- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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Head-to-head playoffs begin this week in ESPN.com leagues, so here are some quick observations about the final three-plus weeks of the NBA schedule:
Extreme teams: From April 2 through the close of the regular season, the Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs each play 16 games. The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat play 15 times.
Among these teams, these players are available in at least 45 percent of leagues: Tony Allen, Grizzlies; Bismack Biyombo, Bobcats; Mario Chalmers, Heat; Alonzo Gee, Cavaliers; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Corey Maggette, Bobcats; O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies; Brandon Rush, Warriors; Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers.
You likely aren't surprised that these teams pose such favorable matchups, but I want to underscore a couple of things. First, the Nuggets, who are in danger of falling out the Western Conference playoff race, are surrendering 8.6 3-pointers per game. In the previous four years, only three NBA teams (the Wizards twice and the Cavs once) have surrendered as many as 8.0 treys over an entire season. Second, if the undermanned Warriors don't finish with one of the seven worst records this season, they'll lose their 2012 first-round draft pick to the Utah Jazz. I'm not saying this team will give less than 100 percent the rest of the way, just that they have a ton of incentive to tank.
Daily targets: The Chicago Bulls play only 12 games from April 2 on, but their schedule has its positives for fantasy owners in formats with no games limits. For instance, in the week ahead the Bulls play on the three days with the lightest NBA schedule: Monday, April 2 (six games), Thursday, April 5 (four games) and Sunday, April 8 (seven games). So as long as Derrick Rose remains sidelined, C.J. Watson is a viable option if you're looking to pile up counting stats. Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver are also possibilities for streaming owners. (Note: The Kings also hit this week's Monday/Thursday/Sunday trifecta, but they offer little beyond their core fantasy stars.)
Week 15 at a Glance
The Grizzlies and Kings each play five games from April 2-8. If you can, add Jason Thompson, who's still available in about a third of ESPN.com leagues. He'd missed two games with an ankle injury, but returned to tally 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks against the Spurs on March 28. In his past six games, Thompson is averaging 17.2 points and 12.5 rebounds. Speaking of ankle problems, Marc Gasol is expected to return this weekend, and the Grizzlies don't believe the ankle injury Mike Conley sustained against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 27 is serious.
Another team to scrutinize is the Milwaukee Bucks. If Carlos Delfino (groin) can get back in the lineup, he should do well in a four-game set against the Wizards, Cavaliers, Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers. Wizards and Cavs opponents are sixth and seventh in treys. And should Ersan Ilyasova have a setback, Ekpe Udoh, who had eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a March 27 start against the Atlanta Hawks, becomes a must-add. Ilyasova, though, should play this weekend after missing that Hawks game with back spasms.
"R" matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that week's matchups.
Players to Watch
J.J. Hickson, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (UTA, NJ, @DAL, @MIL): Hickson is coming off of two solid games with his new team: 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 27 and 12 points with a couple of steals against the New Orleans Hornets on March 29. Hickson seems set to play 25 to 30 minutes a night for the remainder of the season. This schedule doesn't tell you much, but I'll note that bigs have generally feasted on the Nets with Brook Lopez out of the lineup. Nets opponents are second in field goal percentage.
Carl Landry, PF, New Orleans Hornets (DEN, @SA, MIN): In his first four games back after missing 23 games with a knee injury, Landry has averaged 18.3 points and 7.5 rebounds. But given the Hornets' unrelenting injuries and absences, it's tough gauging their fantasy outlook from one game to the next, much less over an entire week. While Landry's minutes seem safe, odds are that the Hornets will at least get Chris Kaman (illness) and Gustavo Ayon (personal) back soon. Since Landry has only the three games this week anyway, it might be best to look at other free agents.
Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs (@CLE, @BOS, NOR, UTA): Apparently Leonard is the biggest beneficiary of the Richard Jefferson deal. In eight consecutive starts since the trade, he's played at least 25 minutes while averaging 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.1 3s. Call this set of games neutral, though Cavs opponents are seventh in 3s and Hornets opponents are eighth in steals. Leonard is available in more than 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Brandon Rush, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors (@MEM, @MIN, UTA, DEN): As of Friday, the third-most-added player in ESPN.com leagues, Rush has averaged 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 3s and a stellar 2.0 rejections over his past six games. The 6-foot-6 Rush has always been a decent source of blocks by swingman standards, and he'll have a chance to keep it going given this set of games. Nuggets opponents -- in addition to knocking down the most triples -- are tops in blocks, while Grizzlies, Jazz and Timberwolves opponents rate seventh to ninth in that category.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: 3-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.