Less than two weeks remain in the regular season, but the NBA is about to get an infusion of high-level talent, as several key players return from injury and attempt to work off any accumulated rust before the postseason.
Kyrie Irving (97% owned) is the most significant returnee; he's back in Cleveland's starting five after missing eight games with a biceps injury. He scored 17 points with six boards and eight assists against Orlando in his first game back, and will obviously be a major factor as the Cavs battle the Hawks and Knicks for the final playoff spot in the East.
J.J. Redick (39%) returned to the Clippers for Thursday's game against the Mavs after missing two months with hip and back injuries. He came off the bench to score 12 points in 24 minutes, but shot just 3-10 from the floor (2-6 from three). He's expected to log significant minutes down the stretch and possibly replace Darren Collison in the starting lineup.
Sidelined with a knee since mid-February, Nene Hilario (41%) could also be close to a return his target date is reportedly April 9th. It's not clear how much run he'll get in the final week of the season, though, as the Wizards will mostly be concerned with letting him shake off any accumulated rust before the postseason begins.
Kevin Garnett (55%) could also be back this weekend, but it's unclear how much help he'll provide to fantasy owners. Back spasms have kept KG in street clothes since February 27, but he hasn't been much of a factor in fantasy leagues this season. With his age and injury history and the Nets' other options at the 4 and 5, it seems unlikely that he'll play enough to merit a roster spot in most fantasy formats. That percent owned number seems to be based on his reputation and legacy.
Kendrick Perkins (2%) won't offer much help either. The veteran center out since late February due to a groin injury will be on a strict minute limit and won't play in the second game of back-to-back sets. He logged just 12 minutes in OKC's win over the Spurs Thursday and did not score. Besides, Perk isn't much of a fantasy option even when completely healthy.
Picks for the Week
Greivis Vasquez (54%): Kyle Lowry has been diagnosed with a bruised kneecap, which likely means increased playing time for Vasquez over the next week or so.
Darren Collison (45%): Injuries to Redick and Jamal Crawford have allowed Collison to really step up. Redick's return shouldn't hurt his production too much, and Crawford isn't expected back until the playoffs.
Gorgui Dieng (39%): Nikola Pekovic just re-injured his bum ankle, which makes Dieng who has been a double-double machine in Pek's absence a good play for a little while longer.
Jordan Hill (29%): The Lakers will reportedly shut Pau Gasol (vertigo) down for the rest of the season, which means more minutes/responsibility for Hill.
Cody Zeller (28%): Gets a bump in playing time for the next few games as Josh McRoberts is recovering from an ankle injury.
Patty Mills (12%): Mills' playing time is inconsistent, but it seems reasonable to expect Gregg Popovich to rest Tony Parker liberally during the last two weeks of the season, especially now that their epic win streak is over.
Jermaine O'Neal (7%): Seems weird writing this sentence, but O'Neal is just about the only healthy big man on Golden State's roster currently. He should have the opportunity to produce while Andrew Bogut (pelvis) and David Lee (hamstring) nurse injuries. But be aware Warriors coach Mark Jackson will be quick to pull O'Neal when games get out of hand (which is the explanation for his four-minute outing at San Antonio on April 2.)
Ronnie Brewer (0%): The Bulls waived rookie forward Erik Murphy this week, and according to a number of reports, ex-Bull Brewer could sign to take his place on the roster. His history with the team should allow him to jump in and contribute right away, though it's unlikely that he'd play major minutes unless/until the Bulls' playoff position is absolutely set. Murphy, incidentally, is expected to draw interest from a number of teams, and could wind up getting a chance to audition for a spot on someone's 2014-15 roster.