John Salmons steps up game
Even before extra touches were opened up by Brandon Jennings' broken foot, John Salmons was picking up his game. But he's taken advantage of the extra play; dating to Jennings' last game, Salmons has scored at least 18 points in five of six contests. On Tuesday night, he had 18 points, two dimes, two triples and a block. For the month of December, Salmons is averaging 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 3-pointers, 1.3 steals per game and 79 percent from the free throw line. The only catch with Salmons' production lately has been his atrocious shooting from the field. He's averaging only 39.5 percent this month and was 5-of-17 from the field Tuesday. Salmons should be able to correct this problem because he's actually a good shooter. In fact, he averaged 46.7 percent in 30 games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. And aside from shooting 42 percent in 51 games for the Chicago Bulls last season, Salmons hadn't shot worse than 47 percent since the 2006-07 campaign (45.7 percent). Even after Jennings returns, I expect Salmons to continue to be valuable in most fantasy leagues. He remains one of the more underappreciated players in fantasyland.
• DeJuan Blair had 17 points on 8-for-14 shooting and pulled down 15 boards Tuesday, the third time this month that Blair has had at least 15 points and 12 rebounds in a game. Impressively, he posted last night's line against a tough Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt. The trouble is that Blair has to compete against the San Antonio Spurs' tough frontcourt just to get a chance to play. So we don't know from game to game whether he's going to post a monster double-double like he did Tuesday or an eight-point, four-rebound line like he did Sunday. He's definitely worth keeping an eye on, though. If the Spurs decide to limit the minutes of their veterans later in the season, or if one of them is felled by an injury, Blair could be a double-dub machine.
• Rookie Ed Davis had the best game of his brief career Tuesday, finishing with 17 points (6-of-8 field goals), 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Unfortunately, aside from that line and a 10-10 game Dec. 15, Davis hasn't done anything remotely relevant in fantasy terms this season. Davis, the 13th overall pick in the draft, has a load of talent, so this line isn't out of place for him. The trouble is going to be carving out enough minutes and touches on a regular basis to allow him to post these numbers regularly. That'll be even more difficult once Andrea Bargnani returns from his calf injury.
• Dirk Nowitzki missed Tuesday's game because of the knee injury he suffered the night before. The good news is that an MRI revealed only a sprain, so he shouldn't be sidelined for long, though the Dallas Mavericks haven't announced a timetable for his return. The Mavs play the Spurs on national television Thursday, so he'll want to play, but we may not see him until this weekend or even later. Judging by Tuesday's performance (shooting 41 percent in an 84-76 loss to the Toronto Raptors), the Mavs look like a lottery team without Nowitzki, so it's safe to assume they'll think long-term and not push him back until he's physically ready. Shawn Marion started in place of Nowitzki but mustered just 12 points, five rebounds and three turnovers against his former club.
• Carmelo Anthony is not expected to play Wednesday, as he's still dealing with the loss of his sister. The Denver Nuggets don't play again until Saturday. J.R. Smith finished Tuesday's game with 17 points and 3 3-pointers, though he missed nine of his 15 shots. It looks like he should get at least one more start Wednesday before Melo's potential return this weekend.
• It turns out that the elbow injury that forced Russell Westbrook out of Monday's game will not keep him from taking part in Wednesday's contest against the New Jersey Nets. He was diagnosed with a stinger, which caused numbness in the joint, but he's slated to lace 'em up Wednesday, so keep him in your lineups.