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The Big Picture: Shaq's Back

Matt Buser
Yahoo Sports

So here's your bizarre news story involving an NBA player of the week: Kwame Brown was leaving a nightclub this past Saturday morning (as in, 2 a.m.) after celebrating Ronny Turiaf's birthday when he happened upon a man standing outside of the club, ironically holding his own birthday cake. Brown allegedly grabbed the cake from the man, threw it at him, and then left in a limousine. Lakers coach Phil Jackson chalked it up to "poor choices" but also joked that the cake may have actually slipped from his fingers, since that type of thing happens regularly. Either way, I can't think of a more bizarre thing to do in that situation. Can you?

Some Random Observations

Shaquille O'Neal is still a game or two away from returning – Heat interim coach Ron Rothstein said that O'Neal will return on Sunday at the earliest, this coming after reports suggested that O'Neal would return this past Thursday. Shaq has not experienced a setback in his recovery, and this is simply a case of all parties involved making absolutely sure that he is at 100 percent before making his return. While one contingent of fantasy owners is waiting anxiously for Shaq to start wrecking their team's free throw percentage again, another braces for the loss of Alonzo Mourning's solid nightly contributions that have come with his role as a starter. Zo has once again proven to be a fantastic fill-in while Shaq has spent time on the inactive list. In 34 games in the starting lineup, Zo has averaged 11.2 points on 57 percent shooting, 6.2 boards, and 3.2 blocks in 26 minutes per game – in 20 games as a starter last season, he averaged 11.5 points on 58 percent shooting, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks in 30 minutes per game. Zo's fantasy owners shouldn't plan on cutting ties immediately unless there is a no-brainer sitting on waivers – Shaq is going to need some time to get back to playing shape, so Mourning will still have some value even after O'Neal starts logging minutes. Unfortunately, once Shaq is all the way back, Zo's contributions will once again be limited to plus averages in blocks.
So the good news is that Tracy McGrady scored a season-high 45 points on Tuesday, making 17 of 29 field goals, including four threes, grabbing five boards, and dishing seven assists in 40 minutes of action. The bad news is that his back tightened up after a dunk with 3:20 left in the game, causing him to not only exit just a minute later, but also keeping him out of action on Wednesday. You won't hear any doomsday scenarios from McGrady, however. "It's stiffness," said McGrady. "This is different, not related to what I've been dealing with in the past. I'm not concerned at all." Fantasy owners probably aren't going to rest a whole lot easier given the perpetual concerns with McGrady's back, but T-Mac owners should be resigned to his missing some games the rest of the way as it is. McGrady is confident that, with some rest and treatment, he will be back in the lineup on Saturday. Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was a bit more pragmatic about the situation, saying, "If he can play, he can play. If he can't, he can't." According to the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets had Thursday off, and McGrady used that opportunity to rest. He will be re-evaluated at the team's practice on Friday, so stay tuned. Any extended absence would once again make Luther Head a solid fantasy play – he's averaged 16.3 points, 3.0 threes, 4.0 boards, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals in eight starts during T-Mac's stints on the inactive list.
There's nothing but more bad news on the Paul Pierce injury front, who, as his fantasy owners no doubt remember plainly, was only supposed to miss two to three weeks from a December 22 diagnosis of a stress reaction in his left foot. Now, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said that Pierce may not return until after the All-Star break in mid-February. "He's getting there, but we still don't know when," said Rivers. "He hasn't been out of the (therapeutic) boot or run. And even when he's cleared, he's not going to be even close to coming back." If you are looking for some kind of silver lining, it's going to have to be that Gerald Green will continue to see significant playing time, for what now appears to be at least another month. In eight starts so far, Green has put up 16.8 points, 2.5 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 34 minutes per game. Green should now be on a roster in all leagues, especially given this Pierce update.
Tyrus Thomas has been making some noise over the past few games, thanks to surplus playing time that has come as a result of neck and back issues for Ben Wallace. Over the past three games, including two starts, Thomas averaged 3.3 blocks and 2.0 steals in just 20 minutes of action. While he flashed some serious potential, he also showed that he's still got a ways to go, fouling out of two of the three games in less than 20 minutes and averaging 2.7 turnovers. Thomas' talent is not in question – he's put up per-35 minute averages of 12.2 points, 8.9 boards, 2.0 steals, and 3.0 blocks so far this season. What remains in question is how much of a role a team with serious playoff aspirations like Chicago is willing to delegate to him for more on-the-job training. This most recent three-game stretch is the first sign of consistent playing time he's seen, and that trend (that is, the lack of consistent playing time) is likely to continue as long as the Bulls have a healthy frontcourt. Keep Thomas on your watch list for the next time a Bulls regular goes down, however, and also just in case the Bulls decide to give Thomas a more regular run going forward.

Injury Report
Speedy Claxton (PG, Atlanta)
The report that Claxton received from a specialist who examined his sore left knee was good and bad. While he won't need surgery (good), he will need an unspecified amount of time to heal (bad). Claxton was informed that he suffers from chondromalacia, which is the abnormal softening or degeneration of knee cartilage. "I just have to do rehab," said Claxton. "I have to strengthen it the best I can, and when I do come back I have to kind of limit myself."

Tyronn Lue (PG, Atlanta)
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said that Lue would certainly not be available at all through the weekend and "maybe – and that's maybe" he would be able to meet a target return date of January 27.

Wally Szczerbiak (GF, Boston)
According to the Boston Herald, Szczerbiak had "limited success" getting through the team's Thursday practice, and he's questionable for Friday with continued ankle issues.

Delonte West (G, Boston)
West went through a second good day of practice on Thursday, and should be back in the lineup on Friday, according to the Boston Herald. "He looked good," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I'm gonna clear him myself for this game."

Gerald Wallace (GF, Charlotte)
According to The Charlotte Observer, Wallace practiced on Thursday, but it's still "up in the air" as to when he's going to be able to return to the lineup.

Brevin Knight (PG, Charlotte)
According to The Gaston Gazette, Knight is hoping to return to practice by the end of next week and return to the court sometime in early February.

Mickael Pietrus (GF, Golden State)
According to the Contra Costa Times, Pietrus is set to practice with the team on Friday and is aiming to return to the lineup on Saturday.

Shaun Livingston (PG, LA Clippers)
Livingston missed Wednesday's game with an ankle sprain, and is considered day-to-day.

Kwame Brown (FC, LA Lakers); Lamar Odom (F, LA Lakers)
According to the Los Angeles Times, Brown is expected to return to the lineup as early as Monday, and Odom could also return from his sprained knee ligament sometime next week.

Charlie Villanueva (F, Milwaukee)
Villanueva received a second cortisone shot in his right shoulder this past Monday and is scheduled to be re-evaluated by the end of next week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

David West (PF, New Orleans/Oklahoma City)
West's elbow has progressed to the point where he is "a 50-50 shot" for Friday and Saturday's games, according to Hornets coach Byron Scott. According to The Oklahoman, West participated in a full practice on Thursday, but his status would not be determined until Friday's shootaround.

Kurt Thomas (FC, Phoenix)
Thomas suffered a hyperextended left elbow on Monday, and he is expected to miss between four and six weeks as a result. The Suns do not plan to make any roster moves in the interim. "I think we can weather the storm," said Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.

Stat of the Week
Were you one of the fantasy owners who, like me, was scared off by the "sharp pain" that Amare Stoudemire was experiencing in his knees in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season? Well, don't we look silly now? Amare's season-high 42 points (1/15 at Memphis) was just another in a long string of solid performances, and his injury concerns are all but a memory at this point. His monthly splits tell the story – in 13 November games, Amare averaged 15.7 points, 8.2 boards, and 1.1 blocks in 27 minutes per game; in 15 December games, he averaged 20.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 32 minutes per game; and in nine January games thus far, Stoudemire has averaged 19.3 points, 10.8 boards, and 1.9 blocks in 34 minutes per game. Any questions?

Line of the Week
Ray Allen (1/12 vs Utah)
54 points (17-32 FG, 12-12 FT), 8 3PTM, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers
Allen scored a career-high 54 points in the 122-114 overtime win over the Jazz, ending a six-game losing streak that the Sonics were mired in entering the game. Allen has upped his production since Rashard Lewis suffered a torn tendon in his right hand, averaging 26.3 points, 3.3 threes, 4.3 boards, and 5.0 assists – all above his current season averages – in the 12 games since. With Lewis expected to miss, at minimum, another month, Allen will remain the singular go-to guy for the Sonics, and should continue to put up great lines for his fantasy owners.
Others with consideration: Tracy McGrady (1/16), Dirk Nowitzki (1/14, 1/12), Gilbert Arenas (1/15), Amare Stoudemire (1/15), Carlos Boozer (1/12), Elton Brand (1/17)

Eddy Curry Line Update
The Eddy Curry Line was originally established to put a spotlight on how truly anemic Curry's overall fantasy line is. The standard: a player must average more turnovers than assists, steals, and blocks combined – in order to qualify, a player must have appeared in at least half of his team's games and averaged at least 25 minutes of playing time.

EDDY CURRY LINE – BEST AND WORST
TOP 5 (Worst) GP MPG POS NEG RATIO
Eddy Curry 40 34.1 70 132 0.53:1
Desmond Mason 37 36.5 94 113 0.83:1
Al Harrington 36 33.6 86 91 0.95:1
Zach Randolph 39 34.5 109 114 0.96:1
Hakim Warrick 40 26.0 78 74 1.05:1
BOTTOM 5 (Best) GP MPG POS NEG RATIO
Jason Williams 26 28.1 151 33 4.58:1
Chauncey Billups 29 37.5 281 63 4.46:1
Shane Battier 40 38.0 178 41 4.34:1
Chris Duhon 38 25.9 207 49 4.22:1
Marcus Camby 30 32.7 203 49 4.14:1

GP = games played
MPG = minutes played per game
POS = positive stats accumulated to-date (assists + steals + blocks)
NEG = turnovers to-date
RATIO = amount of positive stats per turnover

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