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Fantasy Basketball: Tanking season officially begins in NBA

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

It's really starting to feel like the final stretch of the NBA season. One look at the injury reports will tell you why, and a handful of teams near the bottom of the standings are putting out starting fives with names most casual fans have never heard of. We're also getting the occasional rest day for star players on contending squads.

Excessive injuries can make individual slates tough to navigate, but it also opens up plenty of streaming opportunities for fantasy managers who are keeping up with the news. Staying active on the waiver wire could mean the difference between a win and a loss at this point in the year.

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Let's take a look at some of the latest news and notes around the NBA:

Ja Morant enters counseling program

Morant has gone to Florida to participate in a counseling program and remains without a timetable for a return. The Grizzlies are updating his availability in multi-game stretches, with the last update stating that the point guard will be out at least through Wednesday's game against the Heat.

It's understandable if fantasy managers want to hang on to Morant, but you have to evaluate where you are in the standings and how long your league lasts. If you're fighting to place in the money and your league ends before April, it's probably best to move on, especially since certain reporters, like Marc Spears, believe Morant "[won't] play the rest of the season as he takes care of himself."

It's probably too late now, but make sure Tyus Jones isn't still available on the waiver wire. Over Morant's past five absences, Jones has averaged 17.4 points, 7.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals, plus just 1.8 turnovers. Keep an eye on David Roddy as well, who has averaged 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks over the past two games.

It's officially tanking season

Over the past week, the number of names on NBA injury reports has skyrocketed. Of course, plenty of players are dealing with legitimate injuries as bodies break down late in the season, but certain absences are more suspicious. Monday night's Pacers-Pistons game is a great example. Players who saw 30+ minutes include Andrew Nembhard, Jordan Nwora, Eugene Omoruyi, Rodney McGruder and Cory Joseph.

Detroit, Charlotte, San Antonio and Houston remain firmly in the bottom tier, while Indiana, Utah and Oklahoma City are on watch. Orlando and Portland are also struggling but haven't provided any suspicious injury reports lately.

While this point in the year is frustrating for fantasy managers, you can take advantage if you're savvy. It's the best time of the season to stream, especially if you can target relatively anonymous players on four-game weeks who are set for bloated roles.

Jabari Smith putting it together

The rookie has struggled nearly all season, with shooting splits of 40/31/79. However, he's looked more comfortable and aggressive lately.

Smith has scored in double figures in six straight games — tied for his longest streak, which was actually the first six games of his career. During this run, he's averaged 18.7 points on 59/54/79 shooting, 7.8 boards, 1.7 assists and 1.5 combined steals-plus-blocks in 34.2 minutes. His past three outings have been especially noteworthy, as he's totaled 74 points, 33 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and four blocks.

If someone in your league dropped Smith, he's worth picking up. Plenty of rookies over the years have figured things out in March and April, helped by some opposing defenses trying less than usual.

Other players on notable hot streaks

Nick Richards, Hornets

With starting center Mark Williams out for an undetermined amount of time due to a sprained right thumb, Richards has taken over the position. In Richards' past two starts, he's totaled 24 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and eight blocks in 62 minutes. For as long as Williams is out, Richards is worth rostering in many leagues.

Jaden Hardy and Josh Green, Mavericks

With both Kyrie Irving (foot) and Luka Doncic (thigh) sidelined the past two games, Hardy and Green took over the offense. Hardy totaled 50 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. Green totaled 44 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. They're worthy streaming options for as long as Irving and/or Doncic are shelved.

Talen Horton-Tucker, Jazz

Don't be surprised if Horton-Tucker gets you a quadruple-double this season (points, rebounds, assists, turnovers). With Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson each missing the past four games, the offense has been in THT's hands, with 10-day contract signing Kris Dunn getting in on the action, too.

These past four contests have seen THT average 22.5 points on 40/38/89 shooting, 7.5 dimes, 5.3 boards, 1.0 steals and 4.0 turnovers in 30.8 minutes. He's been playing well since joining the starters on Feb. 23. You probably just can't roster him unless you're punting turnovers.

Pacers Players and Pistons Players

I'm just lumping these two teams together. As mentioned in the tanking section of this article, plenty of guys on both rosters have seen boosts over the past two games due to excessive injury reports. Monitor the situation over the next few games and double-check the waiver wire. Out of both teams, James Wiseman and Isaiah Jackson have the most upside, but Wiseman is the most trustworthy (a sentence I thought I'd never write).