Playing the late-season schedule game


Why is it that there doesn't seem to be single doctor in Los Angeles County who can give The Current Mrs. Cregan and myself a due date that might fall within, say, a month of the actual delivery date?

Yes, folks, this week's crucial Hardcore is coming to you live from the comfy pastel-swaddled confines of Huntington Memorial Hospital's maternity wing, where once again, The Current Mrs. Cregan's ovaries have defied the powers of medical prognostication. Seven pounds, 6 ounces and almost five weeks early. Oh, and it's a girl.

As if things weren't already intense enough, I am heavily in the running to win both of my expert leagues. I've got a five-point lead in the ESPN Writers' Auction League, where I am desperately trying to hold off a late charge by the Fightin' Lipscombs, who are currently led by the Kyle Lowry I idiotically dropped six weeks ago. Lowry haunts my dreams. Then, I'm in the championship round of an insanely huge 30-deep league.

How am I supposed to juggle new late-preterm fatherhood and the intense final lap in these two very prestigious leagues? Don't worry about me; that's why I'm an expert. One of the keys to my expertise is my willingness to donate free time to the examination of every conceivable scenario that could befall my lineups. When people ask me, "So, what makes you such an expert?" more often than not I tell them "because we Cregans are worriers."

When your wife is having a baby via C-section, it involves a lot of nervous waiting and worrying. You need something to distract you in these long, interminable periods, and there are only so many times you can check the charge on your video camera and iPhone. So when I tell you that I came up with this column and did most of the research in a sweaty heap sitting outside the operating room, it's not because I'm shallow. It's because I'm a worrier. And they left me alone for almost an hour out there.

So, in honor of the fact that I cannot find a single ob-gyn who can apparently read a calendar, I am going to display how to properly use a calendar.

As in the NBA calendar.

After a tumultuous, trade-filled campaign, just 8-10 games will decide the winners, afterthoughts and also-rans. When you're trolling the waiver wire looking for those final, crucial pickups, it's important to keep in mind which available players have the most statistically advantageous schedules.

This is important whether you're in a daily league or a weekly league. You may be looking at a final opportunity to pick up just the right player at the right time to help push you over the top.

Because come this weekend, if you've got a decent pickup on the wire with 10 games on the docket, and an established player -- even someone you've had all season long -- on your roster with only eight games to play? You drop the eight-gamer. Thank him for his long-term imaginary service, buy him a virtual beer and then throw him over the side. He'll understand.

I don't have to explain to you that the difference between eight and 10 games to play at this point is huge. As in 25 percent more games huge. And it's not just about the amount of games. Are they mostly home games? Are they against high-paced teams? Is this team going to rest starters for the playoffs? Is it going to shut down other players with nagging injuries?

At this point, every single minute counts. So, let's take a look at some teams with unfavorable and favorable schedules.

By the end of this weekend, NBA teams will have either eight, nine or 10 games left to play. Let's start by listing which teams have only eight games:

Eight games remaining

Atlanta Hawks (ORL, BOS, @HOU, SA, @IND, @WAS, MIA, @CHA)
Golden State Warriors (@OKC, @MEM, DAL, @POR, LAL, SAC, @DEN, POR)
Indiana Pacers (BOS, DET, MIL, @NO, WAS, ATL, NY, @ORL)
Los Angeles Clippers (DAL, @PHO, OKC, @MEM, @OKC, @DAL, @HOU, MEM)
Memphis Grizzlies (GS, @NO, MIN, LAC, SAC, NO, @POR. @LAC)
Minnesota Timberwolves (CHI, MIA, @MEM, @NJ, PHO, @DEN, @PHO, HOU)
New Orleans Hornets (POR, MEM, IND, HOU, PHO, @MEM, UTA, @DAL)
Utah Jazz (WAS, LAL, @SAC, @LAL, POR, @SA, @NO, DEN)

These teams should be looked to at this point only for short-term commitments, because their schedules stink. Look at the Clippers, who finish the final part of their schedule with a brutal Texas swing. At least Minnesota plays Phoenix twice, which is good news if you own a Sun.

One thing to look for in the final week will be teams that have locked down their playoff spot. If they have their seeding sewn up, these teams will likely empty their benches for the final one or two games. That means bad stats for their established players, but could open up some key minutes for a previously unheralded player.

That Warriors-Trail Blazers tilt at the Rose Garden could be a key final matchup for fantasy owners, as a couple of Trail Blazers (like Rudy Fernandez or Patrick Mills) could suddenly hit for big numbers off the bench. Likewise, Pacers-Magic, Grizzlies-Clippers and Hawks-Bobcats could also bear numbers for Magic and Hawks supporting cast members. A Gilbert Arenas, Sam Young or Jeff Teague could log 35-40 minutes against a nonplayoff team.

10 games remaining

Boston Celtics (@IND, @SA, @ATL, DET, PHI, @CHI, WAS, @MIA, @WAS, NY)
Charlotte Bobcats (MIL, CLE, @ORL, WAS, @CLE, ORL, @MIA, DET, @NJ, ATL)
Chicago Bulls (PHI, @MIN, @DET, TOR, PHO, BOS, @CLE, @ORL, @NY, NJ)
Cleveland Cavaliers (MIA, @CHA, @WAS, @NY, CHA, @TOR, CHI, @MIL, @DET, WAS)
Milwaukee Bucks (@CHA, @TOR, @IND, PHI, @ORL, @MIA, @DET, CLE, TOR, @OKC)
New Jersey Nets (HOU, @NY, @PHI, MIA, MIN, @DET, NY, @TOR, CHA, @CHI)
Oklahoma City Thunder (GS, @PHO, @POR, @LAC, @DEN, LAC, DEN, @LAL, @SAC, MIL)
Phoenix Suns (@SAC, OKC, LAC, @SA, @CHI, @MIN, @NO, @DAL, MIN, SA)
Sacramento Kings (PHO, @DEN, DEN, UTA, @HOU, @SA, @MEM, @GS, OKC, LAL)
Washington Wizards (@UTAH, MIA, CLE, @CHA, DET, @IND, @BOS, ATL, BOS, @CLE)

The Celtics might play a plodding style of basketball, but they finish their schedule against two poor defensive teams (Wizards and Knicks). Doc Rivers will be looking to rest his rapidly aging starters as much as humanly possible. Both Troy Murphy and Delonte West could end up playing big minutes.

Tyrus Thomas is lurking on a lot of wires and could be in line for a big bump in minutes. If Stephen Jackson is shut down, it will spread a lot of touches up and down the Bobcats' lineup. Matt Carroll is another potential endgame pickup. Blocks-hungry owners should keep an eye on whether or not the Bulls wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East, as it could spell big minutes for the blossoming Omer Asik.

The Cavaliers and Wizards are both playing for pingpong balls at the moment. Barring (more) injuries, I don't really see any sudden shifts in either lineup. Samardo Samuels and Trevor Booker are both nice adds for teams in need of frontcourt help. Jordan Crawford shouldn't be available in medium-to-deep leagues, but if he is, and you need points, grab him. It's actually unfair to label Crawford as "the new Nick Young," as Crawford offers more diversity in his box scores.

With Andrew Bogut looking like a prime shutdown candidate, Larry Sanders and his high blocks-per-minute rate could collect 10-12 rejections in the final week. And don't sleep on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and his across-the-board charms; believe me, as tired as I am at the moment, I wouldn't type his name unless I absolutely had to.

Many of you probably have already picked up Jordan Farmar, but I also still have a yen for Damion James. He's battling some nagging injuries, but there aren't many players still on the wire with his upside (and a coaching staff dying to play him).

Owners scraping for steals and blocks could plug in the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, who both should hover around the 25-minute mark during the final week.

Sacramento's been one of the worst teams in fantasy all season due to coach Paul Westphal's Zodiac-influenced substitution patterns. If you think I'm kidding, keep in mind we're talking about a man who's probably seen "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" about 300 times since the late '70s. Still, we could be looking at an emotional potential final week at Arco Arena, so Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi or Jason Thompson might throw up a nice line by way of parting gift.

Finally, the Suns' final couple of games could have huge ramifications, because they will probably be out of the playoff hunt by then. The Suns feature several shutdown-probable players (Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill) and could be doling out 25-plus minutes to the likes of Aaron Brooks, Zabian Dowdell and Mickael Pietrus.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.