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Devin Booker, Suns keep on rolling

Devin Booker

Devin Booker

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Monday marked the beginning of the final week of seeding schedule play, and with that comes some rather interesting rotations. While the bottom of the West remains a dogfight and will require a play-in round over the weekend to determine the Lakers’ opponent in the first round, other teams are focused more on being at full strength for the playoff than they are winning that day’s game. A host of key rotation players sat out on Monday, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyle Lowry.

Get ready for more of the same Tuesday, as the majority of the teams on the schedule are either locked into a particular seed or set to go home as once their final seeding game in the bubble comes to an end. Among the players who have already been ruled out for Tuesday’s games are Caris LeVert (thigh), Jarrett Allen (ankle), Joe Harris (groin), Garrett Temple (rest), James Harden (rest), Jrue Holiday (elbow), Zion Williamson (knee) and Brandon Ingram (knee). You get the point.

Suns 128, Thunder 101

Phoenix is now 6-0 in the bubble, after they took advantage of a depleted Thunder squad in the first game of the day. Oklahoma City played this game without the aforementioned Gilgeous-Alexander (right calf contusion), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle/injury maintenance), Steven Adams (bruised left leg) and Nerlens Noel (right ankle soreness), leaving Chris Paul and Luguentz Dort as the only available starters. And those two didn’t take on their usual workloads either, as Paul played 24 minutes and Dort 21. As of Monday night the Thunder led Utah by a half-game for the 5-seed in the West, and with all due respect to Denver a matchup with that depleted squad may be viewed as more preferable than having to deal with James Harden, Russell Westbrook and co.

If Billy Donovan looks to manage the minutes of his starters in the team’s two remaining games, Darius Bazley would make sense in DFS. After scoring 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds in Sunday’s win over the Wizards, he put up 22 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers in 35 minutes. Abdel Nader (15/1/2 steals and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes) and Mike Muscala (11/4/4/1 with three 3-pointers in 24 minutes) also scored in double figures, but like Bazley their short-term fantasy value hinges on the health of Oklahoma City’s starters. [[ad:athena]]

Phoenix, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of resting key players as they’ve got work to do in order to get into that 8/9 play-in round. Deandre Ayton missing his COVID-19 test on Sunday didn’t help matters, but the NBA’s rule change bailed him out. Last week the league ruled that a player who misses a test can play if he records a negative test before tip-off. Ayton did just that, but his tardiness meant a spot start for Dario Saric. And Saric played well, accounting for 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer 23 minutes. At this point it’s fair to write him in as the Suns’ backup center, as Frank Kaminsky played just three minutes.

Ayton scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in 17 minutes, while Devin Booker (35/5/4/2 blocks and three 3-pointers) tied Walter Davis for the most 30-point games in franchise history (90). T.J. Warren (more on him below) has been the talk of the bubble and rightfully so, but Booker’s been scoring at a high level as well. Mikal Bridges (18/6/1/1 with five 3-pointers) and Cameron Johnson (18/4/3/2 blocks and four 3-pointers) continue to play well in the bubble, and are raising their respective values ahead of next season.

Lastly Cam Payne (14/6/5/3 with two 3-pointers) has rejuvenated his career in the bubble, and Jevon Carter (8/5/5/3/2 with two 3-pointers) had another good day shooting the ball as he made all three of his field goal attempts. Neither will offer much from a draft value standpoint next season, but in the case of Carter he may be worth taking a late-round flier on deeper leagues if he continues to improve as a shooter.

Mavericks 122, Jazz 114

Utah played this one without Donovan Mitchell, who was held out due to a left lower leg peroneal strain. His absence moved Jordan Clarkson into the starting lineup and he played well, scoring 18 points with three rebounds and five 3-pointers in just 14 minutes. In fact, Quin Snyder did not play any of the starters for more than 16 minutes (Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley), giving the lion’s share of the available minutes to seldom-used reserved. For that reason it’s difficult to glean too much from Utah’s rotation, but the load management meant more time on the ball for Emmanuel Mudiay (14 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes). This was a promising effort from Mudiay, but it doesn’t mean much when it comes to assessing his value when the Jazz rotation is at full strength.

The presence of Mitchell, Conley and Ingles, three players who are more than capable of initiating things offensively, means that Mudiay has to do a lot of his work off the ball. And he isn’t all that effective in that role, especially from a fantasy perspective. Georges Niang shooting 4-of-4 from three qualifies as a positive, as the Jazz are still working to account for the absence of the injured Bojan Bogdanovic. Niang is a points and 3-pointers guy when it comes to his fantasy value.

Dallas played this one without Luka Doncic (right ankle), Kristaps Porzingis (left knee) and Dorian Finney-Smith (hip), as they were essentially given the day to rest up after logging heavy minutes in Saturday’s win over the Bucks. Those absences shifted J.J. Barea, Boban Marjanovic and Justin Jackson into the starting lineup, and there were also more shots available for Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway Jr. provides the most value, and he finished Monday’s win with 27 points, three rebounds, four assists and three 3-pointers in 34 minutes. Trey Burke (14/1/4/2 with two 3-pointers) and Maxi Kleber (11/3/3/1 block and one 3-pointer) combined to score 25 of the Mavericks’ 33 bench points.

Curry (22/1/2 with four 3-pointers), Marjanovic (20/9/2/1/2) and Barea (18/2/8 with two 3-pointers) also played well, with Curry getting back on track after struggling with his shot in his return to action Saturday night. He may not provide a whole lot in non-scoring categories, but Curry will always have value thanks to the points and 3-pointers that he can bring to the table. Barea and Boban are matchup guys, which limits their fantasy value significantly. Boban may be worth a late-round pick in deep drafts for next season, but even if that’s the case there will be certain games in which he’s guaranteed to pick up a DNP-CD.

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Raptors 114, Bucks 108

Toronto and Milwaukee are locked into their respective seeds, so it came as no surprise that both head coaches decided to rest some players. Kyle Lowry (lower back soreness), Fred VanVleet (right knee hyperextension) and Serge Ibaka (right knee contusion) all sat out for the Raptors, while Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (tooth) was also held out. Chris Boucher (25/11/2/2/2 with three 3-pointers) and Matt Thomas (22/4/1 with four 3-pointers) played 29 and 37 minutes off the bench respectively for the winners, with Norman Powell (21/8/1/2/3 with four 3-pointers) putting up one of his best lines fo the season. In a depleted lineup Powell is worth taking a shot on, and the same can be said for Boucher.

If there’s anything to take from Monday’s win for Toronto it’s that Pascal Siakam continues to struggle with his shot. He was 5-of-16 from the field, and he’s shot better than 42 percent from the field in just two of his six games in the bubble. Siakam should be fine, but it would benefit the Raptors immensely if he were to have a good game or two before the postseason begins.

With Giannis out it was Pat Connaughton who moved into the starting lineup, and in 21 minutes he accounted for 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. MIke Budenholzer spread out the minutes quite evenly, as ten Bucks played at least 16 minutes on the night. One of the exceptions was Wesley Matthews, who left the game in the first quarter with a quad/groin issue. Budenholzer didn’t sound too concerned when asked about it after the game, but an extended absence for Matthews would free additional minutes for either Connaughton or Donte DiVincenzo.

Kyle Korver shot 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, two games after he went 0-of-5 in a win over the Heat on Thursday. He and George Hill combined to shoot 9-of-14 from three, and those two veterans have the potential to provide some value should the Bucks look to limit the minutes of their stars in the final two seeding games. Eric Bledsoe posted an 11/7/8 line in 30 minutes, and he’s played at least 30 minutes in each of the last two games. He appears to be back to full strength after arriving in Orlando late due to a bout with COVID-19.

Heat 114, Pacers 92

The combination of T.J. Warren being red-hot and the way in which the second meeting this season between he and Jimmy Butler ended, with both being ejected, made this game must-see television. Well, it didn’t live up to the hype at all. While Butler did a little bit of everything, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block in 29 minutes, Warren looked “human.” He shot 5-of-14 from the field, scoring 12 points (all in the first half) with five rebounds and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Victor Oladipo scored 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon 12 in what was a bad game for the Pacers. If the current seeds hold these two teams would match up in the first round, and this stands to be a very difficult matchup for Indiana with Domantas Sabonis (plantar fasciitis) sidelined indefinitely.

Miami’s rotation was close to whole, with Kendrick Nunn (quarantine) being the only player sidelined. Provided there are no issues with his COVID-19 tests Nunn is expected to be back for Friday’s game against the Pacers. Nine players took on a workload of at least 19 minutes, with Duncan Robinson (32 minutes) and Goran Dragic (30) leading the way. Dragic, making his return from a sprained ankle, started with Tyler Herro moving back to the bench. The rookie guard played well, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes. I expect Herro to provide solid fantasy value next season, likely as a late-round pick if he continues to come off the bench. Seven of the ten players who saw action for the Heat scored in double figures, led by Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. (18/5/1 steal in 21 minutes).

Lakers 124, Nuggets 121

Kyle Kuzma’s 3-pointer over the outstretched hand of Bol Bol with four-tenths of a second remaining proved to be the difference, with the shot capping a good night for Kuzma. He shot 11-of-16 from the field, finishing with 25 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 33 minutes. Kuzma replaced the injured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ribs) in the starting lineup, so there will likely be those who openly wonder why he doesn’t start far more often. Frank Vogel’s reason is likely that he wants some scoring punch with the second unit, especially with many of those players struggling with their perimeter shot. The Lakers’ five reserves combined to score 28 points, with Dion Waiters responsible for 12 of them.

Waiters and Alex Caruso, who left the game in the fourth quarter due to a neck injury, played 27 and 20 minutes respectively while J.R. Smith and Quinn Cook were both DNP-CDs. That’s something to keep an eye on in the coming days, as he’s been dealing with back and neck pain for much of the team’s time in Orlando. Talen Horton-Tucker, who also played well in the Lakers’ last outing, played just six minutes Monday night. Waiters shot 5-of-8 from the field and also dished out three assists, rebounding from a couple poor outings. Thursday could be a big night in the competition of playoff minutes on the perimeter, and I expect all of those reserve guards to get a lot of run. Vogel said that he’s used the last two games to get the team into a rhythm offensively, and the team’s defense has struggled as a result.

Getting back into a rhythm offensively was Anthony Davis, who tallied 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in 38 minutes. He attempted just one 3-pointer while shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 9-of-12 from the foul line. In the three games prior Davis scored a total of 34 points, not looking anything like the all-NBA talent that he is. Davis and LeBron James played most of the fourth quarter, and with the one-seed already locked up those two may not take on much of a workload in Thursday’s seeding game finale against the Kings…if they play at all. James scored 29 points and dished out 12 assists, but his first rebound did not come until late in the fourth quarter. Not a huge deal, just found that to be a bit interesting. And he was also responsible for five of the Lakers’ 14 3-pointers, with no other player making more than three (Kuzma).

For Denver, Jerami Grant (right knee soreness) joined Will Barton (right knee soreness) and Gary Harris (right hip muscle strain) on the sideline but his issue does not seem as problematic. Grant has played around 34 minutes per game in the bubble, and the Nuggets needed to get him a break of some sort heading into the playoffs. And speaking of needing a break, Mike Malone gave his starters the entire fourth quarter off. Holding down the fort, and nearly pulling off the win, were Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop, Bol Bol and Mason Plumlee.

Dozier tallied 18 points (a career-high), four rebounds, four assists, one block and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes, and he’s figured more prominently in the rotation that anyone expected because of the injuries. That will change in the postseason, but depending upon what happens in Wednesday’s game against the Clippers, Dozier and the other reserves stand to log heavy minutes in Friday’s finale against the Raptors. Morris (14/3/4 with three 3-pointers) would also be a popular DFS play in that scenario. Michael Porter Jr. (15/4/1/1 with three 3-pointers) did not miss a shot in his 24 minutes on the floor, shooting 6-of-6 from the field.