The NBA had plenty to offer during a two-game slate on Wednesday. The Cavaliers recovered from Monday's defeat to trounce the Bulls in Game 2, while the Rockets staved off the CP3-less Clippers to even their series at 1-1. I'll recap those games before summarizing the injury news and free-agent updates that broke over the past 24 hours.
Cavaliers beat Bulls in Game 2, 106-91
The Cavs roared out to a 20-point lead after one quarter vs. the Bulls, ultimately running away with an easy win to tie the series 1-1. Iman Shumpert, filling in at SG for suspended J.R. Smith, was on fire in the first frame and proved to be a catalyst for Cleveland's hot start. He finished with 15 points, four 3-pointers, seven rebounds, one assist, three steals and zero turnovers in 29 minutes of action. He missed some time after suffering a groin strain in the third quarter and appeared to tell LeBron that he felt it 'pop', but he was able to return after a brief examination in the locker room.
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After the game David Blatt said, "I hope [Shumpert] is going to be OK ... Time for one of those miracle 48-hour recoveries." It's unclear whether a healthy Shumpert would return to the bench with J.R. Smith returning for Game 3 on Friday, and fantasy owners relying on either swingman should await updates from coach Blatt in the next few days.
LeBron James admitted that he didn't play well in the Cavs' Game 1 loss, adding, "I might have to change my mindset a little bit obviously with [Kevin Love] being out." He remedied his disappointing performance in a hurry -- while wearing a headband for the first time in 21 games, James dominated from the opening tip on his way to 33 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block. He shot 13-of-29 from the field and 7-of-9 from the FT line in a performance brimming with controlled aggression, and his two turnovers are a great sign given that he ranked fourth in the NBA with 3.9 per game this season.
David Blatt deserves credit for adjusting his starting lineup in Game 2, benching Mike Miller to start Tristan Thompson at PF, which freed up LeBron to create havoc as a free-safety depending upon matchups. Tristan Thompson only scored five points but he grabbed 12 rebounds (six offensive) and seems like a lock to remain a starter in Chicago -- his rebounding prowess, length and open-court speed make him an appealing option vs. Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah. Thompson's effectiveness at center also contributed to a quiet night from Timofey Mozgov, who had six points and seven boards in only 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, Game 1 starter Mike Miller failed to score in 12 minutes off the bench. The only Cavs' reserves to score were James Jones (17 points, five 3-pointers) and Matthew Dellavedova (nine points, nine assists in 36 minutes).
Jimmy Butler, who will deservedly be named the league's Most Improved Player later this week, finished the Bulls' loss with 18 points on 5-of-14 FGs and 6-of-7 FTs. He also had two 3-pointers, two rebounds, one assist, two steals and one block in 35 minutes. Butler reacted to news of his accomplishment with a typically humble and team-oriented quote, saying, "If we don't get to four wins in this series, that award means nothing."
Jimmy was a candidate for most-improved honors in fantasy leagues, as well, as he surged from the middle rounds in 2013-14 to being a legitimate first-round option in 2014-15. He was at least fantasy-average in every category except blocks (0.6 per game), and was hugely valuable in points (20.0), steals (1.8) and FT percentage (84% on 7.1 attempts). Add in career-highs in 3-pointers (1.1), rebounds (5.8) and assists (3.3) and it's easy to recommend the 25 year old in the first round next season -- it helps that elite SGs are few and far between. He did miss 17 games due to injury but has no chronic or structural problems that will jeopardize him next season, and he's proven time and again that he's one of the toughest players in the NBA.
Joakim Noah's free throw shooting has become a storyline for the wrong reasons in the postseason. The career 71.6% FT shooter fell to just 60.3% during the regular season, but he's an abysmal 1-of-12 from the charity stripe through eight playoff games. Fantasy owners should be wary of his lousy offensive numbers -- he's averaging 5.6 points on 43.2% shooting -- though he's still contributing 11.3 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. His surgically-repaired knee doesn't appear to be limiting him.
Derrick Rose was out of sorts offensively on Wednesday but it wasn't because of his shoulder 'stinger', which he said hasn't been bothering him. He scored 14 points on 6-of-20 field goals with two 3-pointers, seven rebounds, 10 assists and one block, so his fantasy owners still got a solid return on investment. Rose has yet to attempt a free throw in two games vs. the Cavs, which led Tom Thibodeau to walk the line between fair commentary and earning a fine for criticizing the refs. "I guess [Rose] has gotta go harder," said Thibodeau. "Looks like there's a lot of contact to me."
Rockets defeat Clippers in Game 2, 115-109
The Clippers appeared to take the wind out of the Rockets' sails mid-way through Game 2, claiming a 13-point lead early in the third quarter behind a brilliant performance from Blake Griffin. He was coming off two straight triples-doubles and racked up 34 points, 15 rebounds and four assists on Wednesday, but it wasn't enough to avoid a series-tying defeat in Houston.
Griffin shot a magnificent 13-of-23 from the field and 8-of-11 from the FT line with one steal and one block, single-handedly staking L.A. to an early lead, but he slowed down as the game progressed and scored only nine points in the second half. That's attributable to the Rockets' increasing use of quick double-teams, but more importantly Blake appeared to once again wear down as the game progressed. The need to give him some breathers is even more imperative (though harder to do) while Chris Paul watches his team play from the sidelines.
Speaking of Chris Paul, his hamstring injury sidelined him again on Wednesday, thrusting Austin Rivers into the Clippers' starting lineup. It made perfect sense for CP3 to sit out -- the Clippers won without him in Game 1, wresting away home court advantage, and L.A.'s championship hopes would cease to exist if he suffered an avoidable hamstring aggravation.
He's questionable to return for Friday's Game 3 in Los Angeles, though Doc Rivers didn't sound particularly optimistic. "[Paul] is not doing well. It concerns me, yeah," Rivers said. "But again we have a couple more days and we'll see ... He's moving better today so that's a good sign. But not good enough to play in a basketball game."
Austin Rivers had 10 points, two assists, five fouls and zero rebounds, steals or blocks in 25 minutes, and the Clippers must take what they can get from their shallow backcourt sans CP3. J.J. Redick suggested that Rivers' greatest asset is his determination, saying, "As a player to get to this level, you have to have something, whether it’s enormous physical talent, size or length or athleticism. Or, you have to ... have an edge. And he has that." (I edited out the expletive-themed section of that quote). Fantasy leagues don't have a category for 'edginess' and there's almost no scenario in which Rivers could be a fantasy asset next season.
L.A.'s veteran guards were hardly better -- J.J. Reddick, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes combined for 37 points on lousy 11-of-38 shooting, including a 6-of-21 mark from Crawford off the bench. J-Craw did add five rebounds, five assists and one steal without any turnovers in 36 minutes and he'll continue to play a huge role if CP3 misses any more games.
James Harden had a quiet Game 1, attempting only 13 field goals in the Rockets' surprising home loss, but he fared better on Wednesday with 32 points, three 3-pointers, three rebounds, one steal and one block. He was a pristine 15-of-15 at the FT line but he also committed seven turnovers vs. seven assists, partially a byproduct of the Rockets' need for Harden to be a primary ball-handler role more often than they'd like with Patrick Beverley done for the playoffs.
Dwight Howard was terrific throughout the Rockets' comeback win, racking up 24 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, one steal and four blocks while shooting 8-of-11 from the field. He baited DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 12 rebounds in 25 minutes) into some fouls and the battle of the Rockets' and Clippers' star centers is a key to the series. Also of note -- Jordan made 4-of-6 free throws tonight but Howard was just 8-of-21, and intentional fouls loom large as the series shifts to L.A.
John Wall will seek a third opinion about his injured wrist prior to Saturday's Game 3 in D.C. Tests have ruled out any fractures or significant structural damage, but Wall described it as a "real, real bad sprain" which means he may have partial ligament tearing (Grade 2). His hand was still very swollen on Tuesday and his inability to dribble the ball is obviously a huge problem, so there are no guarantees that he'll suit up for Game 3.
Jrue Holiday had another surgery on Wednesday "to remove a screw from a previously placed rod in his lower right leg." The press release didn't have any more details so it's unclear if the screw was irritating Holiday or if this was a pre-planned operation, but the latter scenario seems most likely. To nobody's surprise, the tight-beaked Pelicans declined to provide a timetable for Holiday's recovery. The immensely talented 24-year-old appeared in only 40 games this season due to his leg injury, and he was a shell of himself in three playoff appearances, averaging 6.3 points on 36.8% shooting. He has top-40 fantasy potential when healthy, anchoring his value with copious assists and steals, but the specter of another injury will likely drop him into the middle rounds on draft day.
Quincy Pondexter had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The surgery has a typical recovery time of 4-6 weeks but his timetable hasn't been established, and details of the procedure have not been released. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp. It's worth mentioning that Pondexter is the only Pelicans player under contract through the 2017-18 season.
Alan Anderson may require ankle surgery to clear out some bone spurs this summer. He has a $1.3 million player option next season, so there are no guarantees that he'll remain with Brooklyn. In other Nets news, the team confirmed that they'll make Mirza Teletovic a restricted free agent by extending a qualifying offer this summer. Mason Plumlee is expected to participate in Summer League -- his fantasy value hinges almost entirely on whether or not Brook Lopez sticks around or opts out and signs with another team.
Impending free agent Will Barton and the Nuggets have mutual interest in striking a deal this summer, which makes sense since Barton thrived in an expanded role off Denver's bench. In 28 games with the Nuggets, he posted per-36-minute averages of 16.2 points, 1.0 threes, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks. He's capable of late-round value even if he's playing only 25 minutes per game, though his role will dictate his appeal on draft day.
Thunder GM Sam Presti said that re-signing Enes Kanter this summer is a "priority." He also expressed a desire to bring back Kyle Singler, admitting that it's "unlikely" for a team over the salary-cap to find another free agent "that can shoot close to 40 percent from the 3-point line over the course of a season, embrace various roles, and stand as one of your more fundamental players at 6'9"."
Paul Pierce heaped praise on the Wizards, saying, "I feel like even if it's one year, two years, or three years I'm here, I feel like I'm going to have a relationship with these guys for a long, long time even after basketball. It seems like we connect, and I connected with the city." He has a $5.5 million player option for next season but may prefer to negotiate a longer-term pact.
There are no NBA playoff games on Thursday, sadly, but Friday's slate features two crucial matchups in series tied at 1-1 -- the Bulls host the Cavs in Game 3 at 8pm ET, and the Clippers host the Rockets at 10:30 ET.