Injuries real and nagging take toll on fantasy basketball title chases
With two-and-a-half weeks left in the season, the NBA playoff picture is coming into focus. This is also the time of year that players begin to take time off with nagging injuries or even shut it down for the season if they have serious injuries. So what does the current injury situation look like for fantasy owners still battling for a league championship?
• David West is out for the season after tearing his ACL in the Hornets' win at Utah last Thursday night. Backup Carl Landry will take over West's starting role for the remainder of the season and possibly permanently if West leaves as a free agent this offseason. In his first start on Friday, Landry scored 19 points, adding six rebounds and three steals in 31 minutes.
Other than Landry and Emeka Okafor, the Hornets do not have a lot of options in their frontcourt. Jason Smith, who averaged 15-20 minutes a game at the start of the season, could find himself back in the rotation on a consistent basis. Center Aaron Gray also could see more time with Okafor playing power forward. But Landry is the only Hornet who will gain significant fantasy value as a result of the injury. He's a must own in all leagues at this point.
• Rudy Gay's season is officially over after the Grizzlies' forward had surgery on his partially dislocated left shoulder last week. Sam Young will continue to start for the Grizzlies in Gay's absence, but Tony Allen has really been the player to step up his game over the last month. In 17 starts since Gay was injured, Allen has averaged 13.6 points and two steals a game. If Allen is still available in your league, grab him if your team could use the steals.
• Celtics' forward Troy Murphy is in a walking boot and is out indefinitely after rolling his ankle in practice.
• Tim Duncan, who has missed the Spurs' last three games after spraining his left ankle last Monday against the Warriors, could be back on the court this week. According to Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan was expected to be out 4-5 games with the injury. If that timetable still holds, he could return against the Celtics on Thursday.
The Spurs currently have a four-game lead on the Lakers for the top spot in the West, so they can afford to be cautious getting Duncan back on the court. However, the Spurs have lost the three games that Duncan has missed and the team is struggling to find production from any of his replacements. Tiago Splitter has been underwhelming in the three games he's started in place of Duncan, averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in 20 minutes on the court. DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner also have underperformed off the bench. With an injury to Manu Ginobili on Sunday night, the Spurs could definitely use a healthy Duncan back on the court.
• After missing five games with a strained right wrist, Deron Williams is going to give it one more try this season. Williams is targeting Wednesday's nationally televised game against the Knicks as his return date. This is despite the fact his injury requires about four weeks of rest to fully heal, and the Nets are currently out of the playoff picture in the East. Nets' coach Avery Johnson told reporters that it's likely Williams will play this week and eventually be shut down for the rest of the season. Since the Nets play on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, Williams owners could potentially squeeze three games from him this week if everything goes to plan.
Only one thing is certain when it comes to Williams: hold onto Jordan Farmar if you currently own him. Farmar has been great in Williams' absence, averaging 11 points and 11 assists over the last five games. Since Williams' return to the court will likely be short lived, expect Farmar to finish the season strong and be worth a play in all fantasy leagues.
• Kevin Love is expected to make his return on Wednesday against the Bulls after missing the Wolves' last three games with a groin injury. Anthony Randolph had two huge games out of three in Love's absence, but will return to a marginal 15 minutes a game bench role once Love gets back on the court.
• Andray Blatche, who has missed the Wizards' past nine games with a shoulder injury, has said that he's targeting Wednesday's game against the Heat for a return. Yi Jianlian started for the team at power forward while Blatche was out and averaged 10.9 points, six rebounds and 1.4 steals in his starts. The Wizards are another team with nothing to play for this season, so expect the team to be cautious with Blatche the rest of the season.
• Joe Johnson didn't play in Sunday night's Hawks game after spraining his right thumb in a collision with Nets' Anthony Morrow on Saturday. X-rays were negative, but Johnson did not travel with the team to Cleveland. "Maybe if it was my left hand it would be a lot different with me going out there to try and play," Johnson said. "But we've got to look at the bigger picture. We've got to be as healthy as possible going into the playoffs."
The Hawks clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, so they can afford to be cautious with Johnson. Marvin Williams started on Sunday and had his best game of the season, finishing with 31 points and seven rebounds in 43 minutes. Williams will get some extended run while Johnson is out, but he has a long history of underperforming in these types of situations, and Atlanta has a tough three-game schedule this week with games against Orlando and Boston. When Joe Johnson missed nine games earlier this year, Williams averaged 12 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists over that span, so there are likely better options available to owners on the wire.
• Rajon Rondo missed the Celtics' win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night with a sore right pinky. It's an injury that has been bothering him for a few weeks now, but he aggravated it during the Celtics' practice on Sunday. Delonte West started in place of Rondo against Minnesota and had eight points and five assists in 31 minutes. West makes a decent one-game plug and play if Rondo can't go against the Pacers on Monday night.
• The Utah Jazz are dealing with a couple of injuries. Devin Harris has missed three straight games for the Jazz with a hamstring injury and has been ruled out for Monday night's game against Washington. Andrei Kirilenko is in even worse shape. He is out with a bruised nerve in his left knee and is currently walking around on crutches while he gets treatment on the knee.
While both Harris and Kirilenko are out, the team will continue start Earl Watson in place of Harris at the point, with Raja Bell at shooting guard and C.J. Miles taking over for Kirilenko at small forward. Gordon Hayward and Ronnie Price have also seen more minutes off the bench. Miles and Haywood could see an increase in fantasy value out of this situation. Unfortunately, Miles is currently struggling with his outside shot and is 2-17 from behind the arc in his last four games. Haywood lacks consistency from game to game, but is worth a look in deeper leagues while Kirilenko remains sidelined.
• Jameer Nelson is doubtful to play against the Knicks on Monday night after spraining his knee in Friday's game against the Nets. Gilbert Arenas practiced with the first team on Sunday and will probably get the nod if Nelson can't go, while Chris Duhon would also be in line for more run. Arenas has been a major disappointment since joining the Magic and is coming off a 1-12 shooting performance against New Jersey, so it's certainly a big risk to count on him to perform if you are in a head-to-head playoff week.
• The Raptors' latest injured player is Andrea Bargnani, who was out on Saturday after aggravating a bone spur in his ankle. Bargnani is currently day-to-day to with the injury. Forward Reggie Evans is also day-to-day as he attempts to make a comeback from a surgically repaired broken foot. With both big men out for Toronto, Ed Davis got a start on Saturday and had a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting. Expect Ed Davis to continue to put up big lines as long as Bargnani is out.