Howard dazzles against Magic
First, D12. In the name of small sample size, I don't want to make too much of Howard's homecoming in Orlando. But what if he could make free throws at this rate all the time? In front of a jeering throng, Howard was sent to the line 39 times -- tying his NBA single-game record for attempts -- and actually got in a groove. After starting 2-of-9, Howard went 23-of-30 the rest of the way, including eight straight to end it.
We all know that 49 percent foul shooting -- and even after Tuesday, that's what he's done from the line this season -- doesn't cut it. But what could we really live with as far as Howard and free throws? If he made, say, 64.1 percent (because that's what 25-of-39 comes to), would he be a late first-round pick? If he actually reached 70 percent, does he become a top-five player for fantasy?
Perhaps it's a pointless exercise. Howard could certainly go back to clanking foul shots for the rest of the season. But if, between Kobe Bryant's relentless badgering, the disdain of fans and media and perhaps even his own self-reflection, he's actually reached new-found levels of maturity, humility and professionalism, Howard would be unreal in the fantasy game.
By the way, over his past four games, Howard is averaging 24.8 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 2.0 steals. Maybe it's just his back is feeling better.
• Now, point two: When it comes to sources of fantasy frustration, is there anything that legitimately compares to Howard and free throws? How about Rubio and field goals? Like Howard at the line, Rubio improbably got rolling from the field on Tuesday. Facing some guys in San Antonio Spurs uniforms (but not Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker), Rubio produced his first career triple-double: 21 points, 13 boards and 12 dimes. Most welcome was the fact the Spaniard went 9-of-17 from the floor. Rubio's obviously healthy now, and his numbers since the All-Star break are preposterous: 12.5 points, 9.1 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals. However, in his 10 games prior to Tuesday, Rubio shot just 34.0 percent, or approximately 5 percent below the level of freaking horrible.
Same question though: For next season, what could we live with from Rubio? I know he doesn't take that many shots (11.2 per game since the break), but it's enough to matter. Forty percent seems like a good line with him. If he can manage that with everything else he does, Rubio looks like a top-25 player -- at least -- for next season.
• Don't overlook the actionable fantasy news involving the Los Angeles Lakers: Pau Gasol could return to practice next week. Reading between these lines, a healthy Gasol likely still won't approach the numbers we're accustomed to seeing from him. But now we're talking Pau Gasol the fantasy free agent as opposed to Pau Gasol the borderline first-rounder. He's worth a shot, and he's available in more than half of ESPN.com leagues.
• As for the rest of Tuesday's action, I'll make this quick. Joe Johnson (heel) and Ryan Anderson (illness) sat out, while Zach Randolph (19 points, 10 rebounds), Larry Sanders (4 blocks, 12 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (7 points, 3 steals) returned to action. And to those owners who snared Tobias Harris (17 points, 15 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 3 blocks), kudos.
• Apparently it's awkward homecoming week in the NBA, because Carmelo Anthony makes his return to Denver on Wednesday. While Melo is prepared to play through pain, you'll want to check for updates on his knee.
• DeMarcus Cousins (thigh) didn't practice on Tuesday. Between that and a possible suspension for elbowing Mike Dunleavy, Cousins is highly questionable to face the Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, Brandon Knight (ankle) and Paul Millsap (knee) are unlikely to play for their respective teams. Paul Pierce, who was given Tuesday night off in Charlotte, should return for the Celtics, who host the Toronto Raptors.
• Jermaine O'Neal should play for the Phoenix Suns, who visit the Houston Rockets. Given the amount of practice time O'Neal missed while tending to his daughter during her recovery from heart surgery, the 34-year-old might not get a lot of minutes on Wednesday. But with Marcin Gortat out, J.O. is an excellent add for the near term. If you're looking for an immediate stat boost, Marco Belinelli seems worth using, as he faces a Sacramento Kings team that allows a league-worst 105.1 points per game. The injury-riddled Bulls have leaned on Belinelli, who's topped 40 minutes in four straight games. Both he and O'Neal are available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.