By Emry DowningHall 

I can’t be mad if you’ve put your fantasy team on the backburner these past few days to concentrate on your bracket. March Madness is as exciting, if not more so, then any other sporting event and deserves the attention it receives. At the same time, though, we are entering the 21st week of the fantasy basketball season, and in many leagues, the final week before the start of the postseason. So while the NCAA teams collide keep in mind that the big fellas are still doing their thing at the next level, and there are moves to be made. In other words… regulators, mount up!

Kobe Bryant has chosen the 2006-2007 basketball season as his personal soapbox to let everyone know they’re witnessing the new, team first Mamba, right? The Portland Trailblazers and Minnesota Timberwolves would most likely dissent after Bryant torched them for 65 and 50 points respectively. That’s a total of 115 points in two games. The Lakers’ slew of injuries this season sits well only with Bryant owners, who can expect accelerated stat lines the rest of the way.

In other Lakers-related news, here today, gone tomorrow fantasy contributor Brian Cook is out until late March with an ankle injury. The surprise return of Lamar Odom (shoulder) really decimated his value, and unless Odom’s injury is aggravated, do not expect much from Cook the rest of the way.

Luke Walton (ankle) was back in the lineup for Thursday night’s matchup against Denver and looked solid with 13 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. He followed up that outing with a DNP the next night in Portland due to soreness in his ankle. Thanks for coming out Luke. Walton missed 21 straight games with his injured ankle and Friday’s DNP is a clear sign that it’s still an issue. On Sunday, Walton was back in the starting lineup and said his ankle was feeling much better. Phil Jackson loves his passing and patience in the triangle, so if he can keep his ankle trouble under control, he should contribute for the Lakers.

Word on the curb is that Paul Pierce woke up Saturday morning with a text message from Danny Ainge that read: Double P, what it do playa? You see that kid Kevin Durant last night in the tournament? Dude was shittin’! That guy Oden’s not bad either! I talked to my man Stern; he said he would look out in the lottery. By the way, how’s that foot feeling? Any chance you wanna fall back and we let Gerald Green live a little? Scream at me Truth. P.S. Let me hold 30K?

While nothing is confirmed (and frankly I had no idea Ainge was that urban) there have been reports out of Boston that Pierce is considering shutting it down for the season due to various ailments that may possibly be related to his foot injury. However, Doc Rivers has mentioned that Pierce is running no risk of further injury by playing and he expects him to finish the season with the Celtics. Pierce owners have already dealt with one major injury this season, so this shouldn’t be surprising. The Celtics are knee deep in the Durant/Oden sweepstakes at this point, so it seems possible Pierce could shut it down. Keep your eye on the situation and snatch Gerald Green and Rajon Rondo if Pierce calls it a year.

A couple seasons ago Flip Murray turned some heads when he filled in admirably for the injured Ray Allen. Even in a brief stint it was enough for Flip to get noticed and get a new contract. He once again has a chance to shine as Chauncey Billups is day-to-day with a pulled groin muscle, and Lindsey Hunter is serving a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. Flip responded Friday night, knocking down 12-of-16 shots for 25 points and racking up four boards and an amazing six steals. He is likely available in your league and should be given waiver consideration down the stretch, should Billups’ groin injury force him to miss additional time. When Flip gets tick he has a habit of filling the box score. And briefly, while we’re discussing the Pistons, I gotta ask this: Was my man Lindsey Hunter really suspended for taking his wife’s diet pills? What a beating! Just picture Rasheed Wallace’s face when he heard that news.

I mentioned this in last week’s column and I want to touch on it again. For these late season playoff runs it’s imperative to have as many players as possible on your team that play four-game weeks. If you’re in a deep league, and you have some players at the end of your rotation who only play two or three games that week, consider cutting them for a waiver guy who plays four times. Keep in mind the Clippers and the Grizzlies actually both play five-game weeks down the stretch. This means guys who would normally have marginal fantasy value will be worth a look. (Depending on the size of your league see Jason Hart, Cuttino Mobley, Chucky Atkins, and Hakeem Warrick.)

If you’re looking for a complete week-by-week games played schedule, you can find it here.

If you’ve been sleeping on picking up fantasy column regular LaMarcus Aldridge because of inconsistent production this season you may have hit the snooze button one too many times. Aside from an off night on Sunday, Aldridge has recorded three straight double-doubles and has been able to keep his foul situation under control. If he somehow wasn’t snatched up in your league, please make that happen as soon as possible. Portland plays four times in week 21 and Aldridge looks like a terrific second center during this stretch.

If you’re in need of some assistance on the waiver wire your first moves should be making sure Eddie Jones, Steve Francis and Lamar Odom have all been picked up. Both Jones and Francis had been fit for the fantasy graveyard before a buyout (Jones) and injury (Francis) paved the way for dramatic returns for the former all-stars. Odom’s season was supposed to be a wrap due to a shoulder injury, but Lamar has elected to suck it up and help the Lakers’ playoff run. If any of the abovementioned guys are available, by all means, go get ’em.

Denver’s Linas Kleiza was due for waiver wire consideration until Saturday night when the reemergence of J.R. Smith gave his production a major hit. He scored five points and only attempted four shots from the field. This is a far cry from earlier in the week where Kleiza set back-to-back career highs in scoring with 24 and 29 points. If J.R. Smith’s knee problems pop up again, keep an eye on Kleiza. He will contribute if given the opportunity to shine, but take a pass on him for now.

With Juwan Howard in the middle of a slump, Jeff Van Gundy has given the majority of the minutes at power forward to Chuck Hayes. Hayes had 14 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday night and added another double-double in a blowout win Sunday against the Sixers. If you need some support on the glass Hayes will be a solid source of rebounds and will offer value going forward, especially in Roto leagues.

What was once considered a minor ankle sprain for David Lee will now sideline the second year forward for the remainder of the regular season. Although the diagnosis is still not 100% clear, rumors of a stress fracture – the same injury that ended Jamal Crawford’s season – have surfaced. If Lee were able to return this season it would only be in the final week of the regular season, making him a prime candidate for the waiver wire. Undrafted in most leagues, Lee has been a double-double machine for owners this season and will be sorely missed during the season’s final furlong.

If you’re looking to cut ties with a couple more players this week I recommend giving the boot to Charlie Villanueva and Jason Hart. Villanueva has been a model of inconsistency this season and has been added and dropped repeatedly in all the leagues I play in. He continues to suffer from tendonitis in his right shoulder and is an extremely risky play. With Sam Cassell once again handling the rock for the Clippers, Hart’s value has been reduced. However, he is still worth keeping in mind for week 25 because the Clippers will suit up five times that week.

Week 21 marks the final week of regular season play in most leagues. If your league’s playoff position hasn’t been decided and your transaction limit isn’t maxed out, make sure you work the waiver wire and get the most games possible for your team. Just remember to do so without dropping anyone that would be a major upgrade for an opponent’s roster or you might have some people snapping on you on the message board. I know it’s late in the year, but it’s the NBA, everybody makes a run. As always, stay on point with the waiver wire and I will see you all next week.