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The Skinny: Crunch time

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POSITION HOT SEAT
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (PG) RED HOT
1st Chair: Eric Snow
2nd Chair: Jeff McInnis
Skinny: Paul Silas was fired shortly after inserting Snow into the starting lineup. Apparently, it wasn't that move that prompted his dismissal. Brendan Malone has been under pressure from local media to return controls to McInnis, but the interim coach ended that debate Saturday by naming Snow his starter for the remainder of the season. According to the Willoughby News-Herald, Malone prefers Snow's defense and playmaking. Since taking over as starter, Snow has 26 assists while committing only four turnovers. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he does little else (10 points, 3 steals in four games). McInnis' value has bottomed-out as a reserve. A legitimate fantasy option as a starter, he is averaging just 3.7 points and two assists coming off the bench.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (PG) RED HOT
1st Chair: Troy Hudson
2nd Chair: Sam Cassell
Skinny: It's becoming clear just how critical the loss of Sam Cassell has been for Minnesota. It may be too late to salvage the season, but Cassell's return has sparked the T'Wolves to a four-game winning streak, their longest since January. In those games, Cassell is averaging close to 18 points and four assists off the bench. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune speculates that it may only be a matter of time before head coach Kevin McHale makes a change at point.
TORONTO RAPTORS (C) RED HOT
1st Chair: Aaron Williams
2nd Chair: Rafael Araujo
Skinny: A starter since December, Araujo is now struggling just to get off head coach Sam Mitchell's bench in garbage time. First came news that Araujo would split starts with Loren Woods down the stretch. That came as no surprise, but it was a mild shock when Woods was placed on the injured list and Mitchell handed the starting job to seldom-used reserve Aaron Williams. In two starts, Williams has 11 points, eight fouls and three rebounds. Even in center-starved Yahoo! leagues that require starting two pivot players, this is a battle that simply doesn't matter.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (PG) WARM
1st Chair: Shaun Livingston
2nd Chair: Marko Jaric
Skinny: Livingston has started three straight since returning from a shoulder injury that nearly ended his season. He hasn't quite found his offensive stride, but Los Angeles has won two of three and he did record 11 assists on Wednesday in his first career start. Jaric probably doesn't factor into the Clippers' long-term plans at point guard, so as long as both are healthy (a rarity this season), Livingston will be at the helm.
DENVER NUGGETS (C) WARM
1st Chair: Marcus Camby
2nd Chair: Nene Hilario
Skinny: Here we go again. Nene is back playing productive minutes off the bench and Camby is on the shelf, this time sidelined by an ankle injury. Camby has missed two straight and is listed as day-to-day. Nene contributed 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks on Saturday serving as backup to Francisco Elson. If Camby is forced back to the sidelines, Nene becomes a legitimate No. 2 center option. If Camby returns at 100 percent, Nene will be left to battle Eduardo Najera for productive minutes off the bench.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (C) WARM
1st Chair: Adonal Foyle
2nd Chair: Andris Biedrins
Skinny: The Warriors are suddenly competitive and a big reason has been the spirited play of reserves Zarko Cabarkapa and Biedrins. Golden State's rookie center had a double-double filling in for an ailing Foyle last week, but has battled foul trouble since. Meanwhile, Foyle continues to do what he does best – clogging up the lane on the defensive end while mishandling passes when attacking the basket. The Warriors have a lot invested in Foyle, but they would also be wise to see as much of Biedrins as possible before preparing for the 2005 draft.
DALLAS MAVERICKS (PG) LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jason Terry
2nd Chair: Devin Harris
Skinny: This is more a battle of minutes than a battle for a starting role. Terry will continue to lead the way into the playoffs, but Harris' role has expanded under head coach Avery Johnson. It started with 17 points in 21 minutes on March 21. Harris followed with three solid efforts in Dallas' last four games, including 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals on Saturday against the Cavs. Meanwhile, Terry has scored in single digits twice after 12 straight games in double figures.
For the fantasy novice, the start of the playoffs is one of the toughest concepts to embrace. The question is a legitimate one: How can it be the playoffs if the Golden State Warriors are still playing? Well, ready or not, the postseason is here in head-to-head leagues. Much as we'd like to run the fantasy playoffs in conjunction with the NBA's second season, it wouldn't exactly be fair for owners of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and the like. The only thing they have to look forward to after April 20 is the draft lottery. Whether you're a roto or head-to-head owner, it's crunch time. Here's how things look with four weeks left in the season:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • Ruben Patterson is, by NBA standards, a little old to be taking part in a youth movement. At 29, he's 10 years older than the team's starting point guard and six years the senior of the man – or child, some might say – he's battling for minutes at shooting forward, Darius Miles. So how does he fit in? Well, not at all until recently. He spent three weeks away from Portland nursing a sore knee, or a bruised psyche, depending on who you believe. He finally returned Thursday, scoring 13 points in a loss to Seattle. So how did he fit in? By energizing the team, diving into the stands at every chance and displaying an intensity that prompted head coach Kevin Pritchard to call him the hardest working player in the NBA. Not bad for a guy some say had to be talked back to work by his agent.

The youth movement is still on in Portland, but fantasy owners should take note of Patterson's return. He played at least 30 minutes in each of his first two games back, scoring 16 points in Saturday's win against the Knicks. Miles started both games, but Patterson played more in each contest. As a starter this year, Patterson averages 15 points, five rebounds and close to two steals – solid fantasy numbers and attainable if he keeps playing starter's minutes off the bench. Also noteworthy was the performance of Derek Anderson on Thursday. He scored 18 points to go along with seven assists before missing Saturday's game with a sore back. If Pritchard continues to play the vets with an eye toward winning some games, Anderson could approach his early-season numbers when he averaged double figures and shot 40 percent from three-point range.

  • His three-game suspension for kicking a photographer served, Steve Francis was back in Orlando's starting lineup Saturday. He displayed a little ring rust. Francis made just five of 17 field goal attempts and turned the ball over six times. Meanwhile, rookie Jameer Nelson showed why he was given a shot at a starting job in the first place. Orlando trailed by seven points when Jameer entered the game late in the first quarter. When he sat down for a breather shortly before halftime, the team led by eight. Of course, head coach Chris Jent didn't demote Nelson so much as return scoring punch to the bench. If anything, his 19-point performance only solidified his role as sixth man.

The Nelson saga isn't the only development in the Orlando backcourt worthy of attention. When Jent handed point guard duties back to Francis, he also promoted DeShawn Stevenson to starting shooting guard. After three relatively quiet games, Stevenson broke out with 45 points on 18-of-34 shooting in Orlando's last two games. He doesn't have much of a track record as a scorer, but this is a hot streak worth watching. As for Jameer, his fantasy value may well survive as sixth man. With Hedo Turkoglu out, the team is desperate for bench scoring. Reserves accounted for just 11 points on Thursday (while Nelson was starting) and Jameer accounted for 19 of 33 bench points Saturday. Fantasy owners are fickle when it comes to players losing starting jobs. Check your waiver wire to see if you can capitalize on the impatience of your fellow managers.

  • It wouldn't be a weekend update without another season-ending injury to a marquee fantasy player. This week's victim, Andrei Kirilenko, was lost for the season on Thursday when he broke his left wrist. Fittingly, in what has been a miserable season for the Jazz, he sustained the injured while trying to break a fall. The free fall will likely continue for Utah. Someone has to score, however, so in the wake of the injury, upgrade Kris Humphries (17 points Saturday), Matt Harpring (16 PPG/last 5) and Raja Bell (23 points Saturday). Jarron Collins was activated and returned to the starting lineup, where he holds little fantasy value.

In other injury news, Jamaal Tinsley's foot injury remains a mystery to the Pacers, so their point guard is staying in New York to see a specialist. A return in the next two weeks is unlikely, so Anthony Johnson will remain a hot fantasy commodity. In Indiana's last 10 games, Johnson is averaging 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. More favorable news is expected for Kirk Hinrich. Chicago's floor general has missed three straight with a hamstring injury, but is expected back in action on Monday against Memphis.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Brent Barry, SG, SA
    If you drafted Barry, you might look upon his recent success and dismiss his efforts with a simple, "fool me once …" Some degree of cynicism is certainly justified. After all, he was drafted as early as the fifth round in some leagues yet was almost universally un-owned by the end of December. Now fast-forward to March and suddenly San Antonio is getting a glimpse of why they acquired this 10-year veteran. Over the past three games, Barry is its leading scorer, averaging 19 points on 10-of-15 three-point shooting. Team officials believe guard Devin Brown (back injury) will join Tim Duncan on the sidelines for the remainder of the season, so Barry will continue to see extra minutes to go with additional scoring responsibilities.
  • J.R. Smith, SG, NO
    A Skinny favorite since early January, Smith has been just inconsistent enough to retain bargain-bin eligibility as a player owned in fewer than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He's a scorer and not much else, so when the shot goes south, the hustle board numbers aren't there to justify a roster spot. Of late, the jumpers are falling. Smith recorded a career high on Saturday with 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting. It was his fourth game with 20 or more points in an eight-day span. Though he teased on Wednesday with seven assists and followed with five rebounds on Friday, he's still of interest for only those fantasy owners desperate for scoring or three-point help.
  • Austin Croshere, PF, Ind
    We haven't heard much from Croshere since Ron Artest went Grand Theft Auto on the citizens of Detroit in November. He had a brief fantasy run following the suspensions handed down by the NBA, but has barely registered on the fantasy radar since mid-December. That all changed when Jermaine O'Neal was lost for the rest of the regular season with a shoulder injury. Croshere has filled in, and filled in admirably. In his past four games, all starts, he's averaging 16 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the floor (5-for-9 three-pt. shooting). Based on his career production, fantasy owners can expect 15-16 points and 7-8 rebounds per night from Croshere the rest of the way.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Eduardo Najera, F, Den – Hustle guy is averaging 12.5 points and six rebounds on 67 percent shooting in Denver's past six games – all wins.

Keith Van Horn, SF, Dal – After a slow start with the Mavs, Van Horn is averaging just above 20 points while making 60 percent of his field goal attempts in Dallas' past three games.

Malik Rose, F, NY – In a five-game stretch that includes two starts, Rose is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in just above 30 minutes per night.

Eddie Griffin, PF, Min – The loss of Mark Madsen means more playing time for Griffin. He scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench on Sunday. Surprisingly, he didn't block a shot after swatting 11 in his previous five games.

Gerald Wallace, GF, Cha – After missing two weeks with bruised ribs, Wallace returned to the Charlotte lineup with a bang. In two weekend games, he averaged 19.5 points, eight rebounds, four assists and 1.5 blocks.

Etan Thomas, FC, Was – A starter now that Brendan Haywood is out for 4-6 weeks, Thomas scored 15 points, grabbed a handful of boards and blocked two shots on Sunday. He won't play a ton of minutes, but Thomas is an option for fantasy owners with a weak No. 2 center.

Mickael Pietrus, GF, GS – The Euro-Jordan tag is still laughable, but Pietrus has been electric in Golden State's past two games, scoring 22 and 18 points as the Warriors split against Dallas and Milwaukee. Perhaps the most Jordan-like stat: six steals in those two games.

Tony Delk, SG, Atl – Delk scored 24 and 21 points off the bench in two weekend games, making six of 11 three-point tries in the process.

Robert Horry, PF, SA – In a move that caught The Skinny off-guard, Horry replaced the injured Tim Duncan in San Antonio's starting lineup. Surprisingly, Nazr Mohammed has not benefited at all from Duncan's absence.

Andre Iguodala, GF, Phi – After flopping a set of 10's Wednesday to record a rare rookie triple-double, Iguodala helped put another nail in the Lakers coffin with an 18-point, nine-rebound, three-steal effort on Sunday.

Gary Payton, PG, Bos – Payton has played at least 30 minutes in 11 straight games, a trend head coach Doc Rivers would like to end as the team prepares for the playoffs. Concerns about Payton's ailing back may force Rivers to cut his minutes down the stretch.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, C, Cle – After averaging 22 points in February, Ilgauskas has seen his numbers decline in nearly every category, most notably shooting and scoring. Head coach Brendan Malone admits his center may be wearing down.

Sebastian Telfair, PG, Por – With the youth movement temporarily on hold (or at least shifted down a gear), Telfair is averaging just over five points and three assists in Portland's past three games.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
31 Number of three-point field goals attempted by Golden State in Friday's win over Milwaukee. As a team, the Warriors have attempted at least 20 three-pointers in 20 straight games.

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