I was at Buffalo Wild Wings watching the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl when my wife asked, “did you hear about LeBron?” I looked up at the television above my head and saw the breaking news – LeBron James will miss two weeks due to a left knee injury and a back strain. There was once a time when you could draft a fantasy basketball team made up of the “ironmen,” guys you knew wouldn’t miss games and would be there for you every night. Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson were two of them, and LeBron has pretty much been an ironman throughout his career. But the times have changed, and even the most reliable players of all time are not immune to being shut down, while a fragile player like Dwyane Wade is actually defying the odds this season. I think it’s fine to avoid certain players on draft night due to their injury history and reluctance to return quickly from them, but there’s really no point in drafting players like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, LeBron James or James Harden with the mindset that they’re invincible and aren’t going to miss games. Every one of those former ironman has proven otherwise.
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As for LeBron’s replacement over the next eight games or so, there’s not really anyone to get excited about. Kevin Love (if healthy) and Kyrie Irving should be dynamos, Tristan Thompson should keep his train rolling, and Dion Waiters will still be relevant. But if you think I’m about to put any faith in the likes of Shawn Marion, James Jones, Joe Harris or Mike Miller, it’s just not going to happen. Two weeks is a pretty short time in the NBA and over the course of a fantasy season, but if you’re in a head-to-head league and have a playoff system set up, the loss of LeBron for most of January, as well as a dreadful playoff schedule, might leave you on the outside looking in when it’s all said and done.
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Chicago 106, Denver 101
Pau Gasol was in beast mode on Thursday night and finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and nine blocks in the win over the Nuggets. I remember writing about Gasol in the preseason and predicting that he would be a shot-blocking dynamo this season, and it’s nice to see the Bulls using him as a rim protector, just like they said they were going to do. Despite being in his twilight, Gasol is having one of the best years of his storied career, and has only missed three games this season (shhhh). Jimmy Butler did it again with 26 points, eight boards, eight assists, two steals, a block and a 3-pointer, and the breakout we predicted for last season is happening in full effect this year. Derrick Rose had 17 points, eight dimes, two steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer, but hit just 7-of-25 shots, and Joakim Noah had 11 rebounds and three blocks, but scored just six points. That’s become a trend with Noah and his fragile feet make him look like a sell-high guy to me. Nikola Mirotic played just 11 minutes and scored three points, and while I like the idea of stashing him, the truth is that if Taj Gibson is healthy (and he is) Mirotic isn’t going to play much. And speaking of Gibson, he saw just 19 minutes last night but still finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Mike Dunleavy came into this one red-hot, but his carriage turned into a pumpkin and he had just six points in 17 minutes. The return of Kirk Hinrich (27 minutes, 10 points, perfect shooting) isn’t going to do Dunleavy or Aaron Brooks (23 minutes, 12 points, two 3-pointers) any favors. Dunleavy left the game to have his ankle re-taped, so he might be in jeopardy of missing his next game.
I remember being made fun of on Twitter for saying that Kenneth Faried had a chance to be one of the top power forwards in basketball this season, but I think those days are behind us. Faried had 18 points, 19 rebounds, two steals and three blocks on 7-of-14 shooting in 36 minutes last night, which isn’t bad against Gasol and Noah. His confidence is back and there’s no reason he won’t be a beast the rest of the way. Wilson Chandler has been a bit hit-and-miss lately, but he was hitting last night, finishing with 22 points and two 3-pointers before fouling out. Timofey Mozgov’s ship may have sailed, as he posted just four points, six rebounds and no blocks. Jusuf Nurkic is now his nemesis and had 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes. If you have someone to drop and need a center, Nurkic looks like a great pickup right now. Ty Lawson had 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, a steal and a 3-pointer, and that’s not an unusual line for him, meaning he’s playing like an All-Star this season. And the inconsistent Arron Afflalo came through with 19 points, a 3-pointer and a full stat line in the loss. Outside of Nurkic, Denver’s bench isn’t much to look at.
Sacramento 110, Minnesota 107
I’m still not sure how he did it, but DeMarcus Cousins avoided a suspension for his takedown of Marcus Smart and had 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks before fouling out last night. I hope he realizes how lucky he is to have avoided a suspension, and gets over the firing of his coach (Mike Malone) without losing it altogether. He’s been playing very angry basketball, but it’s pointless if he’s more upset with his own team than his opponent. Rudy Gay and Darren Collison both dropped 21 points and had nice lines against the Wolves, and regular starter Ben McLemore was steady with 14 points and a 3-pointer on 6-of-9 shooting. The big news in Sac-town is that Derrick Williams moved into the starting lineup and played well with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block and three 3-pointers. It’s probably too late if you’re just moving on him, but he played 31 minutes and if he sticks in the starting five, you’re going to want him. Carl Landry (8 points, 9 rebounds), Jason Thompson (8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Reggie Evans (DNP-CD) are all threats to his minutes and production, but D-Will is worth a flier if you’ve got room. Gay did commit a season-high eight turnovers last night, but otherwise filled the stat sheet before fouling out, and also hit 7-of-12 shots, which was nice to see.
The Wolves got big lines from Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, and Muhammad is looking like one of the waiver-wire pickups of the year. He had 15 points, five rebounds and a 3-pointer in 36 minutes, which was good for one of his worst lines in recent memory. I used to get questions from owners wanting to cut Wiggins, but I think those days are behind us, as he had 27 points, nine boards, four steals and a 3-pointer on 11-of-22 shooting. He just might win the Rookie of the Year award. Dieng had 15 points, 10 boards and two blocks, and is another waiver-wire wonder. At this rate, the Wolves have no reason to rush Nikola Pekovic back, or give him heavy minutes once he’s finally ready to play again. Thaddeus Young has been a disappointing player for most of the season and last night was no exception. He had just nine points in 25 minutes (4-of-8 shooting), but at least added a couple steals and blocks. He’s just not as offensive-minded as he needs to be right now, but he still has value and you should not be cutting him, despite the inconsistency. Zach LaVine and Mo Williams both struggled last night, but LaVine started and had four steals, while Mo-Will had eight points, eight dimes and two 3-pointers off the bench. Ricky Rubio simply can’t get back soon enough for the Wolves. He should be back sometime in the next couple weeks after missing extended time with a severely sprained ankle.
News and Notes
DeMar DeRozan practiced on Thursday and is due back for the Raptors in the very near future. Get ready to deploy him, and look for guys like Terrence Ross and James Johnson to take a hit. Kyle Lowry may not look like Superman every night, either, but is still a top fantasy point guard option.
Nene is iffy for Friday with an ankle injury and if he’s out, look for Kris Humphries to make some noise against the Thunder. Bradley Beal has a toe injury and missed yesterday’s Wizards’ practice, making him also look like a big question mark tonight. If he’s out, Rasual Butler will be an intriguing and cheap daily option.
Kevin Love is being listed as questionable tonight with his sore back and if he’s out, expect another big game from Tristan Thompson. And with LeBron shut down, Kyrie Irving should be a beast going forward for the Cavs.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez will both come off the Nets’ bench tonight as they recover from injuries, which is good news for Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee. All four of these guys should be owned right now. Lopez had 29 points in a start on Tuesday, but the Nets may go with Plumlee as the starter in hopes of keeping Bro-Lo healthy.
Evan Turner worked with the Celtics’ starters in Thursday’s practice and looks like a viable pick up right now. He played well on Wednesday and Marcus Smart might continue to come off the bench for a while. If you want to drop Smart for Turner it probably makes sense right now.
There are 11 games tonight, starting at 7 p.m. ET, so get ready for another big night of NBA action.