By Emry DowningHall

I like to consider myself a calculated risk taker. Living in Philadelphia I have been known to jump on the Atlantic City expressway and shoot down to the Tropicana for some blackjack, roulette or the occasional poker game.

I’ve always been heavy into video games and on occasion when a NBA2K7 matchup gets heated it’s not out of the ordinary for the stakes to be raised in one form or another. And while I realize that gambling is a bad habit I want to stress that it’s all about moderation and understanding your limits.

Of course everyone has different limits, this is why nothing in life is really uniform and the reason why, every year, someone in your league is willing to reach and draft the TruWarier when there are much safer options on the board.

Total disclosure – we keep it real around here – before the Kings’ press conference Saturday afternoon, which by the way, came as a total shock to me, this is what I planned to write:

Of course sometimes those risks pay dividends and Artest must have had fantasy owners feeling pretty good about his chances of putting together an entire season, especially with the Kings having such a favorable schedule for the fantasy playoffs.

When I got the email announcing Artest had been arrested I was more disappointed than surprised. I like Artest’s style of play and even though he is a madman, his passion and will to win are undeniable and I was looking forward to watching him and Sac-town make a playoff push.

Artest is going to be arraigned on March 22nd and the Kings have released him of his duties indefinitely pending their own internal investigation. If you own Artest and are on the playoff bubble I would cut ties and work the waiver wire. If you are in good standing in your league and have the luxury of patience, stash him on your bench and wait two weeks to see what transpires. In the meantime, John Salmons stands to see the largest increase in playing time and will be replacing Artest in the Kings lineup. Salmons won’t provide anything outstanding but should be very solid going forward once he gets accustomed to the starting role.

So you can imagine my state of mind when my St. Patty’s day celebration was interrupted by the news that Artest was going to be in action on Sunday. What in the world? The Kings’ suits said the Artest decision was based largely on the good ol’ innocent until proven guilty section of the constitution – way to go forefathers! Of course, the fact that the Kings are one game out of the eighth playoff spot out West couldn’t have hurt much either; in any event, the Kings have a tremendous fantasy schedule going forward and if Artest was in fact dropped in your league, grab that wild man off the waiver wire. It’s tough to say what’s going to happen with the whole legal process, but Artest is a solid option in the meantime. John Salmons should no longer be owned in leagues.

It wouldn’t feel like a weekly fantasy column if we didn’t get a chance to discuss yet another All-star whose season is potentially over. The Hawks have lost Joe Johnson to a deep bruise in his calf, an injury that will sideline the combo-guard for at least three to four weeks and more likely the rest of the season. Ultimately, Joe will be able to make his own decision on a return, but considering Atlanta isn’t in the playoff race it doesn’t make much sense for him to lace ’em up again this year. Johnson has been a beast this season and his ability to fill the stat sheet will obviously be missed as we near the fantasy playoffs. In his absence Josh Smith is going to be stepping up his offensive load and should be much more aggressive with the rock.

Jermaine O’Neal’s owners are hoping he can hold on for at least a few more weeks after aggravating a chronic knee injury on Wednesday. No doubt JO owners are well aware of the forward/center’s history with knee trouble, but this doesn’t sound like a season-ending situation, and with what’s been going on in the league this year that’s very good news. Keep an eye on how O’Neal performs during week 20, but at this point it appears he is going suit up and ball the rest of the way. If you need to replace O’Neal, Ike Diogu is going to be much more productive for Indiana.

As we discussed last week, this season’s injury influx has opened the floodgates for fantasy production from players who otherwise would be on the shelf. Brian Cook is one guy who is benefiting in LA with Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Vlad Rad stuck on the IL. This leaves the man in charge with little choice but to put his forward spot in the hands of Cook, who would be a rarely used reserve on a healthy Lakers roster but has lucked into starter’s minutes. Cook has taken advantage of his increased role and should be picked up if available. He scores, rebounds and blocks the occasional shot and will be a nice addition for your team’s playoff push.

If you’re looking for some backcourt help Seattle’s Earl Watson is ready to contribute. With Luke Ridnour once again in Coach Bob Hill’s doghouse, Watson is stepping up as the Supersonics’ starting point guard and is a very hot pickup right now. Ridnour doesn’t seem comfortable coming off the bench for Seattle and I expect Watson to continue to provide points and assists the rest of the way. Ray Allen is still keeping on but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him prematurely shut it down, in order to deal with bone spurs in his ankle. This would only increase Watson’s value.

The Memphis Grizzlies’ buyout has been a good look for both the Heat and Eddie Jones as the veteran swingman – straight out of Temple University – is the hottest pickup in fantasy right now. When the Heat signed Jones he was supposed to serve as a backup for Dwyane Wade but we all know how that turned out. The injuries to both Wade and Kapono have paved the way for major minutes for Jones and he has responded with points, threes and dimes. With Wade likely done for the fantasy season, and Kapono to be evaluated later this week, Jones and Antoine Walker are both viable options down the stretch. James Posey should also be monitored and could once again offer value.

Who would have thought it was that old man Allen Iverson holding the Sixers back all along? I’m kidding, of course, but the Sixers young gunz have been putting it together since trading “The Answer.” Andre Iguodala has looked like the all-around stat stuffer everyone predicted he would be and Andre Miller is giving the rest of the Sixers something they certainly didn’t get with AI and C-Webb – touches. Those touches, combined with the rotator cuff injury to Rodney Carney, have Willie Green playing productive minutes at the two-guard spot as a starter for the Sixers. Green will provide points, solid rebounding and the occasional steal, and should be owned in most leagues.

If you’re looking to unload some guys on your team to make room for the players previously mentioned, it may be time to part ways with Jason Kapono (ankle), DeShaun Stevenson, Randy Foye, and Dikembe Mutombo. This weekend also saw Sean May return to action, and because Okafor is still struggling with a calf injury, Charlotte will need heavy production from May. Grab him if you can.

At this point it’s pretty clear it’s crunch time. Most leagues have two more weeks before the playoffs start, so remember to play the waiver wire and stack your team with players with favorable fantasy schedules. I’m going to go into this idea more next week, but keep in mind that even if a guy is more valuable overall than another player, the player that is playing more games that week will most likely produce more for your team. For example, you wouldn’t trade Jason Terry for Gilbert Arenas unless you’re one of those dumbs, but in week 20 Terry plays four times while the Hibachi is only fired up twice. It’s a numbers game, so make them work for you. That’s it for this week, hit me with your questions and I will do my best to get right at you. Talk to you next week.