The Hoops Lab
Situations to watch and Quick Hits
Happy returns: Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko have all returned to the court this week after injury absences. It goes without saying that if any of these players were cut and are miraculously still available on your free agency wire, you should stop reading this article immediately and go pick them up. I mean right now.
It is also worth noting that outside of Brand, all of the other returnees play for teams with some chance at the postseason. Brand's Clippers are lottery-bound, but Brand had something to prove in returning from his first major injury (and it also must be pointed out that this is a contract year for him). But for the majority of lottery-bound teams, this time of season is when injured players are more likely to shut it down. Which leads to my next point...
Falling like flies: The finish line to this NBA season is in sight, which means that end-of-the-season priorities have come to the fore. While playing through aches and injuries is a staple of the league in January, by April coaches and players have to look at the standings and decide whether it's more important to the team's outlook for a player to continue to tough it out or shut it down.
Dywane Wade and Eddy Curry were the first impact players to be shut down, but over the last couple of weeks of the season expect many more to join them. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has announced that Chris Kaman is done for the year. It will be absolutely shocking (in a win the lottery kind of way) if Shawn Marion plays another minute for the Heat this season. For the teams that are far out of the playoffs, it makes much more sense to let their ailing stars get a jump start on healing/resting for next season.
This phenomenon is not limited to lottery teams, though, as contenders that have already essentially clinched their playoff position also will be resting their veteran stars more over the next two weeks. The Pistons sat Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace on Tuesday against the Timberwolves. Coach Doc Rivers of the Celtics has hinted that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce could all see very limited (if any) action on Saturday night against the Bobcats. The extremely tight race out West likely prevents any extra rest for their stars, but for teams like the Celtics, Pistons, Magic and possibly the Cavaliers it could soon be time to let the starters do more cheering from the bench as the reserves get their run to finish the year.
Fantasy killing Heat: While many lottery teams may start resting their players, the Heat have taken it to the next level. Their current rotation contains at least four players that played in the NBDL, and they have been losing every night by what seems like 100 points. This is bad for fantasy owners with players on opposing teams, as they invariably are playing only three quarters in a blowout. The Heat are the exact opposite of the Nuggets and Pacers right now - if you have a tough roster decision, and one of the players you are considering is playing the Heat, that could be a good tiebreaker for sitting that player down.
New Kidd: There was a silver lining to the Nowitki injury, in that it allowed Jason Kidd to establish himself on his new team. Kidd had struggled since being traded to Dallas, mixing terrible shooting percentages with an uncertain role that was leading to decreased roto production across the board. With Nowitki out Kidd seemed to find himself, averaging 16 points, 12.5 assists, 6.8 boards and 3.5 steals per on respectable 46% shooting from the field over his last four games.
Al Thornton: Thornton has been putting up massive numbers over the last few weeks as the Clippers have made him more of a focal point of the offense. He's averaging 24 points, 6.2 boards, and 1.6 steals over his last five games.
Josh Boone: Boone has averaged 12.8 points, 10.8 boards and 1.8 blocks per over the past five games as he's established himself as the primary big man on the Nets.
Chris Quinn: No matter how badly the Heat may play, there are still some points to be had. Quinn is apparently going to be the primary point producer for Miami down the stretch, as he has taken over to score 13.4 points with 7.2 assists and 5.0 boards per over his last five games.
Article first appeared 4/3/08