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The Skinny: Holding court

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
POSITION HOT SEAT
NEW YORK KNICKS (SF) RED HOT
1st Chair: Trevor Ariza
2nd Chair: Tim Thomas
Skinny: The New York Daily News reported Sunday that interim head coach Herb Williams would not rule out the possibility of returning Thomas to the starting lineup. Thomas has played sparingly since injuring his hamstring in early January. In 35 games as a starter, he's averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 rebounds. Ariza, a rookie, is averaging 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in eight games as a starter. Thomas has been inconsistent, but he did average close to 12 points per game while making 44 percent of his three-point attempts in December. A return to the starting lineup would put him back on the fantasy radar.
MIAMI HEAT (SG) RED HOT
1st Chair: Damon Jones
2nd Chair: Rasual Butler, Keyon Dooling
Skinny: One game after reserves played a key role in a win against Cleveland, Jones played a season-low 18 minutes against Chicago in another Miami victory. Dooling scored 13 points off the bench against the Cavs and was rewarded with 30 minutes of playing time against Chicago. After shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc in November, Jones' three-point percentage has dropped each month to a low of 27 percent in February. When he was lighting it up, head coach Stan Van Gundy was willing to overlook his defensive shortcomings. Now that his touch is gone, his starting role might not be far behind.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (PF) HOT
1st Chair: Theo Ratliff
2nd Chair: Zach Randolph
Skinny: Ratliff has started alongside center Joel Przybilla in each of Portland's past 10 games, while Randolph has come off the bench for six consecutive games after returning from a bruised knee that sidelined him for 10 days. With Przybilla and Ratliff, the Blazers have an imposing defensive frontline to complement their explosive offensive backcourt. The duo has combined for 35 blocked shots in Portland's past five games. Head coach Mo Cheeks told the Oregonian he would stick with this lineup as long as it works (Portland has won three straight), but he also acknowledged that it was likely Randolph would eventually return to the starting lineup. Randolph is averaging 15.2 points and 8.3 rebounds as a reserve.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (SF) WARM
1st Chair: Ruben Patterson
2nd Chair: Darius Miles, Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Skinny: Mo Cheeks would be happy to rid himself of Miles, and the New York Daily News reports that Isiah Thomas and the Knicks are interested. Until then, Miles will continue to come off the Portland bench as he's done for six straight games. Abdur-Rahim's recovery from elbow surgery is ahead of schedule and he could return as early as next week, according to the Oregonian. A healthy Rahim could be a threat to Patterson, but trade rumors have surrounded him as well, so fantasy owners should stick with Patterson until at least the trade deadline if he's moved back to the bench.
DENVER NUGGETS (C) WARM
1st Chair: Marcus Camby
2nd Chair: Nene Hilario
Skinny: Karl's trio of big men in Denver (Camby, Nene, Kenyon Martin) has been compared favorably to the frontcourt rotation of Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf that Karl took to the NBA finals with Seattle in 1996. Perkins averaged 11.8 points off the bench that season in the role currently played by Nene with the Nuggets. Nene's stats as a reserve under Karl (11.4 points, 8.6 rebounds) dwarf the numbers he put up as a sub under Jeff Bzdelik. Camby, meanwhile, is averaging a double-double since the coaching change. A change in starters is unlikely, barring injury, but Nene's numbers are up across the board under Karl, so for now there is room for both of these guys on fantasy rosters.
ORLANDO MAGIC (SG) WARM
1st Chair: Doug Christie
2nd Chair: Hedo Turkoglu
Skinny: As expected, Christie moved into the starting lineup Jan. 28 to help bolster the team's backcourt defense, but the move hasn't done much for Christie's fantasy value. No word yet on whether his future as a reality TV star hinges on averaging more than the 8.0 points per game he's putting up as a starter for the Magic. Predictably, Turkoglu's numbers dip across the board as a reserve, but right now he's still the more valuable fantasy commodity. He scored 31 points in Christie's first game as a starter and checked in with 22 points and three steals Friday against Boston.
Thanks to Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, fantasy NBA leagues get to run unopposed for the foreseeable future. NHL labor talks go on, but is anyone really expecting to dust off those power-play depth charts to prepare for a draft in 2005? I'm certainly not – which explains why my Hockey Big Board hasn't been updated since Quentin Griffin was looking like the NFL fantasy player of the year. Now that those Super Bowl hangovers have subsided (hopefully), fantasy owners can set about preparing for the NBA stretch run. I make this observation roughly 10 times a year, but it's hard to believe only seven weeks remain until the fantasy playoffs. Here's what went down while all eyes were on Jacksonville:

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

  • Raul Lopez started his fifth straight game for Utah Saturday, dishing out seven assists in a 108-92 win against New Orleans. Since Keith McLeod went down with a hamstring injury, Lopez has averaged 9.6 points and 6.6 assists. McLeod is eligible to come off the injured list Monday, but the Deseret Morning News reports that Lopez may get at least two more starts for the Jazz. Utah faces New York Monday night and Denver Tuesday, then is off until Friday. That's a more realistic return date for McLeod, though the second-year pro says he'd return tonight if it were up to him.

As a starter this season, McLeod is averaging a modest 8.4 points and 5.4 assists per game. However, most of those games were played with the Carlos Arroyo cloud still hovering over the Utah backcourt. McLeod was injured almost immediately after the Arroyo trade, so we have yet to see exactly how he'll react to being "the guy." In his first game after the deal, he did record 15 points and seven assists (he suffered his hamstring injury the next night). Now that Andrei Kirilenko is back in the lineup and McLeod doesn't have to look over his shoulder, he could be worth a flyer if your fantasy team is short on backcourt depth.

  • After coming off the bench Friday in his first game back from suspension, Toronto point guard Rafer Alston was back in the starting lineup Sunday when the team faced Dallas. His stats that night gave fantasy owners hope for a brighter future, as he scored 13 points, dished eight assists against only two turnovers and added five steals – though it wasn't enough to overcome the Mavs in a 122-113 loss. Both Alston and head coach Sam Mitchell are saying all the right things after the two-game suspension for insubordination. Even though he was held out of the starting lineup for one extra game, Alston did play 31 minutes and led the team with eight assists.

Toronto was 2-1 with Milt Palacio at the controls, and the reserve showed some nice versatility filling in for Alston. In his past two starts he has averaged 12 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. Both Alston and Mitchell have a tendency to be hard-headed, so while Palacio doesn't have much fantasy value with Alston back in the starting lineup, it's a good idea to keep his name in your Rolodex.

  • It's starting to look like Darius Miles will have to find another address if he's going to build upon the progress he showed in late December/early January when he became a hot fantasy commodity. He did return to action Wednesday, playing 19 minutes in his first game back from a two-game suspension, but he wasn't a factor that night or either of the next two games as Portland built a rare three-game winning streak. Head coach Mo Cheeks hinted that Zach Randolph will return to the starting lineup eventually, but has made no mention of Miles supplanting Ruben Patterson at small forward. Many Portland fans don't want to see Miles at all. In an informal poll run by the Oregonian, 54 percent of respondents said they wouldn't have played Miles after his suspension was up.

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

  • Antonio Daniels, PG, Sea.
    Daniels averaged 12.1 points and 5.0 assists on 46 percent shooting (85 percent from the line) in January. Those numbers rival the output of a lot of starters, but since Daniels comes off the bench, fantasy owners can't be bothered. Guys like Jason Williams or Speedy Claxton put up similar numbers but are much more widely owned. You have to overlook the fact that Daniels backs up Luke Ridnour in Seattle's lineup. More often than not of late, it is Daniels running the show alongside (or instead of) Ridnour in crunch time.
  • Ruben Patterson, SF, Por.
    Patterson continues to thrive as a starter in Portland's frontcourt. Will he eventually return to his sixth-man role? Probably. Can fantasy owners afford to ignore him any longer? Only at your own risk. Patterson averages 16.3 points per game as a starter, but that's only the beginning of his fantasy resume. His 2.1 steals per game as a starter would rank fourth in the NBA and his field goal percentage ranks No. 8 in the league (No. 3 if you use his totals as a starter only). Between disciplinary problems and trade rumors, it becomes less likely each day that Darius Miles will return to the starting lineup. Shareef Abdur-Rahim's eventual return from injury may finally push Ruben to the bench, but fantasy owners should enjoy the ride until then.
  • Joel Przybilla, C, Por.
    Since pulling down 22 rebounds on Jan. 18, Przybilla has tallied double-digit rebounds in seven of Portland's past nine games. Though he'll get overlooked in leagues where owners scan the waiver wire for scoring only, he'll get enough done in other categories to justify a roster spot. He has yet to score in double figures in February, but he is a rebound machine and he's blocked 17 shots in Portland's past six games – including four blocks Friday in just 13 minutes of action.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Darius Songaila, PF, Sac – Now that Chris Webber has been stamped with the permanent day-to-day tag, Songaila is a guy to keep an eye on. He's averaging 12.6 points, 7.7 boards and 1.9 steals as a starter this season.

Etan Thomas, FC, Was. – Thomas scored a career-high 23 points in Saturday's win over Milwaukee. He added eight rebounds and a blocked shot and should continue to see increased floor time with Kwame Brown out until after the All-Star break.

Nene Hilario, C, Den. – Nene has 12 blocked shots in five games under new coach George Karl. He had a total of six blocks in Denver's previous 13 contests.

Shaun Livingston, PG, LAC – The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Livingston showed no tentativeness Saturday during his first practice since dislocating his kneecap in November. His return would add some depth to L.A.'s depleted backcourt.

Erick Dampier, C, Dal. – Since his career-high 26-rebound night, Dampier has ripped off four consecutive double-doubles. He's averaging 12.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in February.

Tim Thomas, F, N.Y. – Thomas scored a season-high 23 points in just 23 minutes Friday against Sacramento. He'll be asked to pick up some scoring slack if Jamal Crawford is slow to recover from the ankle injury he suffered Saturday.

Bob Sura, G, Hou. – Sura has scored in double figures in five straight games, his longest such stretch of the season. Sunday's line was memorable: 19 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.

Jumaine Jones, SF, LAL – As a starter, Jones is averaging 10 points and a respectable 7.2 rebounds per game. On Sunday he scored 18 points and pulled down a team-high 13 boards.

Raef LaFrentz, C, Bos. – On a roll of late, LaFrentz followed up 21- and 19-point scoring efforts with a 15-rebound performance Sunday at Minnesota. His productivity could dip when Al Jefferson is activated from the IL this week.

Tyronn Lue, PG, Atl. – A strained Achilles is expected to sideline Lue for at least four games. Prior to the injury, he recorded more than five assists just once in Atlanta's past nine games.

Marquis Daniels, GF, Dal. – After declaring himself completely recovered from an ankle injury that has hobbled him all season, Daniels was sidelined by an appendectomy and will miss another week of action.

Eddy Curry, C, Chi – Curry is averaging just 3.8 rebounds in Chicago's last 13 games. His minutes are declining as Scott Skiles' frustration with his overall effort increases.

Jason Hart, PG, Cha – His second respectable fantasy run of the season was brought to an end by the return of Brevin Knight to the starting lineup.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
22 Number of double-doubles recorded by Drew Gooden this season. That includes an active streak of three straight and surpasses his total from the entire 2003-04 regular season.