It's good to be the King
Are any of you really surprised? LeBron James misses two days of practice with a sore back and then comes out like this? James put up 33 points, 7 boards, 8 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Just like the girl says in the Burger King ads, the King is "good with his hands." There was some concern about how (or if) James would play after reports about his aching back. His owners, unlike the dude in the aforesaid BK ad, can rest easy.
If you were checking your Nets' players through the first three quarters, you were probably expecting good lines. Welcome to the No Country for Old Men of basketball games. Nine points in the fourth quarter? Anton Chigurh deliver us from this banality! Of course, if he did you would be robbed of the sublime torture of living with the Nets' collapse. Instead you are stuck with the knowledge that the Net's 3-and-7 record in their last 10 is the flip side to eighth-place Atlanta's 7-and-3 and that four-game difference is why the Nets are lottery-bound and the Hawks, most likely, are not.
While head-to-head owners have beefs with a number of coaches this time of year for resting star players -- Doc Rivers, Flip Saunders, I am talking to you! -- rotisserie league owners learned months ago that no one deserved their ire more than Bulls coach Jim Boylan. Wednesday night was just another example. Not only was Kirk Hinrich's 19 points, 2 3-pointers and 4 assists the best line of the night, but only one player on the Bulls, Luol Deng, played more than 30 minutes. This is how to kneecap fantasy owners: treat the minutes of the Bulls like they were water rations on a trek through the Mojave, equal amounts for everyone.
Stan Van Gundy's Magic follow the fantasy credo: only the strong survive (and get minutes). The studs got theirs. Dwight Howard, yawn, posted another double-double with 30 points and 14 boards. Rashard Lewis notched 21 points, four 3-pointers, 7 rebounds 4 assists and 2 steals. And Hedo Turkoglu shot poorly (just 4-of-15 from the field) but still managed 12 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists.
Samuel Dalembert is proving quite the fantasy asset in the stretch run of the season. He went for 20 points and 13 rebounds and over his last five games has averaged 12.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. He is a poor man's Marcus Camby and should be valued as such in next fall's drafts and auctions. Andre Iguodala's torrid pace did not slacken last night with 25 points, four 3-pointers, 6 dimes and 5 steals. In his past five he is averaging 23.2 points, 1.8 3-pointers, 5.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.8 steals. Those are first-round numbers when head-to-head owners need them the most.
I know I called out Doc Rivers for sitting his stars earlier but I have to be fair. He played Pierce, Allen and Garnett Wednesday night. Too bad it didn't get them the win. The Wizards are now 3-and-0 against the Celtics this season. Antawn Jamison was particularly strong after missing two games with a sprained shoulder, scoring 27 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and serving one delicious facial to Garnett. Caron Butler had a near triple-double with 13 points, 7 boards and 10 assists.
The last time Charlie Villanueva had a game like this (38 points, seven 3-pointers and 12 rebounds) it was two seasons ago for the Raptors against the Bucks. That game was a prime motivator behind the trade that brought him to Milwaukee and T.J. Ford to the Raptors. This game might serve as similar motivation for another trade should the Bucks decide to go all in with Yi Jianlian and move Villanueva. I think that would be a huge mistake. Villanueva is a major talent and if he gets minutes next season, he is going to make a lot of owners happy when they target him late in drafts next fall.
For all of Villanueva's scoreboard pyrotechnics, it wasn't enough to fire up the Bucks against the Raptors. Chris Bosh (32 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks) brought his A-game and Toronto dominated the second half.
Sorry Knicks fans but the season isn't over yet. Your team did you special. Yes, they actually won for the third game in a row. There were no standout performances but there was solid team play and the bench players contributed. In short the Knicks gave their fans a glimpse at real basketball and notional sense of what rooting for a winning team might be like. Of course, it's too late for all that now and winning this late in the game is more cruel than just stacking another loss on the heap of Madison Square misery. You can almost hear the Knicks fans as you look at the box score: "Now you start winning?"
With Gerald Wallace (groin) likely done for the season, Matt Carroll should be added to all teams still in the hunt in head-to-head leagues or roto teams needing a nudge in 3-pointers. He put up 17 points with three 3-pointers and will be a good bet for similar numbers the rest of the way.
Note to my colleague Neil Tardy: He's back. After perhaps his worst game of the season, Chris Paul put up a gem Wednesday night: 19 points, two 3-pointers, 16 assists with just one turnover. Looking at his numbers for his past five games; I think most owners will forgive Chris Paul the one stinker even if they are in head-to-head leagues.
Peja Stojakovic is closing the season is fine fashion, with 25 points with five 3-pointers Wednesday and, in his past five, he has averaged 19.6 points, 3.6 3-pointers on 56.3 percent shooting. Peja is one of the best spot-up shooters in the league, but remember when looking at him in next season's drafts that he has essentially become a two-category contributor: points and 3-pointers. I don't count his free throw shooting because he just doesn't get to the line enough any more to be a serious contributor: he attempts just 1.8 free throws per game.
While Kevin Durant has had some big scoring night recently and was more than solid Wednesday (26 points), I still have reservations about him coming into next season. In his past five games, we have seen increased scoring (22.6 per game; 2.6 more than his 20.0 average) but the same poor shooting percentage (42-of-102). Until he develops better efficiency -- and having teammates who can score will help here -- I fear we will see a similar statistical output next season. I would think we see better scoring but little improvement elsewhere.
Shaquille O'Neal came back after missing one game with a sore hip (the same one that sidelined him for much of January and half of February) and put up 16 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes. The minutes will stay in the mid to high 20s until the playoffs, when I expect low 30s for Shaq. We will find out then exactly how much the Diesel has left in the tank. My guess is enough for the first few rounds of the playoffs anyhow.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can email him at email@example.com.