Who’s ready for some NBA basketball? I know I am, and if you’re reading this, then that means you sure are too. It’s been exactly a week since we had actual regular-season games, and a whole bunch has happened. We’ve got a seven-game slate on Thursday to kick off the action, and then we’ve got nine games on Friday as we head into the home stretch of this season. A lot has changed over the last week, and even over the last 24 hours, so today, we’re just going to do some general housekeeping to get you ready for this upcoming slate of basketball and the second half of the season. I’ll update you on some injury news, and give you a few nuggets to keep an eye on as we head into the home stretch of this fantasy season. So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Kemba Walker shut down for the season
The Knicks and Kemba Walker mutually came to an agreement on Wednesday that the veteran point guard will not play any more games for the Knicks this season. Walker has been a disappointment from a fantasy standpoint, and for the Knicks, who were expecting Walker to be a huge contributor this season. It didn’t help that Derrick Rose (ankle) went down, and has missed 33 games, causing Walker to have to shoulder the brunt of the load at the point guard spot. Given his issues staying healthy in recent years, that never seems to be a recipe for success with him, and if he is able to find a team for next season, it will likely be in a reserve role, where he will be asked to do much less.
If you have been holding onto Kemba, this is officially the end of the road for his fantasy value, and depending on where he ends up, he might not even be someone that you draft to begin next season either.
New York City Vaccine Mandate expected to be lifted in coming weeks
The question all season long has always been a matter of “if” the vaccine mandate would get lifted in New York, which would allow Kyrie Irving to be eligible to play home games. It now is no longer a question of “if,” but a matter of “when” the mandate is lifted after New York City mayor Eric Adams said on Wednesday that he has a plan to phase out the vaccine mandate “in the coming weeks.”
“Yes, I can’t wait to get it done,” Adams said. “I’m not going to get ahead of the science because I’m ready to get ahead of all of this & get back to a level of normalcy… We’re moving in the right direction,” He continued. “We’re going to do it in a safe way.”
This is great news for Irving managers, so if you have been patient, it looks like you might have a nice reward coming to close the season. There is still no target date for when Irving could become eligible to play, but everyone involved is hoping that it is sooner rather than later.
Nets to “see how things go” with Joe Harris this week
Though Joe Harris isn’t worried about a vaccine mandate, he is hoping that he can get back on the court for the Nets for this stretch run just like Irving is. The sharpshooter underwent a surgical procedure on his left ankle and has not played since November 14th. After a setback in his recovery caused him to be unable to return to the court, there has been optimism that he could be back for the second half of the season. The Nets say that they are going to “see how things go” this week, and if things don’t go well a second surgery would be needed, which would likely end his season.
If you are among the 22% of people in Yahoo! Leagues that have held out hope that Harris will play again this season, this is the week where you will find out if your patience will be rewarded. Stay tuned for updates, but be ready to cut the cord on Harris if things do not go well.
Jusuf Nurkic out at least four weeks
The Blazers were dealt a gut punch on Wednesday as they found out that their anchor in the middle will be sidelined for at least four weeks with left foot plantar fasciitis. The Blazers have surprisingly won four-straight games since trading CJ McCollum to the Pelicans and Normal Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers. All of this has occurred while Damian Lillard continues to rehab from his abdominal injury. The Blazers have been feisty of late, but this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of the Blazers competing for a spot in the western conference play-in tournament. The Blazers are currently two games up on the Spurs and Pelicans for the 10th spot in the west, but at this point, it might be time to throw in the towel and tank for a better draft pick.
There aren’t too many quality replacements for the big fella currently on the roster, but keep an eye on Drew Eubanks if they decide to sign him for the remainder of the year. If not, Trendon Watford, who recently signed a four-year deal with the squad, could get thrown into the fire on the fly to finish out the season.
Cavs get Lauri Markkanen back Thursday but will be without Garland & LeVert
The Cavaliers got some bittersweet news on Wednesday, as they learned that they will be getting Lauri Markkanen (right ankle sprain) back in the lineup for Thursday, but that they will be without their star backcourt in Darius Garland (lower back soreness) and Caris LeVert (right foot sprain). Markkanen has been on the sidelines since January 22nd, but after a month, he should slide back into the Cavaliers’ starting lineup, which will likely knock Dean Wade back to the second unit. For Wade, even as a starter, he was not a factor in fantasy basketball so this will not affect much for him in that aspect.
For Garland and LeVert, their absences come as a surprise as both have been in the lineup prior to the all-star break. Garland even played in Sunday’s all-star game, which was the first of his career, and it seemed like he was moving pretty well throughout the game. He has dealt with some back soreness of late though, so hopefully, the extra rest will allow him to heal up for the stretch run. The same goes for LeVert, who is still in the process of getting acclimated with his new team after being acquired at the trade deadline. Expect a huge night from Rajon Rondo on Thursday, while Brandon Goodwin and Cedi Osman should both get boosts as well.
Lonzo Ball has started running
We are now almost a month into Ball’s initial six-to-eight-week prognosis, so we still are at least two weeks away from Ball’s return to the court. The earliest that we could see Ball would be around March 12th, but that would be if the Bulls opt for the short end of the spectrum with his recovery. The fact that he has begun running is a good sign though, and it means that things seem to be going according to schedule up to this point.
While Ball is out, continue to ride Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu in the backcourt in Chicago. Dosunmu has been surprisingly impressive of late and has put up top-75 value over the past month. He did jam his thumb in Friday’s rising stars game, but he was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, and is ready to go for Thursday against Atlanta.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to return Thursday, Dort out
The Thunder will get one of their two young stars back from injury on Thursday. Luguentz Dort will miss his third straight game with a left shoulder strain, and we don’t have much info as far as the severity or possible return date, so we are just going to have to play this one by ear for the time being. The Thunder will get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back, after he has been on the sidelines since January 28th with a sprained right ankle.
The man who this affects the most is Josh Giddey, who was on a historic tear prior to the all-star break. Giddey had tallied three straight triple-doubles, as he was operating as the primary playmaker for OKC without Dort for two of the three, and SGA for all three. With Gilgeous-Alexander back in the fold, Giddey’s usage will take a hit, meaning his streak of triple-doubles will likely come to an end against Phoenix. He is still going to be an integral part of the offense, but it is fair to expect his production to take a slight dip as he moves to more of a secondary playmaking role alongside SGA.
Malcolm Brogdon says he is “in a good place,” expects to play Thursday
The Pacers should get Malcolm Brogdon back for Friday’s game against the Thunder after he has been sidelined since January 19th with an Achilles injury. This is an injury that has plagued Brogdon all season long, but it seems like he is feeling good about where his body is physically at the moment. “If we played today, I’d be playing…I’m in a really good place,” Brogdon said after practice on Wednesday. This is an encouraging sign for Brogdon, who has played in just 28 games this season. When he is healthy, he is providing top-50 value on a per-game basis, but his biggest issue has been his availability.
Even with Brogdon back on the floor, he will have to get used to his new partner in the backcourt, Tyrese Haliburton, along with Buddy Hield, who also came over from Sacramento. Brogdon is still a huge part of the plans in Indy, so he will still have a pretty large role, but it will certainly be interesting to see how he meshes with Haliburton and how the two learn to play off of each other.
Cameron Payne not ready for return just yet
After a report surfaced that the Suns expected Payne to play on Thursday against the Thunder, Payne has walked back those reports by calling himself day-to-day, stating that he is still dealing with some complications with his wrist. He has since been ruled out for Thursday’s game, meaning that Phoenix will be without their top two point guards against a feisty Thunder squad. Chris Paul (thumb) is likely done for the regular season, so that leaves just Elfrid Payton and the newly acquired Aaron Holiday as the lone point guards on the roster at the moment. Whoever head coach Monty Williams decides to go with in the starting lineup, immediately becomes a factor in fantasy hoops, at least until Payne can get healthy.
Robert Williams missed two games prior to the all-star break with some tightness in his right calf and Marcus Smart missed one full game and half of another with a sprained right ankle. Both are expected to play for Boston on Thursday against Brooklyn. The Celtics are expected to have their full complement of players available, and they will look to pick up right where they left off before the all-star break as they had won nine of their last 10 games.
With Smart and The Timelord returning to the lineup, Derrick White and Grant Williams will head back to the second unit. White should still be a factor in fantasy hoops, but Williams is a clear drop on nights where Boston has their full complement of frontcourt players.