This article is part of our NBA Observations series.
We're in the midst of Week 18 of the fantasy basketball season, which means the playoffs are underway in a number of leagues. Hopefully you checked out our postseason strategy guide before setting your lineups, but either way this promises to be yet another unpredictable week as some teams jockey for playoff position, while others (not going to name any names but looking at you, Detroit and OKC) go to extreme lengths to preserve their lottery odds.
Thankfully, COVID-related absences have been on a sharp decline over the past several weeks, but the league continues to be ravaged by injuries. Several big names -- including Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler -- have landed on the shelf within the last few days, leaving fantasy managers without key contributors at the worst possible time.
In this week's trip around the league, we'll check in on those injuries, as well as highlight the biggest newsmakers in the world of fantasy basketball.
Big-Name Injuries Piling Up (Again)
In a season that's become increasingly marred by key players missing significant time, the cycle continues in Week 18.
Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler are among the All-Stars who have already missed multiple games, while Myles Turner (foot) looks to be facing an extended absence. On top of that, Kevin Durant (thigh) will not play Tuesday night against New Orleans, and it's possible he could be looking at yet another multi-game absence as the Nets play on the second half of a back-to-back Wednesday at Toronto.
- Lillard will sit out his third straight game Tuesday night against the Clippers. Thus far, Anfernee Simons has essentially filled his spot in the rotation, playing exactly 30 minutes in both of the games Lillard has missed. He's totaled 21 points, six boards, six assists, two steals and a block while shooting 4-of-12 from three.
- Mitchell sprained his ankle against the Pacers on Friday and Wednesday's game in Houston will mark his third straight absence. On Saturday, the Jazz ruled Mitchell out for "at least a week," so he could miss both of the team's upcoming matchups against the last-place Timberwolves (Saturday and Monday). Jordan Clarkson will be the primary beneficiary as long as Mitchell remains out.
- Butler sat out his second straight game Monday night against Houston, but even with Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro also inactive, the Heat still cruised to a 113-91 victory. Butler could be back in the mix as soon as Wednesday night in San Antonio. Kendrick Nunn went for a season-high 30 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 39 minutes Monday night. Both Herro and Adebayo should be considered day-to-day.
- Turner was initially deemed questionable for Monday's matchup with the Spurs, but a few hours before tip-off, the Pacers announced that he sustained a partial tear of the plantar plate in his right big toe. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea. But Turner was slapped with the dreaded "out indefinitely" designation, so a multi-week absence is a real possibility. Domantas Sabonis also missed Monday's game with a sore back, but the Pacers may have been exercising caution on the second night of a back-to-back.
Davis Close, LeBron Still 'Weeks Away' from Return
Following Monday night's loss to the Jazz, coach Frank Vogel provided updates on his pair of superstars. Vogel confirmed that Anthony Davis was able to do some on-court work Monday morning, as he continues to "build up" before making his return, which could come as soon as Thursday night in Dallas.
Vogel stopped short of declaring that Davis will play Thursday, noting that he's still concerned about the big man's conditioning. "The biggest thing is conditioning right now," Vogel said. "He's healthy. But having not played and not really being able to ramp up his physical on-court activity over the last two months, it's going to take some time before he gets his wind under him and obviously, that's the biggest thing. Because if his legs aren't under him, we don't want him to be at risk for re-aggravation of the injury or another injury."
If Davis, who's been out since mid-February, is ultimately held out Thursday, his return would almost certainly come Saturday (at Dallas) or Monday (at Orlando). Of note for fantasy managers: Vogel told the media Davis will face a restriction of roughly 15 minutes for at least his first two games back in the lineup.
While most of the attention is focused on Davis' long-awaited return, LeBron James remains "weeks away" from getting back on the court. James has been able to do some "light work" in recent days, per Vogel, but the Lakers will exercise extreme caution with the reigning, four-time Finals MVP.
If James were to miss two more full weeks, he'd have only seven games to ramp back up before the start of the postseason. And in that final seven-game stretch, the Lakers play three back-to-back sets.
Can Anyone Slow Down Steph?
In short, the answer lately has been absolutely not. Fresh off of another monster game Monday night in Philly, Curry remains in the midst of the best individual stretch of his career. In the last 11 games, he's averaging 40.0 points (!!), 6.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and a mind-boggling 7.1 made threes per game on 49.7 percent shooting. Curry has at least 10 threes in four of his last five games, hitting 46-of-83 attempts in that stretch. Ludicrous numbers.
It goes without saying that Curry is the number-one-ranked fantasy player since the start of April, but he's still a fairly distant second behind Nikola Jokic, who put up a casual 47-15-8 line Monday night, in full-season value.
Good News out of Charlotte
The Hornets, the NBA and fantasy managers alike received excellent news Monday night, as LaMelo Ball has been cleared to return to basketball activities. The No. 3 overall pick played his last game exactly a month ago, and there's hope that he'll be back on the court within 7-to-10 days. Optimistically, that could mean Ball makes his return as soon as next Tuesday against Milwaukee.
If that's the case, Ball could play in as many as 12 more games, which would push his regular-season total to 53. Given the commanding Rookie of the Year lead he'd established before the injury, 53 would likely be enough for Ball to capture the award.
On Monday night, Ball was re-installed as the favorite at Bet MGM, swiftly moving from +170 to -250. Anthony Edwards moved from -139 to +180, while Tyrese Haliburton dropped from +200 to +600. Translation: Ball is back in the driver's seat.
- Speaking of Haliburton, the 21-year-old looks to have hit the proverbial rookie wall over the last few weeks. He bottomed out with just three points and two assists in 16 minutes against Dallas on Sunday, scoring fewer than 10 points for the fifth time in nine games. During that stretch (beginning April 2 against the Lakers), Haliburton is averaging just 9.7 points, 5.0 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals with an ugly 41-32-70 shooting line. His workload, which has now declined in five straight games, will be something worth monitoring.
Odds and Ends
- With Jonas Valanciunas (concussion) sitting out Monday's double-OT thriller against Denver, rookie Xavier Tillman (5% rostered) started at center and posted career-highs in points (18), rebounds (14) and minutes (41), while adding two steals, two threes and a block. The two overtimes obviously inflated Tillman's numbers, but he could be a streaming option in daily lineup leagues if Valanciunas misses Wednesday's game against the Clippers.
- With Dillon Brooks also out Monday, De'Anthony Melton (15% rostered) popped for 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals in 41 minutes. Coming off of an eight-game absence, Melton wasn't even cleared to play until a couple hours before tip-off.
- Memphis continues to play things close to vest with regard to Jaren Jackson Jr., who's yet to play this season. Late last month, the team said Jackson would return before the end of April, but he's still without a target date. Jackson was briefly bumped up to "doubtful" for Monday's game before being ruled out. Memphis has only five more games on the schedule before the end of the month.
- Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Jabari Parker showed up in Boston over the weekend and made an immediate impact, providing 11 points (5-6 FG) in 16 minutes off the bench during a 119-114 win over Golden State on Saturday night. Parker saw 16 minutes again Monday against Chicago, this time posting eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. Boston has struggled to find bench scoring all season, but given Parker's defensive deficiencies it's hard to imagine him holding on to a significant role. Evan Fournier has missed the last eight games due to the league's health and safety protocols.
- George Hill made his 76ers debut Monday, playing 17 minutes off the bench on a night when Philly was without Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. The veteran didn't look great -- two points, 1-5 FG -- but he has some rust to shake off after missing nearly three months with a thumb injury.
- Julius Randle once again led the way as the Knicks notched their sixth straight win Sunday against New Orleans. During the winning streak, Randle is averaging 30.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.8 threes and 1.5 steals in a whopping 40.8 minutes per game. For the season, he's climbed to sixth overall in total value (8-cat) and 23rd in per-game value. Randle finished last season 68th in total and 87th in per-game value.
- A month ago, Moses Brown (51% rostered) was one of the year's biggest breakouts, but his production -- and minutes -- have declined sharply of late. Brown was held scoreless for the second straight night Monday against Washington, while his workload decreased for the fourth consecutive game. Fantasy managers who rolled the dice and started Brown on a three-game week should be (rightfully) panicking.
- Kelly Olynyk (73% rostered) has now started nine straight games for the Rockets, and he ranks inside the top-20 in eight-cat leagues during the month of April (11 games). In 31.6 minutes per game, Olynyk is putting up 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.1 threes with a 59-43-81 shooting line.
- D'Angelo Russell remains on a soft minutes limit, despite playing in eight straight games, including both halves of a recent back-to-back set. He's played between 20 and 24 minutes six of those eight games and is yet to reach 30 minutes since returning from a knee injury on April 5. Obviously, it's a disappointing development for fantasy players who stashed Russell on IR for two months, though he's still managing 18.4 points, 4.5 assists and 2.5 threes per game.
- Detroit's Isaiah Stewart (54% rostered) looks like the new-and-improved Moses Brown. The rookie big man has a double-double in three straight games, punctuated by an 18-point, 16-rebound, three-block, three-steal eruption Monday against the Cavs. Whenever Mason Plumlee rests, as he did Monday, Stewart takes full advantage. At this point, it wouldn't be a surprise if Dwane Casey turns the starting job over to Stewart full-time over the final few weeks of the regular season. If that's the case, Stewart has the potential to be a player who single-handedly swings fantasy leagues.