- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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The fantasy hoops season is down to its final days, and you know some more surprises are in store. Here's what surprises me: Kevin Love is available in almost 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Yes, that number is likely dwindling by the second, but you'll seldom have a more urgent need to check your league's free agent rolls. Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman said Thursday that he'd happily play Love for the team's final two games provided the star power forward is cleared by doctors. Love, who sustained a mild concussion and a strained neck after taking an inadvertent blow from JaVale McGee on April 11, will continue with NBA-mandated testing through the weekend. He could be available for Sunday's home game with the Golden State Warriors.
For this, the final installment of the NBA Fantasy Forecaster, we'll tackle the final four days of the NBA regular-season schedule, team by team. You may wish to consult last week's column for matchup ratings and general thoughts about the closing schedule.
April 23-26: Teams with three games
Charlotte Bobcats (@WAS Monday, @ORL Wednesday, NY Thursday): In his past six games, Bismack Biyombo is averaging 2.0 rejections and 8.2 rebounds. Add him if you can move up in blocks, but move on if percentages are in play. Biyombo is shooting just 39.0 percent from the field and 64.5 percent from the line (on 5.2 attempts) in that span. And while the rookie has the raw ability to overcome statistical trends, it's worth noting that Orlando Magic opponents are last in blocks, while Washington Wizards opponents are 23rd. Biyombo is available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Cleveland Cavaliers (@MEM Monday, WAS Wednesday, @CHI Thursday): Kyrie Irving made his return on April 20, playing 20 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers. However, head coach Byron Scott has hinted that the prized rookie might not play in all of these games. Expect the Chicago Bulls to rest their key players on the final night, making this schedule a bit more attractive. Tristan Thompson, available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, is a fill-in possibility. Note that the Cavs let Lester Hudson's 10-day contract expire; he was signed by the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies.
Milwaukee Bucks (TOR Monday, PHI Wednesday, @BOS Thursday): The Bucks could be eliminated from playoff contention by Monday. In that event, the team could shut down Ersan Ilyasova (thigh) or Drew Gooden, who was having back problems earlier in April. And for what it's worth, Brandon Jennings is currently in the top 10 in minutes played. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 16 points and 11 rebounds filling in for Ilyasova against the Indiana Pacers on April 19. Ekpe Udoh, who's been dealing with an ankle sprain, could see significant minutes if Gooden doesn't play.
Philadelphia 76ers (@NJ Monday, @MIL Wednesday, @DET Thursday): Despite a poor finish, it appears the Sixers will reach the postseason. They could even gain the seventh seed over the New York Knicks. It's possible key starters could be held out of the final game or two.
San Antonio Spurs (POR Monday, @PHO Wednesday, @GS Thursday): Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili should play little, if at all, in the finale. I'll just stick with what I said last week: Tiago Splitter is the Spurs reserve with the greatest fantasy potential over the final days. Gary Neal is also an intriguing play in any game where Parker sits or is limited.
Washington Wizards (CHA Monday, @CLE Wednesday, MIA Thursday):Nene returned to action on April 18, scoring 14 points in just 18 minutes against the Bucks. Nene's availability in ESPN.com leagues crept past 35 percent during his absence. Jan Vesely, who's unrostered in nearly all leagues, has averaged 6.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 1.0 block over his past six. Every little bit can help in crunch time.
Teams with two games
Atlanta Hawks (LAC Tuesday, DAL Thursday): The Hawks currently own the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. It wouldn't be surprising to see their key players rested in the finale.
Boston Celtics (MIA Tuesday, MIL Thursday): Rajon Rondo (tailbone) and Ray Allen (ankle) are expected to sit out at least the first part of this weekend. Regardless of what happens, Avery Bradley (19.0 points, 2.2 3-pointers over his past five) looks like a solid play for these two games. Miami Heat opponents are second in 3s made, while Bucks opponents are 11th. Bradley is available in about 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Chicago Bulls (@IND Wednesday, CLE Thursday): The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson says it's a "safe guess" that Derrick Rose plays in the Bulls' final two games. Last season, coach Tom Thibodeau played his starters throughout the regular season, though key players have seen their minutes limited during the team's numerous blowout victories.
Denver Nuggets (@OKC Wednesday, @MIN Thursday): The Nuggets are currently sixth in the Western Conference. It wouldn't be surprising to see them rest their key players -- Ty Lawson in particular -- at least for the final game.
Detroit Pistons (@IND Monday, PHI Thursday): If Rodney Stuckey continues to be limited, perhaps we'll see more of Will Bynum, who racked up 17 points in just 12 minutes against the Timberwolves on Thursday. And Charlie Villanueva, who's missed most of the season, has averaged 10.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 3s over his past three games. Yeah, I know. Those are some real long shots.
Golden State Warriors (NO Tuesday, SA Thursday): There's nothing definitive on Nate Robinson's status (hamstring). With Robinson sitting against the Lakers on April 18, Charles Jenkins played 32 minutes, tallying six points and 11 assists.
Indiana Pacers (DET Monday, CHI Wednesday): George Hill (15.4 points, 5.4 assists, 1.7 3s in seven starts) is going fast, but he can still be had in about 55 percent of ESPN.com leagues. In standard leagues he might be the best available in free agency.
Los Angeles Clippers (@ATL Monday, @NY Wednesday): With the Clippers chasing the Lakers and trying to hold off the Grizzlies in the West, you could see their key players in both of these games.
Memphis Grizzlies (CLE Monday, ORL Thursday): The Grizzlies face the Bobcats and the Portland Trail Blazers this weekend, so they could close some ground on the Clippers, the team that's currently a spot above them in the Western Conference playoff race. On the other hand, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol are both among the leaders in minutes played this season, so either could be limited for Thursday's finale.
Miami Heat (@BOS Tuesday, @WAS Thursday): LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all sat out the final regular-season game last season. Hard to say if a chance to claim the top seed in the East will keep the Heat's big three on the court this time around.
New Jersey Nets (PHI Monday, @TOR Thursday): Gerald Wallace returned to action on April 18, scoring 21 points in 31 minutes against the Knicks. You might be able to grab G-Wall, who's available in almost 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues. You can almost assuredly get Sundiata Gaines, who finished with 18 points, six assists, six rebounds and four triples in that same game. The point guard position is all his if Deron Williams (calf) doesn't play again.
New Orleans Hornets (@GS Tuesday, @HOU Thursday): Eric Gordon had 27 points in his return against the Houston Rockets on April 19. He's available in about 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Digging deeper, Carl Landry is averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over his past four. He's available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
New York Knicks (LAC Wednesday, @CHA Thursday): Amare Stoudemire will play this weekend. He last played on March 24, so the Knicks certainly want to get him ready for the playoffs. Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see him limited for the finale in Charlotte. Stoudemire is available in about 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Oklahoma City Thunder (SAC Tuesday, DEN Wednesday): Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all played limited minutes in the last game of the 2010-11 regular season. It generally helps fantasy owners that the Thunder are off for Thursday's busy slate.
Orlando Magic (CHA Wednesday, @MEM Thursday): Hard to believe that Glen Davis (16.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals as a starter) is still available in almost 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues. After missing one game with a knee injury, Davis scored 27 points (on 12-of-16 shooting) against the Celtics on April 18.
Phoenix Suns (@UTA Tuesday, SA Wednesday): The Suns are fighting for the final playoff spot in the West, so Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat owners can count on their guys. Jared Dudley, who slumped in early April before rebounding over his past three games (19.0 points, 2.7 3s) is available in more than 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Portland Trail Blazers (@SA Monday, @UTA Thursday): If Nicolas Batum (quad) is held out the rest of the way, Luke Babbitt becomes an option for owners in need of 3-pointers. Babbitt has six triples in his past two games (though he was only a combined 13-of-34 from the field). In his previous 11 games, he averaged 1.8 treys despite never playing more than 22 minutes in that stretch. In leagues of at least 12 teams, Nolan Smith (15.0 points, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals) is a consideration if Raymond Felton doesn't play again.
Sacramento Kings (@OKC Tuesday, LAL Thursday): Marcus Thornton is having issues with his thigh again. If he can't go, Terrence Williams, who averaged 13.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.6 steals during Thornton's previous absence, would again be fantasy-relevant.
Toronto Raptors (@MIL Monday, NJ Thursday): A couple of nice matchups for James Johnson (17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals in his past three), who's survived his spat with Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Johnson is available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Utah Jazz (PHO Tuesday, POR Thursday): The Tuesday game is huge for the Jazz, who are trying to beat out the Suns for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris owners can rest easy.
Teams with one game
Key players from the Mavs, Rockets and Lakers can be expected to rest for the last game, though, again, the Wolves are hoping Love (concussion) as well as Luke Ridnour (ankle) can play the team's final two games.
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