Noteworthy NBA News: What fantasy basketball players need to know

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

We're over 90 percent of the way through the NBA season, which ends Easter Sunday. Last week, tanking was only an ominous rumble in the distance. This week it's been destruction with the Blazers, well, setting things ablaze.

Some teams are still jockeying for playoff positioning, and those rotations are relatively safe. But if your fantasy league goes through the season's final day, you'll need to quickly get acquainted with names like Trendon Watford and Sandro Mamukelashvili.

But first, some good news.

LeBron is back

After missing 13 games due to a torn tendon in his right foot, LeBron James returned during Sunday's loss to the Bulls. He came off the bench for the first time since 2007-08, and his performance was a mixed bag. He scored 19 points on 11 shots, adding eight boards and three dimes in 30 minutes, but he also gave the ball away five times.

"Obviously, the rhythm is the most important," James said. "I had a couple of drives and the ball got away from me. A couple of shots didn't feel as good as before, obviously. But I was out for four weeks, so between that and the wind, just trying to get those things back leading to the final stretch of the season."

What should encourage fantasy managers is that James saw 30 minutes. With the Lakers needing every win, the superstar should see as much time on the court as he can handle. Keep an eye out for the Lakers' final back-to-back on April 4 and 5 as a spot where James could rest, however.

Austin Reaves' managers should also be encouraged, as the scorching-hot guard still played 37 minutes in LeBron's return and posted 13 points, seven dimes and three boards. However, we'll have to see how coach Darvin Ham handles things once D'Angelo Russell — out the past two games — is cleared to play.

Blazers & Spurs pull the plug, other teams on watch

The Trail Blazers are "leaning toward" shutting Damian Lillard (calf) down for the season, as Portland is 3.0 games out of the Play-In. He's missed the past three games, while Anfernee Simons has missed the past four, Jusuf Nurkic has missed the past three and Jerami Grant has missed the past seven.

Put those guys in your Injured Reserve spot if you're paranoid, but I'd be shocked if any return this season. Shaedon Sharpe is the premier fantasy pickup — I emptied my FAAB for him in several leagues. Across the past four games, he's averaged 22.3 points, 6.5 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 37.0 minutes. Trendon Watford, Drew Eubanks and Keon Johnson also appear to have upside for the rest of the year.

The Spurs have been in the tanking business for longer, with excessive absences beginning after the All-Star break. San Antonio's situation is less actionable, however. Their key players still play but just periodically sit, leading to hard-to-predict fantasy value and tough start/sit decisions. Only three players have appeared in five straight games: Keita Bates-Diop, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Malaki Branham.

No other teams have fully committed to tanking yet, but keep an eye on Indiana, Charlotte and Utah. The Pacers sat their top three scorers Monday, Lauri Markkanen has missed four of the past 11 games for the Jazz and the Hornets' injury report Tuesday includes four key players.

With that said, when we truly reach the final days of the NBA season, EVERY team will be on watch.

Quickley drops 40 and 9 in career night

Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Immanuel Quickley popped off for a career-high 40 points during Monday's win over the Rockets, adding nine assists, two rebounds, one steal and one block with just one turnover in 30 minutes. Between hand and foot injuries, starting point guard Jalen Brunson has missed seven of the past 11 games, fueling Quickley's impressive stretch of games.

Over the past 11, Quickley has averaged 20.1 points on 44/34/85 shooting, 4.6 assists (1.4 turnovers), 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.5 minutes. Since March 5, he's been the 39th-ranked player in nine-category per-game value. His upside is capped when Brunson is healthy, but managers in keeper formats should note what appears to be legitimate long-term potential for Quickley.

Norman Powell returning on road trip

I know; we've all been craving Norman Powell updates. But Powell's impending return is a big deal for the Clippers, who will be without Paul George (knee) for the foreseeable future.

It's easy to forget how well Powell has played as a prototypical sixth man. After a rough October, he's averaged 17.5 points on 49/43/82 shooting, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists. In nine-cat leagues, he's ranked a surprising 122nd in per-game value since Nov. 1.

But his presence will also affect other Clippers players. Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland, Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann are the most at risk. If you've been streaming any of those guys, it might be time to consider other options. Notably, Hyland has been cooking since PG went down, averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 24.5 minutes, but he was hardly in the rotation before that.

Ben Simmons' season is over

It's telling what sort of season Simmons had that news of his season being over is below updates on Immanuel Quickley and Norman Powell. That said, this felt like a foregone conclusion after it was announced Simmons was dealing with back soreness in addition to his knee issue, especially once the back soreness was deemed a nerve impingement.

Simmons last played during the Nets' final game before the All-Star break, but he hadn't seen 30 minutes in consecutive games since late November. His season concludes with 42 appearances (33 starts) and averages of 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 26.3 minutes.

The Nets have their hands tied, owing Simmons $38 million next season and $40 million in 2024-25. I assume they'll play him when he's healthy next season, but predicting what sort of role he'll occupy feels impossible. His days as a franchise cornerstone are done, especially now that the Nets have a promising young piece in Mikal Bridges.

Where do we draft him in fantasy next season? I still think he's worth a flier with one of your last couple of picks, but the shine is completely gone. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.