Thursday was a fount of bad injury news in the NBA. First and foremost, Kobe Bryant was diagnosed with a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. The injury won't require surgery but it will keep him on the sidelines for roughly six weeks. It's hard not to connect Kobe's knee fracture with his recent Achilles surgery and subsequent rehab, which may have left certain muscles or tendons weaker than usual and thus left him susceptible to injury. Regardless, it's encouraging that he's only been ruled out for six weeks and at least he'll have extra time to strengthen his Achilles and ankle joint, which had caused him some grief during his brief return this month. True to form, soon after the diagnosis Kobe wrote on Twitter, "#BrokenNotBeaten."
The Lakers odds of making the playoffs, unfortunately, may officially be beaten with Kobe out until early February at a minimum. It was also announced, though you may not have noticed, that Steve Nash will miss at least four more weeks while rehabbing from nerve-root irritation. Jordan Farmar (hamstring) is already out at least another week, which temporarily hands the starting PG job to Xavier Henry. Although he's had a few nice moments this season, I'm not sold on Henry as a fantasy option -- for one thing, he's never in his career averaged more assists than turnovers in a season (he's at 1.0 assists and 1.2 turnovers this year). He's also shooting a career-high 43.2 percent this season, and fantasy owners should only give him a look if they're in need of points, 3-pointers and steals. Anything else would be a bonus.
Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson and Nick Young will also have the ball in their hands more often without a true PG on the court, and all three should trade off solid games -- based upon their play to date, and particularly without Kobe, I'd rank them Johnson, Young and Meeks. Pau Gasol has improved his play of late, averaging 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 blocks in the Lakers' past seven games, and presumably he too will initiate the offense more often. As for Kobe's fantasy value in the wake of his awful injury, I think he should be cut by any owners who aren't comfortably at or near the top of their leagues (obviously an IR spot or super-deep format would change the equation). Hanging onto him for another six weeks is brutal enough and there are no guarantees that he'll be ready to roll in early February, added to which he was thoroughly mediocre in six appearances this season, averaging 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 0.5 triples, 4.3 boards, 6.3 assists, 1.2 steals and a ridiculous 5.7 turnovers.
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The Bulls have a host of their own injury concerns, which were on full display during Thursday's loss in Oklahoma City. Kirk Hinrich sat out again with a back injury, and Tom Thibodeau seemed pessimistic about his outlook before the game so I'm not expecting to see him on Saturday. D.J. Augustin was uninspiring in 36 minutes, scoring 15 points with three 3-pointers, five assists, five turnovers and one steal, while Marquis Teague did nothing worth reciting in 12 bench minutes. Hinrich will at least get a chance to recuperate, as Chicago only plays two games in the next eight days.
Luol Deng was a surprise scratch with ongoing Achilles pain. He won't play vs. the Cavaliers this weekend but he's targeting a return on Christmas Day, so hopefully this was just a minor setback. Any lingering injury, let alone an Achilles, makes me nervous when the body part is attached to Deng -- he's a warrior and will play hurt if at all possible, but he's had a lot of wear-and-tear on his body and Tom Thibodeau isn't one to limit his playing time as a precaution (he averaged 37.3 minutes in the past three games).
Jimmy Butler sprained his ankle during Thursday's game and he left the arena on crutches, which makes him iffy to play this Saturday. Even worse, Butler said before the game that his turf toe, which has already cost him 11 games this season, was still bothering him. If Deng and Butler are both out vs. the Cavaliers on Saturday, we can expect copious playing time for Mike Dunleavy (11 points, three 3s, six assists on Thursday) and Tony Snell (10 points, two 3s, eight rebounds, one steal, one block). Between the two of them, Dunleavy and Snell launched 18 three-pointers on Thursday, and the bulk of their temporary fantasy appeal lies beyond the arc.
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The frontcourt had a bit more luck, as Joakim Noah pitched in a season-high 23 points and Taj Gibson took advantage of extra playing time, racking up 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in 30 minutes. He's been quiet lately but should have another strong outing with Deng out of the lineup on Saturday.
The same can't be said for Carlos Boozer, who grabbed nine rebounds and scored 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, while playing just 27 minutes. He's been playing apathetic defense all season so when he's not scoring efficiently he's unlikely to help the Bulls, and in December he's averaging just 13.2 points on 37.7 percent shooting. Throw in 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.4 turnovers, and you're looking at a guy who hasn't been worth starting in 12-team leagues over the past three weeks.
The Thunder showed no mercy for the injury-riddled Bulls, coasting to a 107-95 victory behind Kevin Durant's 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting (4-of-5 from deep), nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and one turnover. Russell Westbrook couldn't match that nine-cat gem, but he did have 20 points and 10 assists of his own, while foul trouble limited Serge Ibaka to just five points and three blocks in 21 minutes.
Reggie Jackson was coming off his first game in over a month with sub-20 minutes played, but he bounced back to score 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting vs. Chicago (while committing a team-high six turnovers). His left hand got whacked again during the game but it doesn't sound like anything serious enough to sideline him. Even Thabo Sefolosha filled up the stat sheet, scoring 10 points with one 3-pointer, five boards, four assists, two steals and one block.
Whereas things played out as expected in OKC, the Spurs flipped the script on the Warriors at Oracle Arena. Playing without Tony Parker (shin), Tim Duncan (rest) and Manu Ginobili (rest), the Spurs escaped with a dramatic 104-102 victory on a tip-in from Tiago Splitter. The biggest standout was Marco Belinelli, who scored a career-high 28 points with four 3-pointers. That sums up how Belinelli might help your fantasy squad -- scoring from beyond the arc.
Kawhi Leonard (21 points, 10 boards) also stepped up and Patty Mills looked like a natural in his first start at PG, scoring 20 points with two 3-pointers, five boards, two assists, three steals and only one turnover. We may no longer have to wonder who will play PG if Parker misses more games -- while Mills thrived, the same cannot be said for Cory Joseph (14 minutes) and Nando De Colo (five minutes). Parker is day-to-day and he could play vs. the Thunder on Saturday, so just file away Mills' performance for future reference.
The Warriors' inexcusable loss set them back in the playoff picture (they now trail the Nuggets and Suns by 1.5 games each). It also came despite a few brilliant individual performances. Steph Curry led the way as usual with 30 points and 15 dimes, David Lee piled up another monster double-double with 32 points and 13 rebounds, and Andrew Bogut grabbed 18 boards to go along with eight points, two assists, two steals and three blocks.
Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala both struggled to get going and the Warriors' bench didn't provide much help -- Marreese Speights led all reserves with six points, and Harrison Barnes was scoreless with three turnovers in 19 forgettable minutes. Golden State will play the Lakers on Saturday -- if they can't beat a team with Xavier Henry ostensibly playing PG, we can officially sound the alarm.
I wrote two long segments which I intended to use in this column, one about tanking and one about injuries, but I'll have to save them for next week. There are simply too many practical updates to pass along (see below), and I woke up with a synapse-splitting headache so I'm not inspired to edit my diatribes down to a manageable length. But before you set lineups for Friday, be sure to read the updates on the next page.