- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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Welcome to the NBA Fantasy Forecaster, where we'll break down a busy NBA schedule and locate the missing statistical link between Shaquille O'Neal and Daniel Gibson. With 18 of the league's 30 teams playing four games this week, there's much to cover. So let's get to it.
On Tap (schedules through Nov. 25)
Teams with four games
Boston Celtics (@ CLE, NY, @ MIA, CLE)
Lineup locks: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Outlook: The team with the best record in the league now gets one sweet schedule. However, it will be interesting to see how your stud C's respond in Miami after playing at home the night before. Doc Rivers could use his bench more, so James Posey is worth a look if you need a fill-in in a daily-lineup league. Play Rajon Rondo this week and hope he stays away from the free-throw line, where he's shooting (cough, cough) 42.9 percent (9-of-21) this season. I'd call that Shaq-like, but O'Neal actually is at 52.2 percent from the stripe this season. Speaking of Shaq, this week might be a tough go for Kendrick Perkins, who will have to tangle with Zydrunas Ilgauskas twice, in addition to O'Neal.
Cleveland Cavaliers (BOS, @ DET, @ TOR, @ BOS)
Lineup locks: LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Outlook: Speaking, again, of Shaq, did you know that Daniel Gibson is almost as accurate from 3-point range (51.8 percent) as O'Neal is from the foul line? But Boobie will be tested this week. Opponents shoot just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc against Boston (though they do manage about six made 3-pointers a game), while Detroit excels across the board in perimeter defense. Gibson does get another crack at the Raptors, a team he just burned for four 3s Saturday.
Dallas Mavericks (WAS, MIN, POR, @ NO)
Lineup locks: Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry
Outlook: You're probably going to play Devin Harris, too, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. He's averaging 16.4 points, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals in his last seven games.
Denver Nuggets (IND, @ LAL, LAC, MIA)
Lineup locks: Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby
Outlook: Although the Clippers allow about 100 points per game, they're one of only three teams that give up fewer than five 3-pointers per night. So that makes J.R. Smith a risky play. Then again, he's a risk no matter the circumstances. In deep leagues, watch Eduardo Najera, because Kenyon Martin is having more knee problems.
Golden State Warriors (PHO, @ SAC, HOU, @ SEA)
Lineup locks: Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Andris Biedrins
Outlook: With this schedule, we should see big numbers from the Warriors. I don't think Kelenna Azubuike owners should be overly worried, but Monta Ellis has logged more than 40 minutes in two of the past three games. Use either option this week.
Houston Rockets (@ LAC, @ PHO, @ GS, @ SAC)
Lineup locks: Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady
Outlook: You're taking your chances with any Rocket other than Yao or T-Mac. Shane Battier is Houston's most productive player from downtown, and you'll want him in there against Golden State and Sacramento. But when it comes to defending the 3-pointer, the Suns are almost as stingy as the Clippers.
Indiana Pacers (@ DEN, @ POR, @ SEA, @ LAC)
Lineup locks: Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy
Outlook: As a fantasy owner, I have no tolerance for any player who shoots under 40 percent from the floor. But perhaps I'm being too hard on Jamaal Tinsley, who's actually zipping along at 45.3 percent in his past seven games. As long as Jermaine O'Neal is out, Troy Murphy, and even Jeff Foster are worth playing. They stand to get a lot of boards this week; all four of the Pacers' opponents have been outrebounded this season.
Los Angeles Lakers (SEA, DEN, @ Utah, ORL)
Lineup locks: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum
Outlook: Another of my least favorite players, Vladimir Radmanovic, is on a nice run of his own. Radman has made at least two 3-pointers in six straight games. However, this schedule is only somewhat favorable for him. The Sonics are terrible at defending the 3-pointer, but the Nuggets, Jazz and Magic all rate as average to above-average in this metric.
Milwaukee Bucks (PHI, @ ATL, @ NY, DET)
Lineup locks: Michael Redd, Mo Williams
Outlook: In his past five games, Andrew Bogut has 16 blocks. And lo' and behold, this week he faces the two teams -- the Knicks and Hawks -- that get the most shots rejected.
Minnesota Timberwolves (@ NO, @ DAL, SA, @ MEM)
Lineup lock: Al Jefferson
Outlook: Antoine Walker paid a price to get away from Pat Riley, landing up north with the 1-10 Wolves. At least the move is working out for fantasy owners. The veteran is averaging 15.3 points and 2.5 3-pointers in his past six games. Unfortunately, Walker probably won't maintain that pace this week. None of Minnesota's opponents give up a lot of 3-pointers, although the Grizzlies allow teams to shoot a lofty 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.
New York Knicks (Utah, @ BOS, MIL, PHO)
Lineup locks: None
Outlook: I'll forgo the one-liners and apply the "if you can't say something nice ..." rule here. Eddy Curry is actually shooting 70 percent from the free-throw line over his past nine games. His turnovers are down, too. As for his blocks, I, uh, won't say anything at all. What I will say that those of you in daily-transaction leagues should consider Jamal Crawford and Stephon Marbury against the Bucks, who allow 7.1 3-pointers a night. David Lee could be a decent play against either Milwaukee or Phoenix, although he's averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game in his past four games.
Orlando Magic (@ POR, @ SEA, @ PHO, @ LAL)
Lineup locks: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson
Outlook: Despite recent events, Tinsley and Radmanovic, two players I've always been down on, have yet to win me over. But I'm about to flip my opinion on Jammy, and the whole Magic team for that matter. In his past seven games, Nelson is averaging 15.9 points, 6.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 3-pointers. More solid numbers from Nelson's teammates: Three Orlando starters -- Lewis, Turkoglu and Keith Bogans -- average better than two 3-pointers per game. Play them all this week.
Philadelphia 76ers (@ MIL, Utah, WAS, @ NJ)
Lineup locks: Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Samuel Dalembert
Outlook: This would be a great week to play Kyle Korver, but settle for Louis Williams, who's averaging 19.3 points and 2.3 3-pointers in his past four games. The Bucks, Wizards and Nets all surrender at least 6.9 3-pointers a game.
Portland Trail Blazers (ORL, IND, @ DAL, @ SA)
Lineup locks: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge
Outlook: Martell Webster is shooting just 35.6 percent over his past eight games. Save for the Pacers, these teams are tough on 3-point shooters, so avoid him here.
San Antonio Spurs (@ SAC, WAS, @ MIN, POR)
Lineup locks: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
Outlook: Brent Barry set a season high in minutes (29) when he knocked down five 3-pointers against Orlando last Wednesday. He followed that up with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 23 minutes against Memphis on Nov. 23. He might keep it up against this schedule. Roll the dice on him in a deep league.
Seattle SuperSonics (@ LAL, ORL, IND, GS)
Lineup locks: Chris Wilcox, Damien Wilkins
Outlook: Is it possible that Kevin Durant isn't even the best rookie on his own team? Jeff Green has reached double figures in every game in which he's played at least 23 minutes, and he's coming off back-to-back 14-rebound nights. As for Durant, though he's Seattle's top scorer with 18.5 points, he has bettered 40 percent from the floor in only one of his last nine games. Favorable as this schedule looks, it might not get any better for him this week; the Lakers, Magic and (surprisingly) the Pacers all hold opponents to less than 44-percent shooting.
Washington Wizards (@ DAL, @ SA, @ PHI, TOR)
Lineup locks: Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler
Outlook: Oh, are Jamison and Butler going off since Gilbert Arenas went down. But it'll be tougher this week; these are four of the league's top 12 defensive teams. Not that it will, or should, stop you from playing those two, or Antonio Daniels and Andray Blatche, for that matter.
Teams with three games
For teams playing three games, stick to your locks (unless otherwise noted).
Detroit Pistons (CLE, @ MIL, NJ)
Lineup locks: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton
Outlook: Rasheed Wallace is a dicey play, given his knee problems, while Hamilton has had the flu. But with the Pistons having only the Cleveland game between now and the weekend, both have time to recover.
Memphis Grizzlies (@ NJ, @ TOR, MIN)
Lineup locks: Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay
Outlook: Just as he seems to be solidifying his minutes, this week offers three attractive opponents for 3-point specialist Juan Carlos Navarro. Only the Wizards yield more buckets from downtown than the Raptors.
Miami Heat (CHA, BOS, @ DEN)
Lineup locks: Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal
Outlook: After averaging just 11 minutes over his past seven games, Smush Parker played 27 minutes in the Heat's blowout loss to Orlando on Saturday. Perhaps Jason Williams' continued struggles, coupled with a six-games-in-nine-days road trip starting in Denver, signal more consistent playing time for Parker.
New Orleans Hornets (MIN, @ ATL, DAL)
Lineup locks: Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler
Outlook: The team that played 16 games in the first 27 days of the season finally gets a break. Paul could benefit most from a stretch of having only two games in eight days, which begins Tuesday. He's just 13-of-39 from the field since returning from injury; Paul was shooting better than 50 percent previously.
Utah Jazz (@ NY, @ PHI, LAL)
Lineup locks: Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko
Outlook: Ronnie Brewer's minutes are declining, but the steals alone are reason enough to keep him active. Brewer is averaging 2.7 steals and has failed to get two steals in just two games this season.
Teams with two games
Charlotte Bobcats (@ MIA, @ CHI)
Lineup locks: Raymond Felton, Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson
Outlook: Gerald Wallace owners can feel a bit relieved by the light schedule; the Bobcats have only one game remaining in November. Even though the Bobcats play only two games, you probably don't have anyone else who can match Felton's assists, Okafor's rebounds/blocks or Richardson's 3-pointers.
Chicago Bulls (ATL, CHA)
Lineup locks: None
Outlook: For much of the early season, I've been thinking that Minnesota is the least interesting team for fantasy purposes. But at least the Wolves have Jefferson. Without Luol Deng, and with Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon struggling (including a combined 9-for-35 from the field against the Knicks ... the Knicks?), Chicago looks like even more of a fantasy wasteland. Nothing to see here. Certainly not this week.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball writer for ESPN.com.
Neil Tardy previews the week ahead for each NBA team and tells you which players to rely on.