Our creative juices can be fleeting. Sometimes, they flow like a majestic river in the heart of Oregon; other times, it’s a bumpy back road on a dark East Texas road. As the Fantasy basketball playoffs approach, creativity will be required, as those who are managing without the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry will attest. Whether it’s a river, a road or even A River’s Road (grossly underrated jazz tune best played with a glass of whiskey after a long day), it’s time to push toward glory.
Heart of the Matter in San Antonio
Having lost my Dad to a heart attack nearly 17 years ago, saddens me anytime I hear when a ticker causes problems, so there was no joy upon hearing the news of Spurs F/C LaMarcus Aldridge being sat down indefinitely due to an arrhythmia. With Aldridge sidelined, the Spurs lose 17.3 points, 7.4 boards, two assists and 1.1 blocks per night from one of the most dependable Fantasy players this decade.
While the return of Pau Gasol eases matters along with the expectation of Kawhi Leonard’s usage rate jingling close to James Harden and Kyrie Irving territory (because no one’s approaching Russell Westbrook’s stratosphere), expect to see Davis Bertans’ Fantasy ownership increase. Bertans has averaged just 11.1 minutes per game this season, yet the rookie from Latvia has shown his potential at times. A 21-point effort in a January 7 win over the Hornets is the best example.
Bertans is a 39 percent 3-point shooter, and he has a solid 80 percent rate from the line. While veteran David Lee will also see time, the smart money points in the direction of Bertans, who will get plenty of love in deeper leagues and keeper/dynasty formats.
Inside each of us is a love for blocked shots; a love you cannot have unless Bismack Biyombo is a part of it. Buried on the Magic bench for much of the season, Biyombo has become Fantasy-relevant after the Achilles injury to Nikola Vucevic. He recorded consecutive double-doubles in his first two starts before going into “Bismack Being Bismack” mode en route to burning owners with a six-point, six-rebound thud in Thursday’s loss to the Bulls.
Biyombo, owned in 50 percent of polled leagues, probably hit his glorious position on Friday, when he yanked down ten rebounds and scored seven points in 29 minutes of the blowout loss to the Hornets. Fantasy vets know all too well that Biyombo is a calculated risk beyond boards and blocks. He’s too infrequent a scorer and his putrid free throw percentage (48.8) will sink an aircraft carrier. If you need the blocks and an uptick in boards, Biyombo is a good option in the short-term, but do know the risks.
Forecast Calls for a Flurry of Murray
Nuggets rookie guard Jamal Murray is expected to see more time down the stretch and has become a tease of sorts. Murray caused a rush to waiver wires following his 17-points, three-rebounds and five assists in Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards before coming back with 13 points in 17 minutes during Friday’s win over the Celtics.
Owned in just over 31 percent of polled leagues, Murray is showing signs of being a breakout player as early as next season. But with the Nuggets still committed to giving Jameer Nelson heavy minutes at point, Murray remains in the ‘intriguing’ category. Still, this comes as bad news for Emmanuel Mudiay owners, as it looks likely that he could be moved during the offseason, opening the door for Murray to perhaps open as the starting point guard. Keep an eye on the situation, but if Murray’s available, just remember both the river and the road.
Best Fantasy-Friendly Matchups of the Week
*Lakers at Nuggets, Monday: Average score in the first two meetings this season? Denver 123.5, Lakers 118.5. Both teams treat defense like Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice treated logic, so hold your Lakers and Nuggets in high regard and let the stats fall where they may.
*Clippers at Nuggets, Thursday: This isn’t Where’s Waldo (kids, Where’s Waldo was a fade in the early 1990s that involved….oh, hell, just look here and enjoy a taste of what you missed out on), so I’m guessing you’ll sense the trend. Two of the top seven teams in scoring, featuring a pair of explosive stat-stuffing Fantasy stars that are also surrounded by a host of other Fantasy standouts and….well, you get the picture.
*Rockets at Nuggets, Saturday: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we can all put aside our differences and rejoice in the awe of this matchup. James Harden vs. Nikola Jokic is worth the price of admission alone, but when you add Fantasy character actors like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler and Will Barton into the fray, this is a 48-minute movie filled with gratuitous offense that’s a four-star rating.
Fantasy Matchups to Exploit
*Jokic vs. Lakers, Monday: NJ was a smooth criminal in the post during his only meeting against the big man-challenged Lake Show on January 17, putting up 29 points to go along with 15 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes of work. Considering these are the two worst scoring defenses in the Association, I think it’s a safe bet Jokic comes out of Staples Center with at least 50 FP.
*Russell Westbrook at Nets, Tuesday: Seriously, this doesn’t need much explaining. If so, just watch the video…
*Harden at Nuggets, Saturday: You really, really don’t want to face Harden on a Saturday, especially if your defense is 29th in points allowed. In ten Saturday games this season, Harden has averaged 31.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.9 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range.
Best One-on-One Matchups This Week
*Blake Griffin vs. Nikola Jokic (Clippers at Nuggets): Day One of March Madness assures the only way to see this one is via League Pass, so if you face a moment of college hoops burnout or have already seen your bracket shred to hell, this late night game will feature two players heavy in both usage rate and FP per game. Griffin has averaged 40.3 FP per night in his last ten outings, but Jokic entered Saturday’s game at the Kings with three straight games of 50-plus FP. With playoff implications (a phrase unfamiliar to Nuggets fans) riding on this one, expect both to play up to expectations.
*Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Hassan Whiteside (Timberwolves at Heat, Friday): Entering Saturday’s game at the Bucks, KAT was playing like a MAN, racking up seven straight games of at least 43 FP in a 20-game stretch in which he has recorded 16 double-doubles. Whiteside doesn’t score at the clip of Towns, but the league’s reigning King of the Swat has four games of at least four blocks in his last 12 entering Saturday, including four redirections in Wednesday’s victory over the Hornets. Like Towns, Whiteside is a near-lock for a double-double, with ten in his last 11.
*Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Steph Curry (Bucks at Warriors, Saturday): Curry is back to doing Curry things despite the fact the Warriors had lost four of six after Friday’s setback at the Timberwolves. His usage rate has climbed back into the 30s since Kevin Durant went out, and his 45.5 FPPG in his last five has been sparked by a surprisingly solid rebounding rate for a point guard. The Greek Freak has averaged 50.4 FP in his last five and is in the midst of an eight-game run that has seen Antetokounmpo put up at least 42 FP in six of those games. This will be a fun hoops dessert on a busy Saturday of basketball unless Steve Kerr mucks up the whimsy and does something silly like sit Curry out. Antetokounmpo vs. Ian Clark just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
TEAMS PLAYING FOUR GAMES:
Nets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards
TEAMS PLAYING THREE GAMES:
Hawks, Celtics, Hornets, Nuggets, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Thunder, Magic, 76ers, Suns
TEAMS PLAYING TWO GAMES: