Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Awesome in Atlanta

Updated: March 23, 2008, 12:40 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

Although 21 NBA teams are looking at 4-game weeks, finding good match-ups over the next seven days is harder than spotting Easter eggs in the snow. (And yes, there's still quite a bit of snow throughout much of the Midwest.) Fantasy owners must also navigate through a growing list of key player injuries.

At this point, playing the schedule is less about watching stats, and more about just watching. Watch which NBA teams are busting tail trying to reach the postseason (Hawks), which are playing hard even without anything to play for (Timberwolves) and which are playing the lottery (Knicks). And note which teams are decimated by injuries (Clippers, Heat and Kings), and make their misfortune your good fortune.

The forecast calls for fantasy championships. They're out there to be earned. Good luck.

On Tap (schedules through March 30)

Teams with 4 Games

Atlanta Hawks (@ CHI, MIL, CHI, NY)
Lineup locks: Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Mike Bibby
Outlook: This is a huge week for Atlanta, which is trying to hang onto eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Starting Tuesday in Chicago, the Hawks play five games in seven days. That these are five eminently winnable games is good for both their team and yours, provided your team has Johnson. In March the 26-year-old is averaging 26.5 points, 6.5 assists and 3.2 3-pointers. The Bucks and Knicks are flat awful defensively, allowing opponents to score more than 102 points and shoot better than 47 percent per game. The Bulls actually fare well in those areas, but, like Milwaukee and New York, Chicago allows around seven 3s a night. Point is, Johnson should keep carrying his team. And yours.

[+] EnlargeKendrick Perkins
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesPerkins' struggles means he's not a viable fantasy option.

Boston Celtics (PHI, PHO, NO, MIA)
Lineup locks: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Outlook: So what exactly happened to Kendrick Perkins in early March? In a six-game stretch he averaged 12.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. But in the seven games since then, he's averaging 6.1 points, 5.9 boards and 1.1 rejections. If you're looking for evidence that Perkins will regain his sudden magnificience, you won't find it here. Suns, Hornets and Heat opponents are in the league's bottom six in shot blocks, while the Sixers and Hornets opponents are in the bottom third in total rebounds.

Charlotte Bobcats (@ Utah, @ LAL, @ SEA, @ POR)
Lineup locks: Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton
Outlook: Okafor gets a courtesy mention as a lock, but he's limping to the finish. In his past three games, he's totaled just 16 points and 17 rebounds, and he played fewer than 24 minutes in each of those contests. But if you need the lad, there's some comfort in the fact that Jazz and Sonics opponents average nearly 5.5 blocks a night.

Chicago Bulls (ATL, @ PHI, @ ATL, MIL)
Lineup locks: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Drew Gooden
Outlook: After missing one game due to an ankle sprain, Kirk Hinrich returned Saturday against Indiana. He posted 10 assists, but was only 4-of-12 from the field. His accuracy could improve this week, with Hawks and Sixers opponents shooting nearly 46 percent. And you already got the word about the awful Bucks.

Detroit Pistons (PHO, @ TOR, MIA, CLE)
Lineup locks: Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton

Golden State Warriors (LAL, POR, @ DEN, DAL)
Lineup locks: Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis
Outlook: A lot of folks are looking at Mickael Pietrus -- he's the most added player in ESPN leagues over the past week -- but it's looking like the 26-year-old won't play tonight at the Lakers. The San Jose Mercury News notes that Pietrus strained his groin Friday against Houston, and says Don Nelson describes his status as "questionable, for sure." The Warriors face the Lakers again Monday in Oakland, so if Pietrus can't go tonight, it seems likely he'll miss at least one game in the week ahead.

Los Angeles Clippers (@ DAL, @ SA, @ Utah, MEM)
Lineup lock: Corey Maggette

Los Angeles Lakers (@ GS, CHA, MEM, WAS)
Lineup locks: Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom
Outlook: Sasha Vujacic is playing fewer than 20 minutes a game, but he's making the most of his time. In his past nine games he's averaging 2.1 3s while shooting a stunning 60 percent from downtown. By now you should know what the Wizards are to the 3-pointer: Enablers. The rest of the schedule is pretty favorable, too, so give Vujacic a look in deep leagues this week.

Memphis Grizzlies (DEN, @ SAC, @ LAL, @ LAC)
Lineup locks: Mike Miller, Rudy Gay
Outlook: Since returning from a right foot injury, Darko Milicic is averaging 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds over his past four. You'll like him this week because Kings opponents average 5.6 blocks (fourth most in the league), while Nuggets and Clippers opponents get around five rejections per night.

Miami Heat (MIL, @ NY, @ DET, @ BOS)
Lineup locks: None
Outlook: Fun fact of the week, courtesy of the Miami Herald: The Heat currently have seven players who've spent time in the Developmental league this season. Speaking of seven, that's how many assists Jason Williams is averaging over his past four. But he's also shooting just 35.2 percent from the floor in that span. Inviting as the Bucks and Knicks are, J-Will will have trouble maintaining that pace this week, given his injured right thumb and the fact that the Celtics and Pistons rank 1-3 in opponents' field-goal percentage.

Milwaukee Bucks (@ MIA, @ ATL, ORL, @ CHI)
Lineup locks: Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut
Outlook: After missing two games with a thigh injury, Andrew Bogut returned in a big way Saturday, amassing 16 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks against Cleveland. His short-term chances of keeping up the rejections are mixed. Bulls opponents are third in the NBA in shot blocks, and Hawks oponents are seventh. However, Magic and Heat opponents average fewer than 4.5 blocks per night.

New Jersey Nets (@ NY, IND, @ IND, PHO)
Lineup locks: Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Devin Harris
Outlook: Speaking of shot-blocking, stick with Josh Boone. Although Suns opponents are 29th in blocks, Knicks and Pacers opponents are in the top five for rejections on average.

New Orleans Hornets (@ IND, @ CLE, @ BOS, @ TOR)
Lineup locks: Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic

New York Knicks (NJ, MIA, @ TOR, @ ATL)
Lineup locks: Jamal Crawford, David Lee
Outlook: Zach Randolph was benched for two games last week, and the New York Times is theorizing that ping pong balls may be behind the decision. However, Isiah Thomas told the paper that Z-Bo would play Monday against New Jersey.

Philadelphia 76ers (@ BOS, CHI, PHO, @ CLE)
Lineup locks: Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Samuel Dalembert

[+] EnlargeShaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Matt YorkThis week should show whether the Suns have truly meshed with Shaq.

Phoenix Suns (@ DET, @ BOS, @ PHI, @ NJ)
Lineup locks: Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa
Outlook: Perhaps Steve Kerr knows what he's doing. The Suns have won seven straight, and Shaquille O'Neal is averaging a double-double in the desert. But for fantasy owners, nothing's changed with Shaq: If you want the points, boards and blocks, you must accept the turnovers and abysmal foul-shooting. Don't be accepting this week. The Pistons, Celtics and Sixers are three of only four teams that allow fewer than 40 rebounds per night.

Portland Trail Blazers (@ SEA, WAS, @ GS, CHA)
Lineup locks: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge

Sacramento Kings (@ HOU, MEM, WAS, @ SEA)
Lineup lock: Kevin Martin
Outlook: Reggie Theus told the Sacramento Bee that Ron Artest, Beno Udrih and Brad Miller are all planning to return Monday at Houston. The key word there is "planning." This is a fairly favorable schedule, but all these guys seem pretty banged up. What ever you decide to do with your Kings, be prepared to regret your decision.

San Antonio Spurs (@ ORL, LAC, MIN, HOU)
Lineup locks: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker
Outlook: Ginobili carried the Spurs while Parker was injured; now Parker is returning the favor. While Ginobili is again coming off the bench and -- at least in the past two games -- seeing fewer than 30 minutes, Parker is averaging 19.9 points, 5.4 assists and 55.9 percent shooting this month. Look for him to keep it going this week, although Rockets opponents shoot just 43.2 percent (29th overall).

Seattle SuperSonics (POR, WAS, CHA, SAC)
Lineup locks: Kevin Durant, Chris Wilcox

Washington Wizards (@ POR, @ SEA, @ SAC, @ LAL)
Lineup locks: Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler

Teams with 3 Games

Cleveland Cavaliers (NO, @ DET, PHI)
Lineup locks: LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Dallas Mavericks (LAC, @ DEN, @ GS)
Lineup locks: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard

Denver Nuggets (@ MEM, DAL, GS)
Lineup locks: Marcus Camby, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin
Outlook: The Nuggets need 3-point shooting, but it looks like either Linas Kleiza or J.R. Smith will provide it. Though Chucky Atkins recently knocked down five treys in consecutive games, the veteran, who's missed most of this season with a sports hernia, was a healthy scratch Friday against New Jersey.

Houston Rockets (SAC, MIN, @ SA)
Lineup locks: Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston

Indiana Pacers (NO, @ NJ, NJ)
Lineup locks: Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy

Minnesota Timberwolves (@ HOU, @ SA, Utah)
Lineup locks: Al Jefferson, Randy Foye
Outlook: Rashad McCants is shining in a reserve role. In March the 23-year-old is averaging 16.5 points and 2.1 3s on 47.2 percent shooting. But while coming off the bench is suiting McCants, leave him on your bench this week, with the Spurs and Rockets ranked third and fourth, respectively, in 3-point defense.

Toronto Raptors (DET, NY, NO)
Lineup lock: Chris Bosh

Utah Jazz (CHA, LAC, @ MIN)
Lineup locks: Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur

Teams with 2 Games

Orlando Magic (SA, @ MIL)
Lineup locks: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at editor_njt64@yahoo.com.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com

ALSO SEE