While their last two wins came in overtime, there's no denying that the Miami Heat are on a pretty sick run. Heading into Wednesday night's affair at the L.A. Clippers, they've won 21 of their last 22 games, which indicates they're more in synch now that they've gotten used to playing with each other. While the preseason means little in my book (the Heat went 3-4), remember Dwayne Wade hurt his hamstring three minutes into the first preseason game and didn't play again until the first regular season game. By now I'm sure they've figured out each other's tendencies, which will help in close games (four of their nine losses have been three points or less). That said, I'd be surprised if they don't lose one of their next three games (at LAC, at DEN and at CHI) before heading home.
-- Conversely, the Boston Celtics seem to be headed in the opposite direction. They've gone 5-5 over their last 10 games, and it isn't surprising that they are 4-4 with Kevin Garnett out. With both Garnett and Rajon Rondo sidelined, the Celtics are 0-2, showing the duo's importance to another Boston Championship run.
-- Perhaps it's my east coast bias, but is anyone else surprised by the San Antonio Spurs? They don't just hold the best record in the Western Conference but the whole Association. Not only that, they have three losses less than the teams with the next best record. So what's working well for the Spurs? Nothing sticks out to indicate them as being a truly elite team on the defensive end. Their success can be attributed to doing everything very well offensively. The Spurs rank in the top 10 in the following team stats: steals per game (8.4, 5th), assists per game (23.1, 6th), free-throw percentage (77.6, 10th), field-goal percentage (47.0, 5th) and points per game (105, 5th). Putting this all together has led to a second-highest +7.6 average point differential behind only the Heat.
Each week we'll look at players who have received increased minutes. An uptick in minutes doesn't always translate into improved fantasy stats but at the very least offers some players to put on the radar.
Manny Harris, G, CLE – Corperryale (the name on his birth certificate) has been thrown into the backcourt mix with Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker sidelined. A rookie out of Michigan, Harris went undrafted and was "under the radar" after suffering a couple of injuries. It's telling that the Cavaliers kept him around despite his ailments, and he's paid some nice dividends lately. At 6-foot-5, Harris is an excellent rebounder and has a nice outside touch. Over his last two games, he's scored 43 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, hit five three-pointers, shot 12-for-14 (86 percent) from the charity stripe and had four steals. Expect similar playing time (36 and 41 minutes those two games) as long as Parker and Gibson are out. It's hard to imagine that he hasn't earned more minutes even after they return.
Patrick Mills, G, POR – Mills has started to receive important playing time, starting the fourth quarter and playing more minutes during the period than Andre Miller in four of the last five games. Mills hasn't done anything earth-shattering yet, averaging 11.5 points and 2.5 assists in 22.2 minutes over the last week. Last year the Australian averaged 25.6 points, nine rebounds and 5.4 assists in five games for the Idaho Stampede in the NBA D-League. If anything happened to Miller via injury or trade, Mills would become an interesting pickup.
Gerald Henderson, G, CHA – The changing of coaches has done a world of good for Henderson's playing time and fantasy value. The second-year pro out of Duke started the last four games for the Bobcats under new coach Paul Silas. The truth is he's gotten this time with Gerald Wallace out of the lineup, dealing with an ankle injury. In those four games he's averaged just less than 32 minutes a night, and his performance last Saturday (19 points, nine rebounds) shows his upside. Wallace is expected back soon, but monitor Henderson in deeper leagues to see if Wallace remains out or suffers a setback.
Each week we'll look at certain players who can help your fantasy team in the nine categories most leagues use. Remember, while each player highlighted can help in a certain category, there's no guarantee they will contribute in other areas.
Greg Monroe, F, DET – Monroe got big minutes Monday night after Ben Wallace left the game with a twisted his ankle. Monroe ended up playing 43 minutes, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two steals. Even before the Wallace injury, Monroe had averaged 13.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals. He's not the greatest free-throw shooter (54.9 percent) but can obviously help you with rebounds while chipping in mediocre point totals. A very raw but athletic player, Monroe could be headed toward substantial playing time if the elder Wallace remains out.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, G, MIL – CDR is one of the more frustrating players, as he's capable of going off one game and completely disappearing the next. He's done a nice job picking up the offensive slack the last couple of games with teammates Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden nursing injuries. In those two games, he scored 54 points with seven rebounds, six assists, five steals and four blocks. If he can keep even 75 percent of this production in the short term, he makes for an interesting pickup in deeper leagues.
Pooh Jeter, G, SAC – Remember a couple of weeks ago when I made a corny joke about his name? Since then Jeter has made the most of modest minutes off the bench and averaged 5.2 assists in January. What's impressive is that he's only averaging 17 minutes a game and has showed some potential with an 11-assist game (albeit it overtime) Tuesday. At 27, he isn't a great prospect, but if you prorate this month's assists average to 30 minutes, he'd have 9.2 assists per game. While that kind of playing time isn't likely in the near future, it's not like Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih are completely healthy. Throw in Paul Westphal's tendency to change starters and player minutes on a regular basis and it's possible Jeter could have some type of fantasy value before the season is through. At the very least, keep an eye on the former University of Portland player.
Always check your league's eligibility rules to make sure a player qualifies.
Alonso Gee, CLE – Now eligible at small forward