There is something poetic about the Golden State Warriors winning their 60th game of the season and first place in the Western Conference on the same evening where Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks lost their 60th of the campaign.
I haven’t heard anyone asking if Kerr made the right decision recently, and the success the sharpshooter has enjoyed at the helm of the Warriors has to have Kerr feeling some type of way.
On a five-game Saturday night in the Association that saw the most dangerous team in the Western Conference grow even more confident, the rest of the NBA should all be learning the same lesson: Fear the Warriors.
Hornets 115, Hawks 100
Atlanta, still fresh off clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, once again did their best San Antonio Spurs impression against the Charlotte Hornets when Mike Budenholzer put his entire starting five on ice. Jeff Teague (ankle) is using a treatment that sends an electrical signal through the tissue of his injured (left) ankle, so expect Dennis Schroder to continue being the man at point guard until if and when Teague can get back on the floor. Entering Saturday’s game, the second-year man was averaging 13.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 0.9 steals on 43.2 percent shooting as the starter, and he then went off in the loss for 17 points, 11 dimes and three triples. He should be owned and started in all formats until further notice.
Mike Muscala’s 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two triples, a steal and two blocks will have several raising their eyebrows when combing through the box scores on Sunday morning, and even though he’ll likely get another start next week when the Hawks play back-to-back games, I’m not buying into M&M’s short-term stock. Kent Bazemore also went off for 20 points, five boards, three triples and a steal (7-of-14 shooting) as he got extended run with the “new-look” starting five, but Schroder’s continued plus performance is the sole thing we can take away from this game in Charlotte. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Schroder is on the roster of a lot of teams that wind up winning it all.
Already facing a long road to making the postseason, Charlotte got hit with brutal news before the game that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (ankle) would be out for seven-to-ten days. As the team’s best perimeter defender and starting small forward, MKG’s presence on the court is vital to this team reaching its ceiling—whatever that may be. Playing against Atlanta’s B team was exactly what the Hornets needed, and led by a three-headed backcourt combination that saw a combined 59 points scored between Mo Williams (18), Gerald Henderson (20) and Kemba Walker (21), Charlotte came away with a much-needed victory. Williams added four triples on a tidy 6-of-9 shooting, while Hendo had five points, four assists and two triples on a video game-like 9-of-10 from the field.
Walker’s five rebounds and six assists look great on the stat sheet, but his 7-of-19 shooting leaves much to be desired, and Walker has now shot below 40 percent in every game except for one (March 23) since he returned from his knee surgery. Speaking of key players struggling, Al Jefferson logged just two points, six rebounds and two blocks on 1-of-5 shooting (17.5 minutes), and beat writer Rick Bonnell noted during the action that Big Al look exhausted. Coming into the second night of a back-to-back after playing 40 minutes (31 points, 10 rebounds on Friday), owners will have to forgive him for Saturday’s anomaly.
Bulls 111, Knicks 80
With Jose Calderon (Achilles) all but certain to be out for the remainder of the season, Carmelo Anthony (knee) having been on the shelf since the All-Star break and the Knicks securing their 60th loss of the season on Saturday, Phil Jackson’s Funhouse sure has turned into a House of Horrors in no time flat. While one can make an argument for either Andrea Bargnani (14 points, seven boards, three turnovers) or Langston Galloway (12 points, five boards, 5-of-14 shooting) to be worth owning on a fantasy roster, you won’t hear that rhetoric from this guy. The Knicks are an absolute wasteland right now, and Derek Fisher has to have more stress in his life right now than he ever did as a player. Do you think he sweated this much before he hit the iconic shot at 0.4 seconds remaining? The only semi-notable for New York in the lopsided loss was Ricky Ledo playing a career-high 29 minutes, but he showed just 11 points, two steals and a three for it. We’ll call it his Al Thornton impression.
Chicago was once again led by Pau Gasol (19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, 8-of-15 shooting) and the surging Nikola Mirotic, who had 24 points, six boards, two assists, a steal, a block and three triples on 8-of-15 shooting in just under 26 minutes of action. While there’s a large contingency that seems to think the Rookie of the Year Award is Andrew Wiggins’ alone, I think both Mirotic and Nerlens Noel would have something to say about that, nevermind the under-the-radar Elfrid Payton. Before Saturday’s blowout win, the 2011 first-round pick came in averaging 20.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.6 triples during the month of March, and his post-All-Star performance (17.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, 1.4 three-pointers) dwarf what he put up in the first half of the season (7.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 three-pointers).
The Bulls also got six points, seven rebounds and a block from Joakim Noah in 23.5 minutes of action, and considering this game was in the bag before halftime was over, it’s not a surprise Chicago continued to treat their starting man in the middle with kid gloves. Jimmy Butler continued to look good since returning from an elbow injury with 18 points, three boards, four dimes and five steals (8-of-8 free throws) in an efficient 25.5 minutes of action, while Taj Gibson added 14 points, nine rebounds and a block on 6-of-8 shooting over his 24 minutes. Every active player for Tom Thibodeau’s squad saw minutes in this one, and that includes Cameron Bairstow.
That’s how you know it’s a blowout.
Warriors 108, Bucks 95
With Golden State winning its 60th game of the season and being crowned first in the loaded Western Conference, Steve Kerr is building his Coach of the Year case in convincing fashion.
Stephen Curry’s 25 points (8-of-13 shooting, six triples) and six assists (six turnovers) paced the Warriors in the win, and backcourt teammate Klay Thompson continued his very impressive season with 21 points, (8-of-17 shooting, three triples) five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Thompson doesn’t get the credit he deserves for how good he is defensively because of his role in the Splash Bros. duo, and KT’s defense will be a bigger talking point going into next season. The “honorary Splash Brother” Draymond Green (rest) sat ouf ot this one, so Kerr took the shrinkwrap off of David Lee and inserted him into the starting lineup. Lee had 12 points and four boards in just under 21 minutes of action, and it speaks to the impressive depth and skill level of this team that a player of Lee’s caliber can’t even crack the rotation on a consistent basis, let alone regain his former place in the starting lineup. Supersub Andre Iguodala (rest) was also out on Saturday, and that allowed James Michael McAdoo to pour in a surprising 12 points (5-of-8 shooting) with four rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes on the floor.
The Bucks saw Ersan ‘Ghostface’ Ilyasova show his ugly side with a 1-of-10 shooting performance in the loss, and it’s never a good sign when a player has more points (eight). Khris Middleton jacked up 14 shots in his 27.5 minutes, but he made just five of them, finishing with 14 points, two boards, three dimes and two steals. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also continued the theme of ugliness with his eight points, three assists and three turnovers on 3-of-9 shooting, and although John Henson did his best to break the spell with eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in just 20 minutes of action, owners have to be thrilled with his per-minute production. Let’s just hope Delaware Dawkins gets some actual burn for the young Bucks, and his potential fantasy value would absolutely explode through the roof if he were ever playing more than 25 minutes per game on a consistent basis.
Jazz 94, Thunder 89
The Enes Kanter revenge game did not go according to plan.
Although Kanter managed to post a double-double against his former team (18 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, 7-of-13 shooting in 34.5 minutes), the Thunder had just three players reach double-digit scoring in a critical five-point loss to Utah.
Russell Westbrook nearly had a quadruple-double with 37 points, eight rebounds, six assists and nine turnovers, and it’s hard to imagine the majority of teams with Westbrook aren’t thriving. He’s singlehandedly kept the Thunder afloat, and any fantasy owner who has him on the roster has to be all smiles every time OKC takes the floor. Anthony Morrow was the only other notable contributor in the loss with a solid if unspectacular 12 points, four boards, a block two triples on 3-of-5 shooting, and it’s probably not going to be your night when Morrow has four times as many points as Dion Waiters. And as if the Thunder needed any additional issues, Waiters has a foot issue, and that’s the reason he didn’t play much in the second half.
Although Utah was forced to go into the game without Derrick Favors (back), Trevor Booker started in his place and responded with 12 points, three boards, a steal and a triple in 32.5 minutes. If Favors has to miss additional time, Booker will be a worth a look. And without his tag team partner available on Saturday, Rudy Gobert went to Ham City and back with a ridiculous 13 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and four blocks in a whopping 41 minutes of action. Gobert’s emergence is impossible to deny, and it may just be a matter of asking which award he wins at season’s end vs. asking if he’ll win one at all. The Stifle Tower is the real deal.
Gordon Hayward (shoulder) logged an enormous 38.5 minutes of action in his second game back, but his 4-of-16 shooting performance weighed down an otherwise solid effort of 17 points, five boards, five dimes, two steals and two blocks (four turnovers). the Jazz also got 22 points from Trey Burke off the bench, but he needed 23 shots to do it (making eight), sinking just one triple (eight attempts) in the process. Burke did add six rebounds, four assists and four steals, so those willing to overlook the poor shooting will find value in what the Michigan product brings to the table. In other words: Same as it ever was.
Blazers 120, Nuggets 114
It’s rare that seven different players score at least 10 points in a game for a team and that club loses, but that’s exactly what happened to the Denver Nuggets. Without Danilo Gallinari (shoulder) available, J.J. Hickson got the call, but he produced an underwhelming nine points, eight rebounds and three steals in 26 minutes. That’s not horrible by any measure, but there is certainly room for improvement, and any owner desperate enough to deploy Hickson had to be hoping to see more when checking in after seeing Denver’s 114 on the scoreboard. Because Denver plays just three times between now and April 8, this is not a club that’s a recommended target for those looking to stream.
Wilson Chandler’s 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals (39 minutes) helped his owners, but Jusuf Nurkic’s got nothing with just 10 points and a single rebound in 19 minutes. He doesn’t hold the same upside or appeal he did earlier in the season. Kenneth Faried got a cheap double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds on a poor 3-of-10 from the field, but at least it was nice to see him bounce back following a game where he had just five points and four rebounds. Ty Lawson (13 points, seven dimes, 3-of-11 shooting) didn’t give his owners anything to brag about, Randy Foye’s 17 points and four triples shouldn’t simply go unnoticed, and Jameer Nelson’s big night (22 points, five assists, four triples and a steal) wasn’t by design. Despite coming off the bench, the veteran point guard led the team in shot attempts with 18 of them.
Will Barton also got some revenge against his former team with 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block on 6-of-8 shooting, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Portland from pulling out the victory.
LaMarcus Aldridge played a critical role in the Blazers’ win with 32 points and 11 rebounds on 13-of-20 shooting, and it’s been nothing but LMA since he returned from his most recent hand injury. Rather than being supported by a big night from Damian Lillard (eight points, 10 dimes), it was Arron Afflalo’s 21 points, five rebounds and two steals on 8-of-11 shooting that had the Blazers shining. Both Nicolas Batum (15 points, seven dimes, two steals, three triples) and Robin Lopez (12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) contributed to the cause, as well.