• 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

  • Derrick White
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White has reportedly passed the first concussion test after taking a nasty fall in Team USA's tuneup game vs. the Australian Boomers on Saturday.

    This is good news. White has worked hard for his Team USA roster spot and should provide some guard depth for them once he clears concussion protocols. He was an eye-opener last season and should still hold some fantasy value despite the return of a now-healthy Dejounte Murray.

    Source: Tom Orsborn on Twitter

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (sore left ankle) will not take part in the FIBA World Cup as Team USA announces its final roster.

    Kuzma sat out Team USA's final tuneup against Australia on Saturday as Marc Stein reports that he is flying back to Los Angeles to get treatment. We should still expect him to be ready for training and congrats to Mason Plumlee for making the team as many speculated that he would be the final cut.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Kemba Walker scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four rebounds with two assists as USA Basketball had it's 78-game winning streak in tournament and exhibition games snapped on Saturday.

    Walker continues to assert himself as the team's best player but USA losing to Australia was the much bigger story in this one. Harrison Barnes also played well as he chipped in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. USA will take on Canada on Monday in their last exhibition before taking on the Czech Republic in the first official match of the tournament on September 1.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Derrick White
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White left Saturday’s game after tripping and hitting his head on the floor.

    White left without help but there is no word yet on whether he is dealing with a concussion. He finished with eight points, hitting 6-of-7 three throws in nine minutes with another update sure to come. The third-year guard put up top-125 per-game value, playing 25.8 minutes in his second season. Even with the return of Dejounte Murray, White should still be worth a roster spot in most standard leagues.

    Source: Jeff Garcia on Twitter

  • Marcus Smart
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart, sidelined for almost three weeks with calf tightness, returned to action on Saturday as USA lost to Australia in their exhibition.

    Smart only played nine minutes in this one but still managed to score 7 points with three assists days after being named one of the team’s co-captains. Coming off an NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, he produced top-100 per game fantasy value as it seems he may have finally fixed his shot after shooting under 40 percent from the field in his first four seasons. He also produced a career-high in both steals and triples with 1.8 and 1.6 respectively as his career seems to be on the up and up.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills went off in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points as Australia beat USA 98-94.

    Although it was only an exhibition, it was still a huge moment for Mills and the Australian team in front of a huge crowd as they handed the US team their first loss since 2006. Mills was serenaded with MVP chants as Joe Ingles also played well with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four rebounds and seven assists while Andrew Bogut came off the bench for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes, shooting 7-of-8 from the field.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma is out for Team USA's tuneup up game vs. Australia with a sore left ankle.

    Kuzma is being held out of this one for precautionary reasons. There's clearly no need for USA Basketball to risk him further injuring the sore ankle. This does not sound like a serious injury and should not affect his fantasy ADP on draft day.

    Source: USA Basketball on Twitter

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    Dwight Howard has agreed with the Grizzlies on a buyout, and will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers.

    The Lakers are giving Howard an opportunity to be fantasy relevant. When given minutes, Dwight can produce double-doubles with the best of them, but he has been changing teams for years now. He will be worth a gamble at the end of your draft if camp with the Lakers goes well, but this is a non-guaranteed deal, and he only played nine games last season.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Marcus Derrickson
    PF, Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks signed Marcus Derrickson to an Exhibit 10 contract on Friday.

    It looks like Derrickson will be a G-League option for the Hawks, so there's nothing to see here. At one point he was competing for the last roster spot on the team. We don't need to keep of track of every computer-generated player.

    Source: Chris Vivlamore on Twitter

  • Marreese Speights
    C, Free Agent

    Marreese Speights will work out for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

    Speights spent last year playing in China and will attempt his NBA comeback with the Lakers. who are in desperate need of an additional center. He is among three centers the Lakers are looking into, the others being Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah. Of those three, Speights unquestionably has the best floor spacing ability, which would be his strongest bet to eke out those other two for the job.

    Source: Alex Kennedy on Twitter