Thursday night had several candidates for the game of the night, as five of the six games featured two teams that were nominally in the playoff race. But, before the games even started, I eliminated three of the six games from contention because the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers are slotted into their playoff spot, while the Brooklyn Nets were out of the playoffs. I then crossed the Utah Jazz hosting the LA Clippers off the list because, frankly, the Jazz defense is too good for me to rely on one of their games to produce fantasy stats.
Thus, in yesterday's Daily Notes, I was deciding between the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards at Cleveland as the main one to watch. I ended up touting the Timberwolves at the Nuggets because both teams are great on offense and bad on defense (and they did play a thrilling game that came down to the last minute), but ultimately, I concluded that the Wizards at the Cavs was the best fantasy game of the night.
And the reason it turned out that way can all be tied to John Wall.
Wall missed much of the second half of the NBA season with a knee injury, only returning last week and still not playing in every game. The Wizards have struggled down the stretch, mainly without him, losing 11 of their past 17 games going into Thursday night's game. However, on Thursday, Wall was back and playing like the superstar that he is to make the Wiz a more formidable squad:
Wall: 28 points (10-20 FG, 6-6 FT), 14 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 3-pointers, 6 TO
With Wall there to act as the anchor, the other Wizards fell into their natural, productive roles as well. Bradley Beal was the lieutenant, scoring 19 points (7-15 FG, 1-1 FT) with 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 3-pointers and 1 TO.
Otto Porter Jr. went back to his do-everything nature, scoring 18 points (8-13 FG, 2-2 FT) with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 2 TO.
Markieff Morris was a scoring threat, especially down the stretch, scoring 15 points (7-12 FG, 1-1 FT) with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal.
Marcin Gortat flirted with a double-double with 10 points (5-9 FG), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 1 TO.
Even Mike Scott was solid off the bench, scoring 12 points (5-9 FG) with 2 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 TO in 21 minutes off the bench.
This formidable crew had the Wizards up by 17 points and seemingly in control of the game well into the fourth quarter. But then, this happened:
LeBron outscored the Wizards 13-9 in the final 6 minutes of the game. �� pic.twitter.com/hlu8TXRMJw
- ESPN (@espn) April 6, 2018
So, yeah. The Cavaliers still won the game, 119-115 with a huge surge late. But the combined 234 points between the two squads was the high point total of the night, and there was lots of fantasy action all around, netting this game the coveted slot of fantasy basketball game of the night.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: 26 points (10-16 FG, 4-4 FT), 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 3-pointers, 3 TO
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: 8 points (3-9 FG, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 TO
Shabazz Napier, Portland Trail Blazers: 8 points (2-9 FG, 3-3 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 TO
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: 9 points (4-12 FG, 0-1 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 3-pointer, 1 TO
The Celtics didn't even play on Thursday, but this was the news of the day in the NBA:
- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 5, 2018
Irving was already expected to miss the rest of the regular season, so there aren't huge fantasy implications to this news. But on the NBA front, the Celtics were considered at least dark-horse contenders to make it out of the East this year. With Irving going down at the end of a season that began with Gordon Hayward going down, the Celtics seemingly have lost their chance to legitimately compete for the Eastern Conference crown. On the other hand, this gives youngsters Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier an excellent opportunity to take hold of the squad and experience a playoff run as "the men." In the long run, this could be a positive, but in the short term, it's a big bummer for the Celtics.
The one game on Thursday featuring a team that isn't in the playoff hunt was the Nets at the Bucks. The Bucks really needed the game for playoff positioning, so of course the lottery-bound Nets won the game. The Nets have no tanking incentive, since they don't own their first-round draft pick this year, but it's inexcusable for the Bucks to lay an egg in this situation. Each of the Bucks' main players had at least solid if not good fantasy performances, but overall that was an ugly loss.
The Clippers were a long shot to make the playoffs out West going into yesterday, but to have a chance, they really needed to win their game against the Jazz. The Jazz are just too good, though, winning the game by 22 points. The Clippers still aren't mathematically eliminated, but they're getting close, and if they fall out of the race completely, it could mean resting their players more in the last game or two of the year.
The Timberwolves and Nuggets were my pick yesterday for the game of the night, and they did produce a close game that came down to the final minute of action. They didn't produce a lot of big fantasy lines, though, as the game somewhat surprisingly combined for only 196 points. The game had a playoff atmosphere, and defense was very strong with both star big men playing with foul trouble. As such, this game ended up being a much better real-life game than a fantasy one.
Injuries of note
Wall didn't get injured against the Cavaliers on Thursday, but he is still working his way back from the knee injury that sidelined him for so much of the season. After playing 38 minutes against the Cavs, he is unlikely to play in the second half of the back-to-back on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Ricky Rubio left Thursday's blowout win over the Clippers with left hamstring soreness. He should be considered questionable for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but it is possible that he sat out on Thursday for precautionary reasons in a game that the Jazz had well in hand.
Eric Gordon sat out Thursday's game with a "foot twinge". With the Rockets already locked into the top seed out West, they have no reason to take any risks with any of their rotation players who aren't completely healthy. Expect Gordon, James Harden and/or Chris Paul to continue to miss action, which bodes well for guys like Gerald Green to see more run down the stretch.
Analytics advantage for Friday
Out of 10 games on Friday, there are only two featuring two squads that are in the playoff race. But while the Toronto Raptors are still not mathematically secure in the top spot in the East, they have to be feeling more comfortable after beating the Boston Celtics the other night and then seeing the news that Irving is done for the year. Meanwhile, the other playoff matchup is fire and likely to be an almost playoff atmosphere game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have won five games in a row and 10 of their past 11, getting everything locked into place as they zoom towards the postseason. Meanwhile, the upstart Philadelphia 76ers have won 12 straight games and find themselves tied with the Cavaliers in the loss column for the potential third seed in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are hosting the game, and they are the team that has the most to potentially gain because the higher seed and home-court advantage are extremely important to young teams. On the other hand, the Cavs are trying to make another run to the NBA Finals, and with the all of the injuries to the second-seeded Celtics, they would like to hold onto the third seed themselves.
Put this together, and the Cavs at the 76ers projects as the fantasy game of the night. Add in that this is another of the LeBron James vs. future LeBron James (Ben Simmons) games, and those tilts (along with matchups between LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo) have tended to produce fireworks this season.
Top players to watch tonight
This one has to be Simmons against LeBron. The Jedi Master against the Padewan, both playing at a really high level right now. For both real life and fantasy basketball, all eyes will be on this matchup on Friday night.