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If you've followed this feature for awhile, you know that one of the ground rules is that we don't talk about LeBron James. It's nothing personal -- in the Forecaster we don't dwell on James or any of the top players, since those guys will be in your lineup as long as they're healthy.
But this week, there's a sliver of a reason to discuss James, so here goes: If LeBron's ankle injury turns out to be more significant than it appears -- currently it's not thought to be serious, and he could return as soon as Saturday against the Chicago Bulls -- you could put him on the bench next week in a weekly lineup league. The Miami Heat play only two games during the week of Jan. 17-23, the first of which is on Jan. 18 (Tuesday) against the Atlanta Hawks. Now, unless you have an absurdly loaded lineup, you'd probably take even one game in a week from James. Just keep in mind that if he misses two more games, he'll be sidelined most of next week.
This is actually one of the busiest weeks of the NBA season. Twenty-three teams have four games in the week ahead. The Minnesota Timberwolves join the Heat in playing just twice.
Dallas Mavericks (@DET, LAL, @CHI, @NJ): DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler, who were both traded from D.C. to Big D last season, are apparently close friends. So it's ironic that Butler's season-ending knee injury is the reason for Stevenson's recent spike in minutes and 3-pointers. Did I say spike? A barrage from beyond the arc is more like it. Since Butler went down on Jan. 1, Stevenson is averaging 15.8 points and 4.0 3s per game. While there likely won't be as many minutes for him once Dirk Nowitzki gets back in the mix, Stevenson should continue to have value in leagues of at least 12 teams. Perhaps that's not the case for this week, though; Detroit Pistons, Bulls and New Jersey Nets opponents are all 20th or worse in 3-pointers.
Detroit Pistons (DAL, @BOS, @NJ, PHO): Ben Wallace's ankle injury allowed Greg Monroe to get a start this week, but the Pistons have been bumping up the rookie's playing time for a few games now. The seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft has played at least 26 minutes in each of the past five games, and in the past four Monroe is averaging a double-double -- 13.5 points and 11.5 rebounds -- along with 2.3 steals. The matchup with the Phoenix Suns notwithstanding -- Suns opponents are tops in rebound differential and eighth in steals -- this is a fairly tough set of games. But as someone who seems to be tapping into his great potential, Monroe is well worth adding in most formats. He's available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, too.
Milwaukee Bucks (@HOU, WAS, @CLE, MEM): This is a fantastic schedule -- I'm just not sure what you should do about it. As far as fantasy, the only sure things with the Bucks right now are Andrew Bogut and John Salmons. But if you're inclined to take a chance on Ersan Ilyasova (who's coming off consecutive double-doubles) or the recently returned Drew Gooden, you could score here. All of these opponents are in the top 10 in rebound differential while Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies opponents are in the top nine in field goal percentage.
New Jersey Nets (@GS, UTA, DET, DAL): Kris Humphries recently lost his starting spot to rookie Derrick Favors, but he continues to play significant minutes while serving as the Nets' top rebounder. Stick with him here, as Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and Pistons opponents are all in the top seven in rebound differential.
New Orleans Hornets (TOR, MEM, @ATL, SA): Trevor Ariza has apparently received a wake-up call. Now, while it's true that Hornets coach Monty Williams recently got in his ear about taking it to the hole more frequently, since I'm telling this story, I'm going to say my recent takedown of the scatter-shooting Ariza could very well be the real motivator here. The point is, after a December in which Ariza was an unimaginably putrid 33.9 percent from the field and 15.7 percent from 3-point range, the 25-year-old has put together four consecutive outings of at least break-even shooting. He's even 7-for-16 from downtown during that span. Sure, that level of accuracy is laughably unsustainable, but keep in mind that in the previous two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, as he played in two very different systems and situations, Ariza reliably hovered around 32-33 percent from distance. Since his current hot streak has brought him "up" to only 26.9 percent 3-point shooting for this season, it can be said Ariza has a few more treys in him. So, even if it is about impossible to gauge Ariza by the schedule, sure, he seems like a good play here. Toronto Raptors, Grizzlies and (surprisingly) San Antonio Spurs opponents are all in the top seven in 3-point shooting percentage. Ariza, by the way, is available in a handful of ESPN.com leagues.
Phoenix Suns (@NY, @CLE, @WAS, @DET): After coming off of the bench for four games, Channing Frye returned to the starting lineup on Jan. 9, and has promptly averaged 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 3s, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals in his past three. Though it seems like his hot streaks never last (Frye averaged only 8.8 points and shot just 32.8 percent in the six games before he got benched), Suns coach Alvin Gentry has said he'll stick with his current starters for at least 10 games. So perhaps Frye keeps this groove going. It sure won't hurt to have these matchups. Where do I start? All of these opponents are in the top 10 in shooting, and they're also all in the top six in rebound differential. On top of that, Cavs opponents are first in 3s by a country mile. They're also eighth in blocks. At the very least, Frye is a great fill-in for this week. Add him if you can -- he's available in about 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Toronto Raptors (@NO, @SA, @ORL, @MIA): You'd never know that Leandro Barbosa is hurting. Though Barbosa says ligament and tendon problems in his right wrist will eventually require surgery, the 28-year-old has been a reliable scorer for the better part of six weeks. In fact, lately Barbosa is resembling the player he was at his peak with the Suns -- in his past five games, he's averaging 19.2 points, 4.0 assists, 2.4 3s and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.4 percent. Ironically, the way Barbosa is playing, he could get himself traded out of Toronto. And if he stays, he could eventually lose time to Sonny Weems. And no matter where he goes, his wrist problem could become unbearable. I guess what I'm saying is Barbosa owners should think about dealing their guy. Short term, though, this schedule isn't quite as bad as it might appear. All of these opponents are in the middle of the back as far as triples made, though Spurs opponents are actually third in 3-point shooting percentage. On the other hand, Hornets and Heat opponents are 27th and 29th, respectively, in percentage from beyond the arc.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.