Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Rudy Fernandez

It’s a revolving door to the injured list up in Portland. This week the Blazers will be without Brandon Roy; and Bayless is day to day with a sprained ankle.

Second year guard Rudy Fernandez should see more minutes now. He’s been back for two weeks after sitting out December with a back injury. Fernandez has been a little slow to find his rhythm, but scored 19 points off the bench in Saturday’s win over the Pistons.

I expect Fernandez will come through for a gutsy Blazers team that continues to fight through whatever adversity comes its way to match last season’s playoff-bound pace.

With the lack of options on the Portland roster I look for Rudy’s minutes to go up to nearly 30 a game.  And with that his points, rebounds, assists and steals should go above their season averages as well.

Czar Star: Gerald Wallace

Gerald Wallace gets my nod for the East’s All-Star bench. There aren’t many players in the league who fill the stat sheet quite like Wallace. He plays a unique brand of basketball and for his size to be averaging 11.6 rebounds per game is remarkable. He’s scoring 18.6 ppg and is able to get points from anywhere on the floor. He fills the lane, dunks with force, can shoot from the perimeter and hits the glass for follow-ups.

But perhaps his most impressive stat this year is being second in the league in minutes played. Notorious for aggressively attacking every play with a seeming disregard for physics, “Crash” has overcome a history of injury related setbacks to be on the front lines every game this season.  We saw his tenacity this week when he battled through an ankle sprain to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds in a win over the Heat and then put up 25 points in a disappointing loss to the Hawks.

He also plays outstanding on-ball and team defense – able to produce both blocks and steals. As a coach we love guys like Wallace because their versatility allows us to dictate the way the game is played. Depending on the opponent Larry Brown can have Wallace match-up against the 3 or 4. And he’s quick enough to defend and shut down big guards if needed.

More important than the stats is that Wallace’s play translates into wins. He does the little things on the floor that don’t show up on the stat sheet. With Stephen Jackson coming over to Charlotte this year it’s not a question of if they’ll make the playoffs, but what position Wallace and his mates will end up in.

Fratello Telestrator: Gaines shocks the Cavs

The Czar breaks down Sundiata Gaines’ dramatic buzzer-beater from last week that sunk LeBron and the Cavs.

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Gameday Dish: LeBron and Kobe Back in the Ring

Lakers-Cavs round two is tonight in Cleveland. LeBron and the Cavs took round one in convincing fashion on Christmas day. In order to avenge that loss the Lakers must show up ready to play, both mentally and physically.  In the first matchup they didn’t have the focus necessary to win and I’m sure Phil Jackson is using that for motivation. Perhaps it was because of the holiday distractions, a possible home court disadvantage.

But looking back at the stats it’s clear the Cavs were the better team that night. They shot over 53% from the floor and 39% from the 3-point line. And they played aggressive team defense holding the Lakers to 36% from the floor and 28% from the 3-point line. They were also the more physical team, outscoring the Lakers 46 to 38 in the paint.

Of course when these two teams meet there’s always the focus on the LeBron-Kobe matchup. LeBron is on a tear right now playing incredible ball while Kobe is guttng through injuries. It’s important for Kobe’s teammates to pick him up and lighten his load so he’ll be in shape to lead them in the post-season. In the last game Cleveland’s bench outscored LA’s 31 to 17 – they’ll need a better effort if the Lakers are going to leave Cleveland with a win. And it would be nice to see Bynum step up big down-low.

The Cavs are the number one 3-point shooting team in the NBA and if the role players are getting open looks they are a very difficult team to beat. However, the Cavs’ shooting arsenal will be short some ammunition tonight – point guard Mo Williams has been sidelined with a sprained left shoulder. Mo is Cleveland’s number two scorer behind LeBron and led the Cavaliers in scoring in the Christmas matchup with 28 points, going three-for-three from three-point range. With Mo being injured it might slow down Cleveland’s 3-point attack and give the Lakers the freedom to double team LeBron.

The NBA season is long and this is just one game – but some games do have larger implications. This is a potential Finals preview and both teams will come out looking to prove something to themselves and the other team. We saw the last one get chippy at the end; expect it to be near playoff intensity tonight. We’ve got the call on TNT at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Mike’s Take: LA, LeBron and the Cavs

Tune in to the 13:13 mark of the Kamenetzky Brothers Podkast to enjoy Andy and Brian’s discourse on the historical significance of my nickname followed by my pregame analysis of Thursday’s Cavs-Lakers rematch.