Welcome to your midweek guidance for Week 23!  My goal is to help you win your league championship by finding widely available streaming candidates for your specific categorical needs.  As the title suggests, we are firmly in fantasy no man’s land as it relates to erratic player availability, as teams in both conferences pack it in to avoid injuries and bolster their chances of receiving a top draft pick.  While it pales in comparison to the 250 players who faced quarantine between December and January, one can be forgiven for saying that the luck side of the luck:skill ratio increases as the season winds down.

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Change. Is good, although it takes time for it to manifest. There are trials and tribulations. There are new things to learn and old things to forget. There will be haters. There will always be haters. But change is vital to reach one’s potential. A caterpiller walks and eats before wrapping itself in a cocoon, then morphs into a butterfly and eventually flies into the sky. Pascal Siakam entered the league in 2016 and embarked upon the journey that all rookies undertake. He flashed his two-way potential early on and continued to climb the ladder. In 2019, after Kawhi Leonard left, he was thrust into a more prominent role and became an All-Star. While the numbers were there, there was some hesitancy. Fred VanVleet put it best: “I think what happened was Kyle [Lowry] was such an immovable object, such a force of who he was in his status as a Hall of Famer, it was like a little tit-for-tat there, even if it was subconscioius….It’s not something where’ I don’t like this guy’ or ‘I’m not passing to him’, it’s a little nuance that you would never understand unless you played at the highest level.” Lowry was traded before the beginning of the 2021-22 season and things became more clear and comfortable for Siakam. He missed the first 10 games of the season but it’s been alllll good this season and last night was the culmination of the season.

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Can LeBron be corny at times? Yup. Does LeBron flop sometimes? Premier League players break down his tape. Is LeBron entering the final stages of his hooping career? Father Time is undefeated. That said, is LeBron one of the greatest players of all time? He almost won a chip with Eric F’ing Snow at point guard. He’s Magic Johnson in Karl Malone’s body with Zion Williamson hops, before Zion morphed into the long lost Klump. He’s won the chips, received all the accolades and awards, and is still doing this at age 37….

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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 129-98. In a rarity for this version of the Pacers, they were the more veteran team. Oshae Brissett spearheaded the Pacers’ attack, as he tallied 24 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. His day also included a highlight reveal reverse dunk in transition which came off a behind-the-back pass from Lance Stephenson. Have I mentioned that the Pacers are fun now!? Justin Anderson added 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Jalen Smith notched 17 points, five rebounds, and one block in just 17 minutes of play. I’m not sure if Smith will ever become the player the Suns hoped they were getting when he was drafted with the 10th pick in 2020, but he has at least grown into an intriguing prospect. He was 2-of-3 from behind the arc and also whipped out a Dirk-esque step-back off the dribble in the midrange. Terry Taylor (17) and Duane Washington Jr. (13) both had solid games as well. The Pacers led wire to wire and the lack of competitiveness of the game is reflected in the lower minute totals for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Hield tallied nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Finally, Lance Stephenson scored just two points, but grabbed six rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and swiped three steals.

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The Miami Heat took home the nervy, 113-107 victory, but the Lakers nearly caught them slipping. In a game the Heat led almost the entire way and by as many as 26 points, the Lakers put together a fierce fourth quarter and nearly stole the victory. For three quarters, however, the Heat played the basketball version of “the beautiful game.” Offensive production was spread across the lineup and they were flowing into good looks. Jimmy Butler led the charge in Kyle Lowry’s absence (personal reasons) and he finished the game with a triple-double: 20 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, two steals, and one block. Butler’s 10th triple-double moved him into the first place on the Heat’s all-time list, surpassing LeBron James. Duncan Robinson was hot early and even scored some important points in the fourth quarter; he finished the game with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Bam Adebayo had a decent, but uneven game. He was stifled a fair amount by LeBron’s defense, as he was LeBron’s primary cover when the Lakers went small. Adebayo finished the game with 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. Gabe Vincent filled in admirably, once again, for Lowry and finished the game with 11 points, one rebound, six assists, and two steals. Caleb Martin also notched eleven points and further cemented his “best two-way player in the league status”—a dubious honor, he’d no doubt like to be rid of as soon as possible.

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Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when the SUVs are rolling along the track and the people inside are looking out the windows to get a glimpse of the dinosaurs? Except there are no dinosaurs. This is Jurassic Park, not some bootleg zoo where wild animals are confined to what amounts to a jail cell for humans. The dinosaurs are not beholden to the whims of us silly humans. They will appear, eat, and do their dinosaur things when they so desire. The same thing goes for volcanoes. They do not erupt when the 1:00 pm tour guide gets to the base of the mountain. They do their thing when they are ready to do their thing. Which brings me to Hassan Whiteside of the Utah Jazz. Every once in a while, Mt. Whiteside will erupt for a huge game, like he did back in mid-December: 18 points, 14 boards, and four blocks in 20 minutes of action. Over the past two games with Rudy Gobert out of commission, the tour guides to Mt. Whiteside were selling tickets like hotcakes because he was set to start and crush. If you don’t know where this story is going, then you have a serious reading comprehension issue. He started the last two games, played 30 and 26 minutes, and disappointed. Granted, he endured some foul problems but he only blocked two shots and did not reach double-digit in points or rebounds. As the visitors returned to the safety of their homes, hopes dashed, money wasted, Mt. Whiteside exploded again last night.

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The Brooklyn Nets took home the 121-119 victory in this Sunday matinee against the rebuilding, but still pesky San Antonio Spurs. In classic 2021-22 Nets fashion, they gave up a 14-point lead and allowed the Spurs to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and push the game into overtime, where Nets’ rookie Cam Thomas stole the show. Both teams struggled to score in the waning minutes of regulation and overtime, most notably Kevin Durant. As a result, when Durant was doubled on the Nets’ final possession at the elbow, with about six seconds left in the game, he rose up and fired a pass to Cam Thomas sliding up from the corner. Thomas pump-faked, took two hard dribbles and rose up for a one-legged runner fading to his left at the free-throw line. Nothing but net. Thomas’ made floater in overtime turned out to be the game-winner as Lonnie Walker was blocked on the Spurs ensuing inbound play. Even if he hadn’t been blocked, however, the shot wouldn’t have counted. Walker released the shot after the buzzer, as the Spurs had just one-point-four seconds to shoot. The narrow escape victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the Nets.

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It is only fitting that we end 2021 with LeBron James as the fantasy star of the night. The ageless superstar scored 43 points while adding 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks en route a 139-106 win. He has been amazing over the past seven games but it has only translated to two wins during that stretch. James sits inside the top-three fantasy players this year and could pass Nikola Jokic for the top spot if he continues this high level of play. Russell Westbrook posted his fourth straight triple-double in the win, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. Although Russ has his ups and downs on the court, he remains an elite fantasy option with nightly triple-double upside. He has struggled with turnovers and poor shooting numbers this year which has resulted in poor category play. He sits just inside the top-100 and should not move much from this spot.

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The Portland Trail Blazers took down the Hornets at home behind the fantasy star of the night, Damian Lillard., who contributed 43 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. He looks fully healthy as he has recently returned from an abdominal issue that has bothered him since the Summer Olympics and maybe even before then. Even with his injury, Lillard has remained a top-40 player and should stay that way for the rest of the year. Ben Mclemore was the second-highest scorer with 28 points off the bench last night on 8-13 three-point shooting. He ended up with more minutes than Anfernee Simons because of his amazing play, but these minutes and points can not be relied on. 

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The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the New York Knicks 112-97 in the matinee matchup yesterday. The Bucks are now back to their winning ways, having beaten the Rockets in their previous game after losing their first game with Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton in the lineup against an undermanned Miami Heat team on Wednesday. The sweet machine of destruction that is the Milwaukee Bucks appears to have returned. Seven players scored in double figures for the Bucks, led by Khris Middleton, who finished the game with 24 points (8-17 FG, 4-11 3PT), eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Giannis Antetokounmpo tallied 20 points (7-16 FG, 0-2 3PT), 10 rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, and one block. Bobby Portis chipped in 19 points (7-14 FG, 3-7 3PT), 10 rebounds, and three steals. Jrue Holiday added 13 points (6-11 FG, 1-2 3PT), four rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and Rodney Hood rounded out the double-digit scorers’ list.

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