What a game on Monday night. By now you’ve probably seen the stats and #HotTakes, so I’m going to take a different approach. Let’s focus on the most exciting lineup in the league right now.
When you think Warriors lineups, the first thing that comes to mind is the death lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. That lineup put up an absurd +47.0 net rating in 172 minutes during the regular season and is a big reason why they went 73-9. It was the best lineup with any sort of decent volume and it's not really close.
Well, that lineup hasn’t been great lately. In the last two games, they only have a +5.4 net rating in 18 minutes. That lineup was the most-used lineup for the Warriors on Monday with 13 minutes, which matches their combined usage of that lineup in the first 10 games of the postseason — yes, the Curry injury impacted this stat.
It’s pretty clear the Warriors are going to use it a lot in this series. Yes, it didn’t go well, but that’s OK. After not using it at all in the first quarter in the postseason and a grand total of 10 minutes in the regular season — a 179.3 offensive rating in those 10 minutes — the Warriors broke it out in the first quarter. The also used it for four minutes in the second quarter to sort of get an upper hand. It was really good in the first half with a net rating of 51.1 to help the Warriors take a 13-point lead at half. So what happened?
One of the big factors to watch from Monday was what OKC did against the death lineup. Here’s how it went down with plus-minus for each lineup (minutes are rounded, and the plus-minus is from the OKC perspective):
Westbrook, Foye, Waiters, Ibaka and Kanter (-2 in two minutes in 1Q)
Westbrook, Waiters, Durant, Ibaka and Kanter (-6 in four minutes in 2Q)
Westbrook, Roberson, Durant, Ibaka and Kanter (-2 in two minutes during 3Q)
Westbrook, Waiters, Durant, Ibaka, Adams (+2 in five minutes in 4Q; OKC did throw in Roberson for Waiters from 30 seconds left to 16, and Roberson in for Ibaka with 16 left to the end of the game)
So basically, coach Billy Donovan mixed it up with his big men to go against the small-ball style. He had Westbrook out there for all of the 13 minutes against the death lineup, KD was out there for most of it, Kanter-Ibaka was a busy combo, and the Adams-Ibaka combo was terrific in the fourth. Chances are the Thunder will be sticking with this kind of rotation going forward.
On the Warriors' side of this, the big question was going to be how are they going to rebound against the size and Westbrook’s plus-rebounding on the outside? Well, they were actually pretty good. The death lineup had a 50.0 total rebounding rate, including an awesome 91.7 defensive rebounding rate. As a reference point, the Hornets led the NBA in the regular season with a 79.8 defensive rebounding rate, so the Warriors were on it. The Warriors keeping the Thunder off the offensive glass will definitely help their chances the rest of the way. The Warriors' offensive rebounding won’t be too important because their offense is great enough to offset that. In other words, they’d take the space over crashing the boards on the offensive end.
Moving forward, is it possible for the death lineup to play even more? It’ll be tough, but it’s certainly possible with Andrew Bogut looking banged up. Looking back at when coach Steve Kerr made his bold move to start Andre Iguodala in The Finals last year, the usage of that lineup is similar. The Warriors made the change for Game 4 and they used it for 49 minutes in three games. Game 4 and 6 had 14 minutes each, and Game 5 had 21 minutes. If I had to guess, I'd say we're looking at 16-18 minutes of the death lineup in Game 2.
As far as the series goes, the Warriors have nothing to worry about. They were uncontested in 29.9 percent of their shots from the field while OKC was uncontested for 25.3. Yeah, Westbrook and Durant shooting just 17-of-51 looks bad, but the Warriors will be scoring 115 most nights during this series. They’re fine.
That Other Series
The boring Eastern Conference Finals starts off today. The Cavs have played the minimum amount of games with back-to-back 4-0 sweeps while the Raptors played the max with two seven-game rounds. One could argue the Raptors lost Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) partly because of how they played more games. The more you play, the more chances a player can be hurt. Yes, I know the injury happened in Game 2, but you catch my drift.
You might be surprised to find out the Raptors actually won the season series 2-1 over the Cavs. However, the Cavs have a better net rating thanks to a 22-point blowout. Plus, Kyrie Irving didn’t play in a game. In fact, the Cavs starters put up a net rating of +35.3 in 29 minutes against the Raps this season. Let’s hit on the Cavs first for the key players.
As dull as it is to say, it’s all about LeBron James. In his 111 minutes against the Raptors during the season, he had a team-high 19.9 net rating while the Cavs were -29.4 in their 33 minutes without him. Similarly, the Cavs are a -13.7 in their 74 minutes without LeBron in the playoffs. He should play slightly more minutes at small forward in this series as the Cavs go bigger against the Raptors. As we said on the podcast, LeBron will be a monster in this series with huge stat lines and is probably the most must-play guy out there.
Kyrie Irving only played 60 minutes against the Raptors during the season with a 1-1 split. In those two, he was held in check with averages of 17.5 points, 3.5 boards, 4.5 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 0.5 steals and 1.0 treys. His better game of the two actually happened when he was somewhat fresh off his injury during his sixth game of the year. On the other hand, Lowry really had his number on the other end, too. If you take garbage time out in the postseason, Irving’s minutes are up to about 38 per game. He should be pretty close to his averages against the Hawks in the second round, posting averages of 21.3 points, 1.5 boards, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals on solid efficiency. J.R. Smith should also play a ton with a lot of responsibility against DeMar DeRozan.
Before the postseason, many people thought the possibility of teams attacking the pick-and-roll against Kevin Love could’ve been the Cavs’ biggest issue. Well, he’s really held his own in that regard to allow the Cavs to have more flexibility in really every facet of their approach. He’ll be spacing the floor in a big way and matches up really well in a spot against Patrick Patterson. Similarly, Tristan Thompson should log major minutes in this series and have several double-doubles.
The Cavs should keep it tight with their rotation. Thus far, their starters have played a whopping 20.4 minutes per game together in the playoffs. That’s a ridiculous amount for a team with a decent amount of garbage time. For DFS, it’s giddy up for LeBron while basically all five starters are in play. Personally, I’d rank Kyrie as the least appealing just because of the other point guards out there.
Just like every round for the Raptors, Kyle Lowry is the key — not exactly going on a limb here, I know. In his three games against the Cavs, the Raptors had a -35.7 while he was off the court for those 29 minutes. If that sounds familiar, the Raptors are -31.9 in the 134 playoff minutes without Lowry. Against the Cavs this year, the All-Star also posted massive averages of 31.0 points, 4.0 boards, 8.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.3 treys on a gorgeous 76.7 true shooting percentage. If he has a good series, this thing could go six games. For fantasy, he’s going to be like an upper-middle class man’s version of Russell Westbrook. He should be awesome.
While DeMar DeRozan is definitely important, stats won’t really tell the story on him. If he makes shots, he’ll be good. If he misses all over the place, DeMar DeFrozen might be trending on Twitter. DeRozan should be on LeBron here and there, but he should be like third or fourth down the line for defensive options. In DFS, you'll either love him or hate him on a given night.
Who should be the first defensive option on LeBron? It should be DeMarre Carroll. This is one of those “this is why we got him” moments and he looks to be healthy. Toronto beat guy Blake Murphy had this gem from Monday about DeMarre’s defense on LeBron lately (give Blake a follow for great Raptor stuff!):
The bottom two lines really jump out here. LeBron’s true shooting is well below his average and the Cavs have been a worse offensive team per 100 possessions. The Raptors can’t get away with doubling LeBron as much because we saw what happened against the Hawks with the Cavs killing them from deep. His stats won’t be awesome, but Carroll is extremely important.
The No. 2 defensive option should be Patrick Patterson. If you listen to the podcast, you’ve heard me talk about 2-Pat until I’m blue in the face so much that I might saying he has a smurftastic net rating. He’ll be just as important in this series and should get minutes close to 40. If his shots are dropping, he should be effective for fantasy.
The center spot will be really important, especially when the Cavs have Love at the five. We won’t see Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) for at least one game and it seems like Game 3 is the best-case scenario. Bismack Biyombo runs the floor pretty well, but he was lost at times against Justise Winslow in Game 6. To his credit, he was much better in Game 7.
We should see a decent amount of Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph, as well. LeBron will likely get guys into foul trouble, so expect both players to find minutes. Joseph likely won’t be as important in this series as he was in the past two rounds.
Jumpin' Like Lottery Balls
I’m fired up for the lottery tonight! All of the trades have made this a very interesting night for a handful of teams with a ton on the line. Let’s go over all the lottery implications from the trades again. I was going to figure out the odds for each pick, but luckily Wikipedia had my back (there are 1,000 balls in the lottery, so the "Chances" column shows how many balls each slot gets):
The ping-pong balls tonight mean the most to the Lakers and it’s not even close. While they are sitting in the No. 2 slot and have a 19.9 percent chance to win the top spot, they have a 44.2 percent chance to lose their pick. It’s top-three protected from the Steve Nash deal, which was sent to Philly from Phoenix in the Michael Carter-Williams three-way deal. Obviously the 76ers will be rooting for the 3-14 slots to leapfrog the Lakers to possibly give them two top-five picks.
Speaking of the 76ers, they have a 27.8 percent chance to land the top pick. They have their 25 percent and also the Kings’ 2.8 percent chance. That’s because the 76ers have the right to pick swap from the Nik Stauskas deal. The 76ers also get a 2018 first from that deal,too.
The Kings could lose their pick in the lottery. That is incredibly unlikely with only a 0.01421 percent chance to lose it. All three of the top picks would have to be occupied by teams in the 9-14 slots. The Kings got really lucky on the mini-lotto drawing for the 8-10 spots and landed the eight spot. They should be safe.
Perhaps the most confusing part is how the Knicks, Raptors and Nuggets fit in. The easy part is the Knicks don’t have their pick because of the Andrea Bargnani deal — yikes, by the way. After that, the Nuggets basically get the first choice of the Knicks and their pick. In other words, if the lottery holds for those two or the Knicks spot is a top-three pick ahead of the Nuggets spot, the Nuggets would stay take the Knicks pick and the Raptors would sit in the Denver spot. If the Nuggets leapfrog the Knicks, the Nuggets would hold their spot and the Raptors would get the NY pick.
Another protected spot is the Suns likely getting the Wizards pick. Unless the Wizards win a top-three pick, that pick is going to the Suns. They only have a 2.2 percent chance to be in the top three. The Suns also have a lot on the line with the No. 4 slot. They also have the 28th pick (Cavs).
Enjoy the lotto and the game tonight! I'll be back for Dose to go over it all!
This column wasn't very fantasy-centric, but the podcast is! Check it out here with Doctor A: