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Much of the focus for fantasy squads at this time of year is running the gauntlet of DNPs in the box scores. There are plenty of veterans on playoff teams who are getting random games off to rest, dinged-up players on bad teams who are held out of back-to-back sets and just the random missed game from players who normally would play but won't because the season is winding down. The Dallas Mavericks are kind of a combination of all of those factors, because their roster is filled with aging veterans and they are technically still in the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but they could be formally bumped out of that race soon, because they are 2 1/2 games back with six games remaining.
This makes it a little hard to project what to do with them for fantasy owners who need to set their final lineups for the remaining nine days of the season Monday or Tuesday (remember there are no NBA games Monday night). On the one hand, the Mavs should push their players hard until they are out of the playoff race, but at that point coach Rick Carlisle could pull the proverbial plug on his rotation.
The main injury risks right now are Elton Brand and Dirk Nowitzki. Brand has missed the past four games with a sore calf, though he was able to take part in Sunday's shootaround and was a game-time call for the Mavs' evening tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers. Nowitzki missed the fourth quarter of Sunday's game due to a sore foot, but Carlisle said "it's not considered serious" and Diggler said "I'll definitely play Wednesday."
That extended break before their next game Wednesday should give both Brand and Nowitzki a good shot at playing. However, if they sit out -- or if they end up getting shut down in the coming days -- Brandan Wright(20.6 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Chris Kaman (25.5 percent) should make for quality fill-in options. Over the past three games with Brand sidelined, Wright has totaled 46 points, 21 boards, 3 steals and 5 blocks, while taking double-digit shot attempts each game (21-37 FG). Meanwhile, Kaman has started the past four games with Brand out of action, and despite not touching the 25-minute mark, he has been scoring and hitting the glass at a decent clip, including Sunday's 26-point, 11-rebound, 2-block performance.
• Wesley Matthews had been cruising along as a steady and reliable fantasy play, but he rolled his ankle during Sunday's game and didn't return. It didn't look pretty, but the Portland Trail Blazers don't ball again until Wednesday, so if the injury isn't serious, he may be ready to play. If Matthews does sit out some games this week, Will Barton could be worth the roll of the dice. The rookie came out of nowhere Sunday to nearly post a triple-double (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 dimes and 3 steals) in 32 minutes. All of those numbers were season highs, but if he gets some extra run with the season winding down, you never know.
• The Eric Gordon fiasco continued along this weekend, as coach Monty Williams benched him for most of the second half Friday after the two got into a shouting match during a timeout. Gordon returned to the starting lineup Sunday and had 17 points (4-11 FG) and 6 assists, so it looks like they patched things up. The trouble with Gordon the rest of the way is that he'll presumably skip one of their back-to-back games Tuesday or Wednesday, which would leave him with just four games, assuming he doesn't get hurt or tossed back in the doghouse once again.
• Joakim Noah finally returned to game action on Sunday but mustered only 13 points and 7 boards in 21 minutes. It's not clear whether the Bulls will limit him in back-to-back games (they have two more sets), but odds are you'll just have to toss him into your final weekly lineup and hope for the best, since the Bulls play a total of six more games. Luol Deng, on the other hand, skipped Sunday's contest to rest his sore hip. It sounds like he should be back soon, but Jimmy Butler (14 points, 2 3s Sunday) figures to be a decent replacement if Deng ends up sidelined later this week.
• With Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back in the mix Sunday, the Boston Celtics tried out their new lineup with KG at PF, Green at SF and Pierce at SG. Unfortunately, despite playing and beating the lowly Washington Wizards, none of the trio posted stats of note. Presumably, the C's would like to roll this lineup out each night to get used to it before the playoffs, but with KG and Pierce dinged up and two sets of back-to-backs during their final five games, it's just as likely that those guys will see some DNP-CDs.
• Jose Calderon has been in and out of the lineup (including Sunday) due to a triceps strain. It's entirely unclear if he will be able to play Wednesday or any other games the rest of the way. To make matters worse, the Detroit Pistons have only four games remaining. Rodney Stuckey and, perhaps, Will Bynum will be viable fill-ins if Calderon sits.
• The Cleveland Cavaliers have six games left on their schedule, but unless they unexpectedly lift their no back-to-back game restriction on Kyrie Irving, he'll be available for only four of those contests. He may need only four games to outperform any bench player you may have who has six games, so you will probably have to make a tough call in setting your lineups when it comes to Irving.
• A right calf injury has forced Chandler Parsons to miss the past two games, but he hopes to return to action on Tuesday. If he can't play Tuesday, it sounds like he's close enough to get back in the mix Friday, but you'll need to check for updates.
There are a ton of great high-end options at guard and forward Tuesday night, but things are a little thinner at center, since Tim Duncan and Al Horford don't have games, Joakim Noah is just coming back from his injury and Al Jefferson has a tough battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That leaves Dwight Howard (vs. NO), Nikola Pekovic (@GS) and Marc Gasol (vs. CHA) as the top options in my book. All three should have good games, but I like Gasol, versus what is probably the weakest frontcourt in the Association, as the top center play.