Fantasy Forecaster: Nuggets welcome back Chucky


Even though there's zero chance that Ron Artest is reading this, he's getting an apology here anyway, as are his owners.

Last week I referenced a Sacramento Bee article that speculated on the severity of Artest's foot injury. The gist of the piece was that Artest, who'd missed two games, didn't seem to be rushing back to the lineup. Based on this info, I suggested that Artest wouldn't return anytime soon, and fantasy owners should look at other options. Turns out he played that night in a victory over the Lakers and has since put up a pair of big games.

What bothers me isn't anything the Bee did, or even that my call turned out to be wrong. It's that I didn't give Artest the benefit of the doubt.

I'm kicking myself because of something Kings coach Reggie Theus said. I'll paraphrase: Theus goes to Kings trainer Pete Youngman, who reportedly says that Artest, even though he participated in the March 7 morning shoot-around, can't go against Minnesota. So Theus tells the paper that if Youngman says Artest is hurt, he's hurt.

When I first read that, it struck me. I thought, "Well, maybe Artest is hurt." After all, you hear about pro sports trainers being pressured by teams to rush players back into the lineup, but trainers generally don't have any reason to cover for a player who's milking an injury. I thought that, but then I didn't use it in my analysis. Why? Well, given Artest's reputation (and also that I was pressed for space and time), it was just easier for me to assume he probably was checking out on the Kings' season.

You know what happens when you assume. Anyway, I won't make that mistake again. Especially when it comes to Jason Williams. More on him in a bit.

On tap (schedules through March 23)

Teams with 4 games

Boston Celtics (@ SA, @ HOU, @ DAL, @ NO)
Lineup locks:
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo
Outlook: A left heel bruise sidelined Allen on Saturday in Milwaukee, but the injury isn't considered serious. Coach Doc Rivers said Allen could play Monday at San Antonio. Of course, this schedule doesn't play to his strengths. The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are three of only four teams allowing 5.5 or fewer 3-pointers a night.

Chicago Bulls (@ NO, NJ, SA, IND)
Lineup locks:
Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Drew Gooden
Outlook: Kirk Hinrich might be finishing this season the way he started it. He's averaging just 6.8 points and shooting just 34.2 percent in his past five games. As for the recently acquired Gooden, he's making the most of his fresh start by averaging 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and shooting 51.3 percent in March. Most interesting is that the 6-10 Gooden -- who has averaged 0.7 blocks per game in his six-year career -- is averaging 1.5 rejections in 11 games with the Bulls. That said, that trend might not hold up this week, given that Hornets, Nets and Spurs opponents have averaged fewer than 4.5 blocks per game.

Cleveland Cavaliers (@ ORL, DET, TOR, @ MIL)
Lineup lock:
LeBron James
Outlook: Starting Sunday against Charlotte, the Cavs play five times in seven days. That makes Sasha Pavlovic's return all the more timely. After missing 23 games because of a left foot sprain, the 24-year-old found his stroke in his second game back, burying five 3s against Washington. Yes, the Wizards allow a league-high 7.9 treys a night, but the Raptors and Bucks aren't much better in this regard. Even with Detroit ahead, play Sasha this week.

Denver Nuggets (@ DET, @ PHI, @ NJ, @ TOR)
Lineup locks:
Marcus Camby, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin
Outlook: Chucky Atkins, who has missed most of the season because of a sports hernia injury, just might be a fantasy difference-maker down the stretch. Now, I don't want to make too much of the fact that Atkins just racked up seven combined 3s against Memphis and Toronto because both games were blowouts. Plus, except for Toronto, this is a fairly tough schedule. But as the Denver Post noted, even though veteran Anthony Carter is doing a good job, the Nuggets could use Atkins' marksmanship. (Denver is only 21st in 3-point field-goal percentage.) In the Nuggets' final 12 games, they play Memphis, Golden State and Phoenix twice, and Sacramento, Seattle and the Clippers once. Atkins can help you.

Golden State Warriors (@ SAC, @ LAC, HOU, @ LAL)
Lineup locks:
Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis
Outlook: The Warriors are closing out a stretch of eight games in 13 days. And since I seem to be focused on guys returning from long-term absences, Andris Biedrins might be a good play this week, with Kings and Clippers opponents averaging better than 5.0 blocks per game.

Houston Rockets (BOS, @ NO, @ GS, @ PHO)
Lineup locks:
Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston
Outlook: Gutless call of the week: With this set of games, fronted by Sunday's home tilt with the Lakers, Houston's win streak doesn't survive the next seven days. But games against the Warriors and Suns is reason enough to stick with your Rockets, including Luis Scola and Shane Battier.

Indiana Pacers (NY, CHA, MIN, @ CHI)
Lineup locks:
Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy
Outlook: Ronald Murray made his first start with the Pacers on Saturday, posting 11 points and 3 steals at Orlando. But before you assume Flip has moved ahead of Travis Diener, note that Diener played 28 minutes off the bench against the Magic, while Murray played only 20. Really, the only reason you would be interested in Murray is if you need to make up ground in steals. The 27-year-old has 10 of them in his past six games, and Knicks, Bobcats, Timberwolves and Bulls opponents all get a fair amount of steals.

Los Angeles Clippers (@ MIN, GS, @ POR, POR)
Lineup lock:
Corey Maggette
Outlook: As if the Clippers didn't have enough problems, Al Thornton sustained a right leg contusion Saturday at Washington and didn't return. Check for updates before deciding whether to use him this week.

Los Angeles Lakers (@ DAL, @ Utah, SEA, GS)
Lineup locks:
Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom
Outlook: Phil Jackson told the Riverside Press Enterprise that he'd be ecstatic if Pau Gasol missed only three games because of his left ankle sprain. So don't expect to see Gasol again on this road trip. Bold and/or blocks-challenged owners could respond by acquiring Ronny Turiaf, who has averaged 1.7 blocks in his 12 starts this season. Jazz, Sonics and Warriors opponents all average more than 5 blocks per game.

Memphis Grizzlies (CHA, @ MIN, @ NY, SAC)
Lineup locks:
Mike Miller, Rudy Gay
Outlook: With Darko Milicic was out Saturday because of a sore right foot, Hakim Warrick went off for 23 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals against the Warriors. That's noteworthy, but also note that Kyle Lowry started alongside Mike Conley, and Lowry produced 12 points, 5 assists and 5 steals. Both are good plays this week with the Bobcats, T-Wolves, Knicks and Kings all allowing at least 101 points per game.

Miami Heat (@ MIL, @ TOR, WAS, @ CHA)
Lineup locks:
Shawn Marion, Ricky Davis
Outlook: Back spasms kept Marion out Friday against Orlando, but he could return tonight at Dallas. Speaking of that game against the Magic, Jason Williams twice sprained his right ankle, but he kept playing and kept the injury-ravaged Heat close with a season-high 34 points. As the Palm Beach Post noted, J-Will's timing was interesting, in that he's a free-agent-to-be and makes his home in Orlando. Williams denied he was showcasing his skills for a potential future employer, and, as I said, I'll give him the benefit of a doubt. With Dwyane Wade shut down, Williams just has his hands on the ball more. And that's a good thing, at least for this week, with the Bucks, Raptors and Wizards ranked 24th, 29th and 30th, respectively, in 3-pointers allowed. And add Daequan Cook, who's averaging 14.7 points and 3.0 3s in his past three starts.

Minnesota Timberwolves (LAC, MEM, @ IND, NY)
Lineup locks:
Al Jefferson, Randy Foye
Outlook: Another bad team with a glorious schedule. Clippers, Grizzlies and Knicks opponents are all shooting at least 46.5 percent. Certainly Ryan Gomes -- 17.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals over his past five games -- should see continued success. Deep leaguers could take a flyer on rookie Corey Brewer, who has three straight games of double-digit scoring.

New Jersey Nets (@ CHI, ATL, DEN, @ PHI)
Lineup locks:
Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson
Outlook: Josh Boone had 19 points and 13 rebounds Saturday against the Jazz, his first double-double since Feb. 26. He also blocked a pair of shots, and that could be a sign of good things to come, considering Bulls, Hawks, Nuggets and Sixers opponents average at least 4.9 rejections per game. Chicago, in fact, has allowed 5.8 shots blocked per game, third most in the league. It's also worth noting that since the start of February, the rookie is shooting around 60 percent from the line. Considering Boone was in the 30s for much of the season, that's quite an improvement.

Orlando Magic (CLE, WAS, PHI, @ ATL)
Lineup locks:
Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu

San Antonio Spurs (BOS, @ CHI, SAC, @ DAL)
Lineup locks:
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker
Outlook: Gutsy call of the week: The Spurs won't win the West. They've lost their past five road games, allowing 98.0 points a night in the process. I find that a bit unsettling.

Toronto Raptors (@ Utah, MIA, @ CLE, DEN)
Lineup lock:
Anthony Parker
Outlook: You knew the Raptors would miss Chris Bosh's 22 points and 9 rebounds, but they're absolutely lost without his defensive presence. Including the night Bosh got hurt, Toronto is allowing 111.6 points over its past nine games. At least Parker has picked it up; he's averaging 20.0 points, 1.8 3s and 60.5 percent shooting in that span.

Washington Wizards (ATL, @ ORL, @ MIA, DET)
Lineup locks:
Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler
Outlook: Brendan Haywood missed Saturday's game because of a strained left patella tendon, but the Washington Post says he's expected to return Monday against the Hawks. You might not want to take the chance this week, though, since Magic, Heat and Pistons opponents get only about 4 blocks per game.

Teams with 3 games

Atlanta Hawks (@ WAS, @ NJ, ORL)
Lineup locks:
Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Mike Bibby

Charlotte Bobcats (@ MEM, @ IND, MIA)
Lineup locks:
Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton
Outlook: Welcome back, Crash. And take back Matt Carroll. Sure, he scored only 3 points against Houston, but Memphis and Miami allow around 7 3s a night, while Indiana is even more futile at defending the long ball. Only the Wizards, Raptors and Nuggets allow more 3s than the Pacers' 7.6 allowed per outing.

Dallas Mavericks (LAL, BOS, SA)
Lineup locks:
Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard

Detroit Pistons (DEN, @ CLE, @ WAS)
Lineup locks:
Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton
Outlook: Tayshaun Prince is having a terrific March, averaging 18.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 50.0 percent shooting. The good thing with this schedule is that playing the Nuggets and Wizards feeds Prince's assist splurge -- Denver opponents drop 25.0 dimes a night, most in the league, while Washington allows 23.5 assists per night, fourth most. But the Nuggets and Wizards do have some good defensive numbers. Denver holds opponents to 45.0 percent shooting, ninth-best in the league, while Washington is 11th in scoring defense, with 98.5 points allowed.

New Orleans Hornets (CHI, HOU, BOS)
Lineup locks:
Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic
Outlook: West, who sprained his right ankle Friday against the Lakers, will be a game-time decision Sunday when the Hornets visit the Pistons.

New York Knicks (@ IND, MEM, @ MIN)
Lineup locks:
Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, David Lee

Philadelphia 76ers (DEN, @ ORL, NJ)
Lineup locks:
Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Samuel Dalembert

Phoenix Suns (@ POR, @ SEA, HOU)
Lineup locks:
Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa

Portland Trail Blazers (PHO, LAC, @ LAC)
Lineup locks:
Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge

Sacramento Kings (GS, @ SA, @ MEM)
Lineup locks:
Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Beno Udrih
Outlook: In three games since returning from a right foot injury, Artest is averaging 21.7 points, 2.0 points and 5.0 steals. That's right -- he had four against the Lakers, six against the Blazers and five against the Suns. And this week he gets the Grizzlies, whose opponents average a league-high 9.0 steals per game.

Seattle SuperSonics (PHO, @ LAL, @ Utah)
Lineup locks:
Kevin Durant, Chris Wilcox

Utah Jazz (TOR, LAL, SEA)
Lineup locks:
Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur

Teams with 2 games

Milwaukee Bucks (MIA, CLE)
Lineup locks:
Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut
Outlook: Bogut sat Saturday, due to a deep left thigh bruise. He could return Tuesday, but with this schedule, you might not want to risk it.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at editor_njt64@yahoo.com.