- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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Matchups for Monday, Dec. 29
All times are ET.
Key: Opp. PPG = Points per game allowed to opponents. Opp. FGP = Field goal percentage allowed to opponents. RPG Diff. = The difference between a team's rebounds per game and its opponents' rebounds per game.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, Nuggets (elbow)
Ron Artest, SF, Rockets (ankle)
Shane Battier, SF, Rockets (foot)
Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz (quadriceps)
Caron Butler, SF, Wizards, (ankle)
Drew Gooden, PF/C, Bulls (ankle)
Richard Hamilton, SG, Pistons (groin)
Allen Iverson, SG, Pistons (groin)
Corey Maggette, SG/SF, Warriors (hamstring)
Kenyon Martin, PF, Nuggets (wrist)
Tracy McGrady, SG/SF, Rockets (knee)
Jermaine O'Neal, PF/C, Raptors (shoulder)
Mehmet Okur, C, Jazz (back)
Zach Randolph, PF/C, Clippers (knee)
Start 'em, sit 'em
If Carmelo Anthony plays Monday, it obviously will negatively impact J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin. Nene's production has tapered off in December as he struggles to deal with the lasting effects of his cancer battle. Still, he has posted four strong games in a row, making him a must-start and strong sell-high candidate. Josh Smith has posted back-to-back season highs in points scored (19 and 24, respectively) as he seems to be adjusting to playing on his bad ankle. If you bought low, accept my congratulations. Orlando is one of the best fantasy teams in the NBA because of its rock-solid rotation (minus shooting guard) and four must-start players. But what make the Magic truly special are their 3-pointers (9.7 per game, second only to the Knicks). Even better, the 3s are concentrated primarily among only three players: Rashard Lewis (2.8 per game), Hedo Turkoglu (1.7) and Jameer Nelson (1.8). The Pistons are becoming a very tough team to peg for fantasy purposes, but amid their statistical turmoil, Rasheed Wallace is turning it on (14.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 3-pointers, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks in his past five games). Drew Gooden has missed a week with an ankle sprain but is projected to return to action Monday. He still should remain on your bench until he gets a productive game or two under his belt. Marc Gasol is in for a nice run with Darko Milicic out for four to six weeks. I'm thinking he'll go for 12 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks a night throughout January. Jeff Green found real consistency in December and has a nice matchup in Phoenix. I don't even think about not starting him at this point, and you should share my attitude. Caron Butler missed a rare win in Saturday's epic throwdown with the Thunder, but he should be back for Monday's date with the Rockets. Rafer Alston is going through one of his mini-slumps (16 points combined in his past two games), but he'll have a great matchup against the Wizards and his fantasy doppelganger, Mike James. Listening to Tracy McGrady owners wishing they hadn't drafted him is akin to hearing people wish they hadn't had three Hot Toddies the night before having to write a column. You should have known what you were getting into. Damn this holiday spirit. Jamario Moon's numbers (27 points in his past five games) seem somehow linked to Jermaine O'Neal's (105 points in the same span). Sit Moon and trade O'Neal while he's relatively ambulatory. All I can figure is that Andrei Kirilenko made a new deal with his wife. He hasn't played this well (14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds in his past five) since his yearly pass became public knowledge. Both Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph should be good to go in your lineups by Monday night.
Owners looking for matchups with high fantasy potential should gravitate toward Chicago-New Jersey and Phoenix-Oklahoma City. All four teams are giving up more than 102 points a game. Stan Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel, "Keith Bogans is playing with the fire and grit of two Keyon Doolings and will remain the starter until we stop playing in such an unrelentingly awesome manner." I'm paraphrasing, but those of us hoping for bigger things from Mickael Pietrus will remain disappointed. And don't even think about picking up Bogans. If Richard Hamilton's groin pull keeps him out of Monday's game, Amir Johnson will be a nice one-game grab. He's an energy guy capable of big defensive numbers (four blocks against the Bucks on Friday night). Rodney Stuckey drops 40 on the Bulls, follows it up with two solid outings and is still owned in only 55 percent of all leagues? Stuckey fits the mold to a T in terms of most desirable roto pickup, a second-year player with tremendous athleticism who's trending upward in every conceivable category (15.8 points, 6.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals per game in December). It's starting to look as if Thabo Sefolosha will retain some value as long as Luol Deng remains sidelined (one to two weeks). His performance won't be anything flashy, but he's golden in the steals department (1.2 per game in only 16.5 minutes this season). Drew Gooden's probable return may not affect Tyrus Thomas as much as you'd think, as Thomas has proven effective in a bench role (16 points, nine rebounds, two blocks Friday night). He's a tempting pickup in deeper leagues, especially in a shortened week, but he has burned too many owners to count. Those looking for steadier frontcourt help should turn to Brook Lopez, who's been productive in four of his past five outings while averaging 2.6 blocks a night. In Milicic's extended absence, Hakim Warrick could pick up his production. He's been averaging 15.4 points in his past five games but needs 30 minutes per game to produce acceptable rebound totals. Those seeking a boost in 3-pointers should plug in Rashad McCants, who has filled in admirably for Mike Miller. Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes are also on statistical upswings as Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale continues to shuffle his rotation. There's still no return in sight for Gilbert Arenas, which means those in need of guard help have to start considering picking up Mike James. He's proven that when given a steady gig (see 2005-06), he can be Rafer Alston-esque. I know that's not saying much, but just give him a look. Keep an eye on Dominic McGuire in his next few games. He's getting entrenched as a starter, and has 11 assists in his past two games, which is rather gaudy for a defensive specialist. Looking back at 2008, I have a cornucopia of regrets, one of which is not picking up Marreese Speights in my deep league when I had the chance. Don't repeat my mistake. Here's a sentence that will keep Jazz coach Jerry Sloan up most nights: Kyrylo Fesenko is looking like a decent spot start in deeper leagues. If I were the Jazz's trainer, I'd watch my back.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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