Hang tight with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash
All four Los Angeles Lakers starters not named Kobe Bryant scored in single digits in Thursday's loss to the Celtics, and without Pau Gasol for the next 6-8 weeks, Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark will have to shoulder increased loads. Despite Thursday's collectively unimpressive performances, however, Gasol's absence should bode well for their fantasy values, especially for Howard and Steve Nash. Howard is still rounding into shape after his offseason back surgery, and now that he doesn't have to worry about meshing with Gasol, he should see his numbers trend toward his career norms (as long as his shoulder holds up, of course). Nash should as well, as he's still determining how he best fits in this offense after missing a chunk of the early season with a broken leg. As he assimilates more, his points, assists and 3-pointers should increase, and it's clear that his shooting is still fantastic, as he's posting better than 50/40/90 percent shooting on field goals, 3-pointers and free throws for the fifth season of his career. Thursday's numbers were ugly for Kobe's supporting cast, but the complete disaster that was the Lakers' early season has somewhat passed. They've won six of their past eight, and the fantasy value of both Howard and Nash should soon increase.
• With all the hubbub around the question of who takes Rajon Rondo's place as facilitator in Boston, it's becoming clear that the answer isn't a point guard. Paul Pierce is averaging 5.7 assists per game this month. In eight contests in January and March of last season when Rondo was sidelined, Pierce averaged 7.5 dimes per game, so his uptick in assists should come as no surprise. With his crafty old-man game, Pierce should average six-plus assists going forward and could be in line to post his best fantasy season in years if his percentages trend toward his career norms. If he's traded, his value could go down, as it'll likely be to a team with a more competent floor manager than the Avery Bradley/Jason Terry/Leandro Barbosa trio, so if you own him, keep your ear to the ground about trade rumblings and evaluate his value accordingly.
• Wilson Chandler has been slowly molding into form after missing the start of the season, and he scored a season-high 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting with five 3s Thursday night. I love Chandler's fantasy skill set, and think he's on the brink of fantasy relevance in standard formats, but he'll have difficulty achieving his true potential with the logjam of swingmen in Denver. If he -- or another member of the Nuggets -- is traded, his value could increase. His potential is high, so based on the fact he's already improving, Chandler is becoming worthy of a speculative roster spot.
• Joakim Noah returned to action after missing the past three games with plantar fasciitis, but he had just two points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. I'd be surprised if he matches the career-high 38.3 minutes per game he's averaged thus far this season going forward, so even though he's a fantastic option for rebounds, blocks and steals, it'll be difficult for him to match the numbers he's posted this first half with this type of nagging injury.
• Bradley Beal might return Friday after missing the past four games with an injured wrist, but I'd wait until he actually returns and puts up some productive stats before reinserting him into your lineup. Martell Webster has been scorching in his absence (18.0 points, 4.3 3s per game in past three contests), and as the Wizards continue looking toward the future, they're in no hurry to rush Beal back into big minutes.
• Andrea Bargnani scored 13 points in 24 minutes off the bench Wednesday in his first game since Dec. 9, and he faces a tough task against a Pacers squad that allows a league-low 90.0 points per game and has held him to 27.7 percent shooting in their past five head-to-head matchups. He's involved in trade rumors and has very little fantasy value at the moment, but he does have offensive skills, with the ability to drain 3s with the best big men in the league.
• Eric Gordon admits to being at less than 100 percent, and he has missed two of the past three games with knee soreness. As much as I appreciate his game, the next time he strings together enough consecutive strong performances to amass enticing value, I'd sell him high. This lingering knee issue worries me as far as his rest-of-season value is concerned.
• Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick are both questionable against the Cavs, so look for E'Twaun Moore and Moe Harkless to continue seeing extended minutes. Both are deep-league options capable of contributing in different categories (Moore in 3s, Harkless in rebounds with some steals and blocks), and they should benefit from the current injuries that have ravaged Orlando's backcourt.
• Jerryd Bayless remains a strong play against a Warriors team allowing 117.3 points per game in its past three contests. Bayless has seen an increased role with Gay out of the picture, scoring at least 21 points in three of the Grizzlies' past five contests, and he is a legitimate scoring option going forward for a Memphis team in need of a backcourt player who can create his own shot.