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The Denver Nuggets responded to the Miami Heat's valiant comeback on Wednesday with one of their own against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, erasing a five-point deficit in the final seconds and extending their winning streak to 14 games. Corey Brewer was the hero, scoring the final six points, including three clutch free throws after being fouled by Damien Wilkins on the final play. He finished with 29 points, with five 3-pointers, and five steals. Brewer is one of the best stories of the season, becoming a dependable source of points, 3s and steals, and is shaking off the "bust" moniker that has followed him throughout his career. But his low numbers (43.4 field goal percentage, 67.5 free throw percentage) stand in the way of his having long-term, draftable fantasy value, and are the reason he's ranked just 129th on the Player Rater despite averaging 11.9 points, 1.1 3s and 1.4 steals. Thursday's performance and his ascension into the pantheon of respectable two-way players have been fun to watch this season, but until he improves his percentages, he's as much of a fantasy liability as he is an asset.
Both Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich returned for the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, which won't impact standard formats but is noteworthy in deep leagues. Gibson had 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in 25 minutes off the bench, and is immediately a source of rebounds and blocks. Hinrich had just two points and three assists in 21 minutes, and should also have some deep-league value in assists, steals and 3s as he has throughout his career. Hinrich was averaging 7.0 assists and 2.0 3s in the three games before his injury and, until Derrick Rose returns, has some value for those specific categories.
Isaiah Thomas dropped 24 points with six assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday, marking the third time in the past four games he has scored 20 or more. He has been inconsistent this season, but posted solid overall numbers (13.3 points, 3.7 assists, 1.3 3s, 0.8 steals per game) and really elevated his free throw percentage, making it his strongest category. He's shooting 89.4 percent from the stripe on 3.4 attempts per game and ranks sixth on the Player Rater in free throw percentage. This is especially encouraging because I saw it as an obstacle to his ever having fantasy value: He shot 71.9 percent from the stripe his final season at Washington, and his drastic improvement is an indication of his work ethic and ability to augment his game. He has been fantastic recently, averaging 18.6 points over his past five games and is especially worth starting if you need a boost in free throws.
Chase Budinger returned for Minnesota after being out since early November, scoring nine points with four rebounds, a steal and a 3-pointer in 18 minutes off the bench. Budinger has a nice fantasy skill set, with the ability to provide some points, 3s, steals and decent rebounds for a guard. He should play a significant role for the Wolves going forward. He's not worth a look in standard leagues, but in deeper formats he's worth a flier, especially if you need 3s. He averaged 1.5 per game in just 22.4 minutes last season with the Rockets.
Carmelo Anthony is back in the New York Knicks lineup after having fluid drained from his knee, and with Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas likely out for the season, he'll have to shoulder a hefty load in the Knicks' frontcourt. Be sure he's back in your starting lineup for the stretch run.
Darren Collison's season has been pretty awful in the world of real basketball, but from a fantasy sense he has been surprisingly effective and ranks No. 49 on the Player Rater for the season. He's averaging 13.8 points on 60 percent shooting from the floor over his past five games, and even though he's regularly chided by hoops heads and Dallas fans, he's worth starting in a fantasy sense primarily due to his strong percentages.
Gerald Green has popped back on the radar the past two games, averaging 17.5 points and 3.5 3s, replacing Sam Young in the rotation at least for the time being. Green is frustrating, but when he gets minutes he can put up big stats, especially in the 3-point department where he's averaging 1.0 in just 18.7 minutes. He's inconsistent, but for those in deep leagues looking for any sort of firepower to help down the stretch, Green is worth a look if he continues seeing 20-plus minutes off the bench.
Jermaine O'Neal left the Suns' last game Wednesday with a strained left calf and is questionable for Friday's contest against Minnesota. With Marcin Gortat already sidelined, look for Hamed Haddadi to see increased run and potentially provide some rebounds and blocks to desperate fantasy teams looking for a spot-start. In his career he has averaged 0.6 blocks and 2.3 rebounds in just 6.7 minutes, and in the three games for the Phoenix Suns in which he has played at least 19 minutes, he's averaging 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.