Fantasy hoops players who landed the first pick in the draft and rode LeBron James to the top of the standings received a rude awakening once the playoffs started. Instead of having their star player lead them to a fantasy championship banner, LBJ owners probably came up short in their matchups last week, as James sat out three consecutive games before returning to action for the Heat's past two contests.
James' return was brief, though, as he's scheduled to miss Wednesday's tilt against the Wizards with the same strained right hamstring that held him out of action last week.
While James' hamstring might not be at 100 percent, the odds are that he would be playing through the pain if the Heat hadn't clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference two weeks ago. The same goes for Dwyane Wade (ankle) and Chris Bosh (knee/illness), both of whom will also sit out Wednesday's game.
Miami isn't the only squad that's guilty of resting players down the stretch, as we've seen San Antonio's Tony Parker sit out two of the past three games with what may or may not be a minor ankle injury.
And things are only going to get worse for fantasy owners over the final week of the season, as numerous other teams get locked into their playoff seeds and give their stars rest.
For the time being, manage your roster as efficiently as possible on a daily basis over the final week of the season. If that means dropping a player like the forever day-to-day Joakim Noah for a player who's guaranteed to play in the four or five remaining games on the schedule, do it. It may pain you to see Noah's name in the box score after you drop him, but he'll likely only play in one or two more regular season games, at most.
But, most importantly, take this frustration you've experienced over the past couple weeks of starless matchups as a constructive notice that all fantasy hoops seasons should end before the final week of the regular season.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Anthony Davis, F/C, NOR – As the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Davis entered the season with plenty of hype, but early-season injuries and a smaller than expected workload limited his initial impact. Any concerns that owners had earlier this year should be long gone by now, as Davis has been one of the best big men in all of fantasy over the past month. He ranks as the No. 12 ranked player on Yahoo! over the past 30 days, posting averages of 16.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line in nearly 32 minutes per game. His strong finish to the season has likely pushed him into the top-20 territory heading into drafts next year.
Reggie Evans, F, BKN – Evans has been discussed in this space recently, but we'd be remiss not to discuss him again after Tuesday's monster 17-point, 24-rebound performance. He's now averaging a mind-boggling 19.0 rebounds over the past two weeks and has even chipped in offensively with 11.4 points per game. Despite a prolonged surge that has seen Evans grab double-digit rebounds in 20 of 22 games since late February, the Nets big man remains widely available in Yahoo! leagues. He could single-handedly carry your team to a victory in rebounds if still available in your league.
Jimmy Butler, G/F, CHI – Like Evans, Butler has been discussed in this space recently. Despite that fact, Butler is vastly under-owned. In the past two weeks, Butler is playing heavy minutes for a battered Bulls squad, averaging 15.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.4 three-pointers in over 43 mpg. He even played all 48 minutes Tuesday night, which marked the return of Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli. Chicago will continue to rest some of their dinged up players down the stretch, which means Butler should continue to see a heavy workload.
Terrence Jones, F, HOU – Jones was recalled from the NBA D-League earlier this month, and he has surprisingly earned a significant role in the Rockets' rotation. Through his first four games since being recalled, Jones has averaged 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in nearly 24 mpg. He has already leapfrogged Thomas Robinson and Donatas Motiejunas in the rotation and should continue to see steady action off the bench going forward.
Francisco Garcia, G/F, HOU – Here's another player in Houston who has seen his role increase recently. Filling in for the injured Chandler Parsons (calf), Garcia has started four of the past five games for the Rockets. He has averaged 13.0 points and 3.5 treys in his four starts. While Parsons hopes to return before the playoffs, there's a very good chance he could sit another game or two first. Houston is locked into a playoff spot now, so they won't rush Parsons back, and there's a good chance some of the other regulars could get a game or two off down the stretch, which would only leave a bigger role for Garcia. He's a solid streaming option, especially if you need threes.
Jonas Jerebko, F, DET – Jerebko was stuck near the end of the Pistons' bench for much of the season, but injuries, and the team's lottery-bound status, have pushed him back into the rotation. Over the past two weeks, the Swedish forward has averaged 13.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 25 mpg. Jason Maxiell is out for the remainder of the season, and Detroit doesn't have much incentive to hand Charlie Villanueva heavy minutes, so Jerebko should continue to steady playing time down the stretch.
James Harden, G, HOU – While Harden has been sitting out practices on a regular basis over the past month with minor injuries, he has still managed to suit up and play in 17 of the past 19 games. With the Rockets clinching a playoff spot Tuesday night, there's a good chance Houston opts to rest Harden for a game or two down the stretch. He's too valuable of a piece to cut loose, but you'll want to monitor his status before tip-off each night between now and next week's season finale.
Greivis Vasquez, G, NOR – Vasquez turned his ankle in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Lakers. The Hornets' point guard has stated that his ankle is fine, but his status for Wednesday's game against the Kings is still unknown. If Vasquez does miss any action, Brian Roberts would be a nice streaming option.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, TOR – Valanciunas sustained a flexion extension injury of his neck during Tuesday's win over the Bulls. He's scheduled to be re-evaluated Thursday, at which point his status for Friday's game should be determined. The rookie big man has picked up his production significantly over the past month, averaging 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while posting solid percentages. Amir Johnson, who played a season-high 45 minutes the night Valanciunas suffered the injury, could see a nice boost if the rookie center misses any action.
Joakim Noah, C, CHI – Noah has missed nine of 10 games as he continues to deal with plantar fasciitis. The lone game he was able to suit up for during that stretch came Sunday against the Pistons, but the Bulls' big man suffered an apparent setback in his 21 minutes of run. He has already been ruled out of Thursday's game against the Knicks, and it's unclear how many, if any, of the Bulls' final four games Noah will be able to play in. Even if he does return, Noah could see limited minutes like he did Sunday night. The key for the Bulls is getting Noah healthy for the playoffs, so they won't take many chances here.
Kevin Love, F/C, MIN – Love's season officially ended this week, as he's now scheduled to undergo a minor arthroscopic procedure on his left knee to clean up scar tissue. The procedure will sideline him for four-to-six weeks, giving the superstar forward plenty of time to get ready for the 2013-14 campaign. Love finished the season with averages of 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds while appearing in just 18 games. Despite the injury-riddled campaign, Love will still likely enter next season as a top-10 pick.
Danilo Gallinari, F, DEN – Denver lost their three-point shooting small forward last week when Gallinari suffered a torn ACL against the Mavericks. No timetable for his return has surfaced yet, but Gallinari's status for the start of the 2013-14 season is in serious doubt. Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer will see increased roles in Gallinari's absence and both are worth a look in most formats.