all cylinders.

    So, what is making this unit work? Spacing. The Wizards are using Wall, Beal, Porter and Morris on the perimeter and use Gortat to screen in an attempt to get teammates open. From there, Wall or Beal have space to drive to the basket since there aren’t defenders clogging the lane. Teams can either collapse, stay back and play off or play tight and hope that the defender can sticks with his man.

    Here, the Hawks switch on the pick from Gortat. Al Horford (Gortat’s man), decided to drift backwards in an attempt to make Beal pull-up from the free throw line. Everyone else stayed on their man.

     

     

    The Hawks decided to do something similar on Wall, except Jeff Teague stayed with Wall and went under the pick, which allowed Wall to shoot the uncontested free throw line jumper.

     

     

    The Wizards are still 1.5 games out of the playoffs but they look to continue the hot streak and finally have a healthy roster moving forward. I don’t think that they will catch the Bulls or Pistons, but I would love to see this team and their newfound confidence in the playoffs.

    Side Note: Gortat screens are quickly to becoming one of my favorite things in the NBA right now.

     

    CELTICS SMALL BALL

    The Celtics are one of the better League Pass teams to watch. Whether you like coaching, effort, up tempo offense or awkward lineups, Boston has you covered. Coach Brad Stevens is not afraid of forcing other teams to match up with his lineups and likes to try new things every couple of games.

    On Sunday, Stevens deployed a unit with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger in the fourth quarter. That’s right, Turner was playing Power Forward. The unique part of this lineup is that there are four guys that can bring the ball up the court. If you watched the game against the Sixers, the Celtics took this to heart. Thomas, Bradley, Smart and Turner were all given a chance to push the ball up the court and run the offense. Sullinger’s main role was to set screens to get the other four players open.

    When Thomas drove to the basket, the whole Sixers team collapsed, leaving Smart and Bradley open at the 3-point line. Smart nailed the trey.

     

     

    Don’t be fooled by Thomas’ height, he is one of the top slashers in today’s game, averaging 11.7 drives per game (second in the NBA).

    They can also pull off nifty double screens with two wide-bodied guys in Smart and Sullinger to setup a driving lane or, in this case, a pull-up three for Thomas.

     

     

    This lineup was actually Boston’s second best on Sunday, and is +11 on the year in 18 minutes together. It will be interesting to see if Stevens uses this unit more often once the Celtics reach the playoffs. I also hope to see another variation of this lineup with Jae Crowder operating the five spot.

     

    ALERT YOUR NEIGHBORS, IT’S A BIYOMBO BLOCK PARTY

    Did anyone anticipate the week that Bismack Biyombo had? In five games and four starts, Bed, Bath & Biyombo collected 18 blocks while the Raptors went 4-1 as Jonas Valanciunas nursed a hand injury sustained against the Bulls. However, the block party did not spur from finally getting starts. Biyombo has had two or more blocks in a game for eight consecutive games, which is a franchise record.

    Not only did he block shots, but he cleaned up the boards as well. The Windex Man finished the week with 66 rebounds in five games, including one in which he broke the team record for most rebounds in a game with 25. Hats off to the big man for making some noise and bringing some tough defense to this frontcourt. It will be interesting to see what Dwane Casey decides to do upon Valanciunas’ return from injury. In the meantime, don’t get in this man’s way:

     

     

Fantasy News

  • Victor Oladipo
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Victor Oladipo played only 13 games in 2019-20 after 12-month absence.

    Taking only the 13-game stint into consideration, Oladipo posted top 200/250 per-game value for 8/9 cat leagues which is a far cry from his top-10 performance in 2017-18 but is also completely unfair to judge on such a small sample after a long hiatus while recovering from injury. He flashed his tremendous upside in his last game of the season against the Celtics on March 10 with 27 points, five triples, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor. He has ruled himself out of coming back for the restart this season and will turn his focus on trying to return next year stronger than ever.

  • T.J. McConnell
    PG, Indiana Pacers

    T.J. McConnell posted 210/222 per-game value for 8/9-cat formats in 2019-20.

    McConnell’s first year on the Pacers was similar to what he did the last few seasons for the Sixers from a stat perspective although this was the first time in his five-year career that he didn’t average at least one steal per game with only 0.7 this year. Since he plays less than 20 minutes per game on most nights, he is a deep-league option at best for teams desperate for assists with occasional DFS value when the team had players out due to injury.

  • Justin Holiday
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Justin Holiday put up top 150/110 per-game value in 8/9-cat formats in 2019-20 while providing top 90/60 total value due to not missing any games.

    Holiday is on his eighth different NBA roster in only his sixth season but has remained fantasy relevant in each of the last three seasons.
    He played 31-plus minutes in each of the last two seasons with a sub-39.0 field goal percentage being his biggest deterrent. It seems he has fixed that this season with a career-best 44.0 field goal percentage and although playing only 24.9 minute per game, continues to be a cheap source for triples and steal s. With Jeremy Lamb out to start next year, perhaps Holiday can stick around for more than one season.

  • Jeremy Lamb
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Jeremy Lamb was unable to build off his impressive 2018-19 campaign and posted top 110/95 per-game value in 8/9-cat formats in 2019-20.

    Lamb was hot and cold all season where he would be lights out one night and invisible the next. Maybe he had trouble adjusting to his new team but he also had trouble staying healthy, having to miss 11 games due to various ailments even before tearing his ACL in March. He is expected to miss a good chunk of next season so even though the 28 year old has plenty of time to get his career back on track, he can be ignored in next year's redraft leagues come draft time.

  • Malcolm Brogdon
    PG, Indiana Pacers

    Malcolm Brogdon put up top-75/85 per-game value in 8/9-cat formats in an injury riddled season.

    Brogdon signed a big contract in the offseason and flashed some serious potential with his new team, posting career-highs of 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. His field goal percentage took a big dip however going from 50.6 percent the prior season to 43.9 percent this year. It may be because of the increased responsibility on offense or maybe it was because he could never really get into a rhythm with all the injuries. Brogdon played in 74 percent for the team's games so far this season and had to miss consecutive games on five separate occasions with various back, hip, groin and hamstring injuries. One hopes the injuries aren't all interconnected and he can get back to full health to continue his upward trajectory.

  • Domantas Sabonis
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Domantas Sabonis took his game to another level in 2019-20, registering an across the board improvement, allowing him to emerge as the Pacers' best player in fantasy as a top-50 player in 8/9-cat per game value and a top-30 player in total value in both formats.

    Sabonis proved that his promising game was legit and took it up several notches. He was a double-double machine, recording averages of 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG and 5.0 APG on .541 shooting from the field. The second-year big man proved to be an amazing facilitator in the post with his five dimes per night. It is worth noting, however, that he made this jump while Victor Oladipo was injured for most of the season and Malcolm Brogdon dealt with a myriad of injuries.

  • Myles Turner
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner took a step backwards in the 2019-20 season fantasy-wise with top-70/60 per-game value in 8/9-cat formats.

    Although Turner missed about two weeks early in the season with an ankle injury, he remained relatively healthy after that. His fantasy production did not meet expectations a season after he put up top-30 value and led the league in shot-blocking. With several new scorers on the team and the emergence of Domantas Sabonis, Turner's usage went down and so did his stats across the board. The only improvement was making 1.4 triples per game compared to 1.0 the prior season but this caused his field goal percentage to dip from 48.7 percent to 45.1. The construct of the team should stay intact for next season so Turner may no longer be a viable third round option.

  • TJ Warren
    SF, Indiana Pacers

    T.J. Warren emerged as the Pacers' leading scorer with 18.7 points per game in 2019-20 and his efficient shooting from the field and the line allowed him to finish in the top-75 in both 8 and 9-cat scoring formats.

    With Victor Oladipo off to a late and slow start to the season as he recovered from injury, Warren took the lead and along with Domantas Sabonis bore the brunt of the scoring load for the Pacers. Warren's 18.7 PPG came on .529 shooting from the field and .812 from the line. He also put up averages of 1.1 treys, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 32.5 minutes per game. Warren was also able to stay mostly healthy, allowing him to appear in 61 games.

  • Aaron Holiday
    PG, Indiana Pacers

    Aaron Holiday was called on to step up when the Pacers dealt with injuries to Malcolm Brogdon, allowing him to deliver value ranked 207th in 8-cat and 210 in 9-cat per-game value.

    The second-year guard made some solid strides in 2019-20, even stepping up and into the Pacers' starting lineup. In January, Holiday showed promise as he went on a nine-game streak where he scored in double digits, including a 25-point career-high explosion against the Pelicans. In 23.6 minutes per game, Holiday averaged 9.4 points, 1.4 threes, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

  • Doug McDermott
    SF, Indiana Pacers

    Pacers sharpshooter Doug McDermott shot his way to top-250 value in 9-cat in 2019-20, recording averages 10.4 points, 1.9 threes and 2.5 rebounds on .491 shooting from the field and .827 shooting from the line in 20 minutes per game through 62 games.

    McDermott, who has pretty much defined himself as a true one-trick pony across his four-year NBA career. Thanks to the solid play of Justin Holiday off the bench, McDermott was not able to produce a reliable splash, both in real-life and fantasy.

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