Been a bad start to the year for NBA coaches.

David Blatt could have realized that all he had to do was get out of the way and let LeBron James coach. But I’m pretty sure the clock was running on his tenure in Cleveland the second he was hired.

Jeff Hornacek could have figured out how to turn Archie Goodwin into “Teen Wolf,” or mastered whatever weird magic/religion that fire woman from “Game of Thrones” practices. Not sure either one of those tricks would have turned an injury-ravaged Suns team into a playoff squad.

Somehow, without doing anything close to the above, and racking up a record of 14-35 with a talented but raw roster, Sam Mitchell has managed to keep his job.

And thanks to injuries to Kevin Garnett (wink, wink) and Nikola Pekovic (big shocker), he might actually be forced into doing something right. Mitchell is now playing his best young players, a group that so obviously includes Gorgui Dieng.

After riding the pine all year so Garnett and Tayshaun Prince could log minutes in meaningless games, Dieng finally has the starting slot and minutes (close to 40 per) that he deserves.

He’s responded by averaging 17.6 ppg and 11.3 rpg in those three starts. All Mitchell could do was mutter that he’s “getting a lot better.” No, he’s playing a lot better, because you’re playing him!

Win or lose, the Wolves have to keep running Dieng out there with Karl-Anthony Towns and make it work. Or Sam might go the way of Blatt and Hornacek.

Get Dieng, any way you can, and check out some of these other guys:

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We are entering the 4th month of Fantasy Basketball, and if your leagues run with any similarity to mine, there should be approximately 20%-30% teams in your league that are essentially approaching being out of any playoff contention. These fellows may no longer be paying attention to their daily lineup, won’t be perusing the waiver wire as much, and won’t be as motivated to do much of anything other than blame the Basketball Gods, and any analyst that whose advice they had the misfortune to follow (ah, ahem.).  If you are in a keeper league, and have a shot this year, take a close look at their lineup, and make an offer with draft picks as incentive. If you are in a total redraft, the following means little to you, and I wish you godspeed. To those of you that have a shot at scooping some quality off the basement dwellers, let me make mention of some particularly appealing cats you should try to pry away:

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You wanna know who could use some Suns is the East Coast over here! Let’s hope this weather doesn’t cost us some reschedules tonight!

Sure, sure, sure, the Suns are a mess mainly due to injuries, and of course got slaughtered by the Spurs last night. Nothing surprising there. But the Suns still deserve some slappage in a wake-up call – Brandon Knight (out last night with a groin strain) and Eric Bledsoe had rumors they didn’t like playing alongside one another, Tyson Chandler got an awful contract based on his returns thus far and Alex Len is a capable starter, and of course the whole Markieff Morris thing. Marcus Morris might be the best player on this team right now! As they continue to implode into a black hole (science metaphor!), it will create more and more opportunities for youth. Devin Booker has been a lot better than I thought as a starting 2, going 24/1/5 with 2 treys and 6-7 shooting last night. Archie Goodwin, a guy I loved going into his rookie year, had a full 20/3/2/1/1 line. And you can’t really keep a guy in the doghouse when you have 6 injured players, so T.J. Warren was back in the fold for 18 Pts. On top of investing in their youth ROS, the Suns have become the Sixers of the West for opposing rotations – no Spur regular played over 22:12 and Pop sat a lot of his guys… And they still won by 28! So keep an eye on the Suns if you’re streaming – play some of the key reserves against them and maybe on full schedule nights, you bench your backend starters as they are likely to get less run. Here’s what else went down last night in fantasy hoops action:

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The University of Kentucky basketball program was well represented in New Orleans on Tuesday night. Wildcats alums Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns produced quality multi-category lines for their fantasy owners in an oddly entertaining contest. Minnesota got up big in the first quarter, riding a hot start from their prized rookie big man; Towns finished the game 20/13/2/1/1 with a 3-pointer and a perfect 5-5 from the foul line. Unfortunately, his five turnovers and cold shooting after the opening frame (7-17 FGs) contributed to the Pelicans getting back into the game and eventually claiming the W. Regardless of the real world outcome, KAT’s fantasy owners have to be encouraged by Tuesday’s outing. He was posting per-game numbers that had him ranked only 80th through nine January contests entering this tilt with the Pellies, so the big double-double – with money counting stats to boot – was a sight for sore eyes.

Davis led the charge for the home team with an efficient 35 points on only 22 field goal attempts (plus 8-10 FTs), chipping in seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Brow navigated some foul trouble and a tight whistle while never turning the ball over in 37 very impressive minutes. He also connected on one of his two attempts from behind the arc, marking only the second time in 2016 he’s hit from deep (11 attempts). If he’s to leapfrog Kevin Durant for the best fantasy player not named Steph Curry, he’s going to have to start expanding that part of his game. His shooting stroke looks good and once a few more drop he should find the confidence to start taking more (ala DeMarcus Cousins). With New Orleans largely out of the playoff picture, they may take a developmental approach and encourage Davis to experiment with more shot variety on the offensive end. If he can avoid the little bumps & bruises he seems to accumulate on a near weekly basis, he should be a top-3 asset the rest of the way.

Here’s what else shook down on a relatively quiet four-game Tuesday night in the NBA…

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In a season beginning with high hopes for Nerlens Noel, things have been a bit of a disappointment for the third-year player, surrounded by a dearth of playmaking and shooting while struggling to play alongside Jahil Okafor. Frankly, Noel’s season could only be made worse by injury, or the brash decision to shave off his iconic high-top fade (please, whatever you do, keep the hair.)

But for one night last night, coming off 3 single-digit scoring outings in his last 4 games, Noel looked like the best player on the 76ers once again, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds to accompany 1 assist, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.

Playing a season-high 47 minutes, Noel’s extended look can hopefully provide stability to an otherwise shaky season. His effectiveness and usage have both been limited, but performance like yesterday’s show his immense potential and ability to impact games.

While Philly’s long-term success depends on Noel’s continued development, our immediate fantasy success depends on his ability to turn yesterday’s flashes into consistent showings.

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A record-breaking $1.5 billion jackpot was up for grabs in the latest powerball drawing on Wednesday. While I didn’t buy a ticket, winning that kind of money is very tempting, despite the terrible odds. The odds are so bad that Bartolo Colon is more likely to hit an inside-the-park homerun than you are at winning the big jackpot. (Interesting fact: Colon also shares a nickname with JB: Big Sexy.) Even with the odds, hopefully your number was called!

The odds of Russell Westbrook scoring 0 points is definitely better than winning the jackpot, but it’s still rare. He was ejected after 15 minutes of playing time with nary a point. Fortunately, he still contributed 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals before departing.

Another rarity: Mavericks big man Salah Mejri came off the bench to post 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block in 25 minutes. Zaza Pachulia and Dirk Nowitzki were rested, but still. Mejri had played a combined 20 minutes all season coming into the game!

Stephen Curry scored 38 points. Not that surprising. Well, how about the Nuggets beating the Warriors? Now that’s unexpected. The Warriors were playing without Draymond Green (scheduled rest day), but the Nuggets were just 14-24 coming into the game! In addition to his 38 points, Curry also added 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 threes, and 3 steals.

Those were some of the stranger games of the night. Here are the rest of Wednesday night’s daily notes:

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As many of you already know (or as my avatar may suggest), I’m a Canadian so I don’t really have a dog in the 2016 United States Presidential fight. I do, however, live close to the border and have enjoyed traveling throughout the United States (including the entire northeast, Florida, California, Colorado, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands) with my wife over the better part of the last ten years. So I have a keen interest in American politics as it indirectly impacts “my world.”

That leads me to my admission – I watched President Barack Obama’s eighth and final State of the Union address last night (and the subsequent analysis & reaction) instead of basketball. There was basketball to be watched up here, I just chose not to. But it gave me some perspective – it reminded me that a common sense approach to the big picture issues is never as simple as it should be, and that holds true in the NBA as well. Examples from some of the 16 teams in action on Tuesday alone:

  • The Timberwolves have a wealth of young talent to cultivate and yet they start Kevin Garnett & Tayshaun Prince?
  • The Suns have a cancerous presence in their locker room (Markieff Morris) and they can’t decide what to do about it – they give him multiple healthy DNPs in a row, and then they unleash him for 27 minutes, taking opportunity from someone like Jon Leuer (17 minutes) who could actually be a part of their future plans.
  • The Celtics and Knicks – both of whom are in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt – continue to run heavier-than-necessary rotations rather than identifying the best court combinations and maximizing their efficiency and output.
  • The Rockets have an extremely fragile, high-salaried starting center (Dwight Howard) who is prone to usage-related injuries and they run him for 38 minutes when they have a number of other very capable young frontcourt players to ease the burden.
  • The Bulls appear to embrace their future for a moment by giving a solid rotation spot to Bobby Portis, only to yank it out from under him (he played 4 minutes on Tuesday) once they’re back to full health.
  • The Pelicans offer center Omer Asik a massive contract in the offseason and even when he’s playing well (13 rebounds, a steal and a block, team-high +7 net rating), and they’re absent their best frontcourt player, he can’t get minutes (18).

Essentially what I’m saying is that there are a lot of things we, as fantasy owners, think should happen by any measure of common sense, but just don’t because of a number of factors beyond our control. We can go data mining until the cows come home and have an open & shut case to make why Player X deserves more minutes/opportunity, but it doesn’t matter. We can only do so much. There will always be someone on the other side who impacts that situation and we just have to make the best of it. Thankfully, the NBA has a long season and, unlike football, one or two bad weeks won’t spell doom for your campaign. I love that we get 82 games to try and figure out what the heck is going on. We’ll never be right 100% of the time, no matter that the stats or common sense says we maybe could be, but it sure doesn’t stop us from trying…

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The Slayer got Slayed! Or something like that…

After showing up to Friday’s game against the Lakers in a Slayer shirt, Russell Westbrook is trying to show he’s heavy even though he looks like an outcast from an 80s version of Annie. Are those leggings?! And I guarantee whatever he’s listening to isn’t Reign in Blood… Westy is always trying to be fashion-y, but while he spent Friday night and Saturday cutting holes in some other band’s T-Shirt for his next statement, he overlooked the Blazers and The Omen! Damian Lillard just went mad ham on Westbrook, going 31/7/9/2/0 with 8 treys, including 5 down the stretch for a comeback win. This was after going rainbow on the Warriors Friday night for 40/3/10/2/2 and 6 treys. Hopefully these stats don’t lie, and the plantar fascia is healed up for Lillard to be healthy the rest of the way. However, it is a concern as the Blazers have shown caution holding him out so long and they’re obviously not a playoff team. Hell, they even sat C.J. McCollum with no injury at all! If you’re a top playoff team with great PG stats, I might ride this Omen streak a few more weeks then sell to try to minimize some risk. A big argument in my high Lillard rank was his durability, but with a lingering injury like plantar fascia, it could easily crop back up by late-March and April and cost us games. Here’s what else went down over the weekend in fantasy hoops action, and The 7 Ahead for week 12:

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Happy 2016, Razzball Nation! I hope all of you had a fun and safe New Year’s Eve party. Because for me, well, let’s just say I woke up with no clothes on laying in a field with a partially eaten deer carcass… What can I say, I thought it was Jason Kidd at first! Dumb rotations…

The party started out all normal – Slim had some Australian ‘shine, Matty brought the poutines, Dan A DJ-ed with his awesome hip hop mixes, the Petes just wanted to talk about their decent (Wizards) and atrocious (Sixers) Eastern conf. teams, danb was too busy following his DFS slate to bring anything, charlie showed up drunk since he’s on winter break, and Adam, well, I stayed away from him since all he wanted to talk about is how lucky my Panthers 14-0 run was and I knew a couple sips of Aussie shine in I might not be able to hold off my gun show. Stupid Bucs fans!

Once we all got settled, we couldn’t figure out a good movie to watch, so I put on A Scanner Darkly since during my Holiday travels I went to the Arctor house!

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Then at some point once Woody Harrelson said “don’t blame the drugs!”, it was the second half of the Pistons bludgeoning the Wolves and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope starting going nuts. He’s my Substance D, that’s for sure! My KCP addiction just took another monster hit, as he started slow but went bonkers late, ending with a 22/4/3/3/0 line on 7-17 shooting, with 2 treys and nary a TO. Everything started to get all Rotoscope-y, I turned into a Jeff Bridges Altered States cave person, and went hunting through the prairie. KCP has been ridiculous this past month, with a strong finish to 2015 after a couple of duds. I think we easily see a top-100 finish that could creep to top-75 if he stays healthy with all these minutes. All I know is when my KCP addiction is strong, I don’t feel any muscle in my body! I stay up for 3 days at a time! So 37:33 MPG should be no issue for him. Here’s what else went down on our final night of 2015 in fantasy basketball:

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Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki. He passed Shaquille O’Neal for number 6 on the all-time NBA scoring list.

While Kobe Bryant gains the headlines in his last season, Dirk and Tim Duncan have quietly shown how to adapt their game for the team’s sake, taking less money and adding more wins to their already impressive résumés.

At 37, Dirk isn’t the same fantasy monster that he used to be, but is still valuable. He’s scored 20+ points in three straight games and so far has posted better overall numbers than last season. His game is much different than Kobe’s, with much less wear and tear on his body, allowing him to remain relatively healthy later in his career. Personally, I don’t see any reason why Dirk has to tie the sneakers up anytime soon.

In addition to passing Shaqtus, Dirk hit the game winner in the Mavericks’ overtime win over the Nets. He finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Not bad for a 37-year-old.

Overtime basketball is free basketball and it usually means great stat lines for everyone involved:

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