The NBA All-Star Game is behind us, the trade deadline will soon be, and in many head-to-head fantasy leagues the playoffs begin in a couple of weeks. The default playoff period starts the week of March 26 in a number of fantasy leagues, which means there are only two weeks remaining for fantasy owners to get their teams in order and make that final push to the playoffs.
One way to prepare a fantasy team for the playoffs is to analyze its playoff schedule, noting players and teams with good or bad schedules during the league's playoff period. Players with exceptionally bad playoff schedules may even have to be moved for those who play more games during the final weeks of the season. By stocking up on players with four- or five-game weeks and avoiding those with three-game weeks, a fantasy team can easily have a games played advantage over an opponent of 10 percent or more, which makes a huge difference when the competition gets tighter.
Two teams have 20 games over the final five weeks of the season: the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, those are not exactly two NBA powerhouses. In fact, the Bobcats arguably have been the worst team in the league for fantasy purposes this season. But even for a team in disarray like the Bobcats, a good ending schedule creates opportunity. It's easier to take a risk on a streaky player with upside like Bismack Biyombo when he is playing four or five games a week rather than three. Also, players like D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Cory Maggette should all be solid contributors for fantasy teams looking to maximize games played during the playoff period.
The Cavaliers' good schedule means the emerging Kyrie Irving could end up being one of the best players in the league on a cumulative basis over the last month of the season. It also makes Anderson Varejao a player worth stashing as he works his way back from a fractured wrist despite the recent news that he's still having trouble gripping a basketball in his right hand. Even if he hits the back end of his original 4-6 week timetable, Varejao should return to the court right before the playoffs start in many leagues.
A number of teams play one five-game week during the playoff period this season, but the Memphis Grizzlies are the only team with two of them (in Weeks 15 and 16). While there is no guarantee that Zach Randolph will be healthy enough to play in 10 games over 14 days, the Grizzlies will be fighting for playoff position in the West, so players like Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol should have a couple of high scoring weeks for their owners right in the middle of the playoffs in most fantasy leagues.
The Spurs play 19 games over the last month and arguably have the easiest schedule over that span, playing the Suns three times and the Cavaliers, Kings and Warriors twice each. However, expect the Spurs' big three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to get plenty of rest down the stretch based on Gregg Popovich's history, especially if the team locks up the second seed in the West.
Miami also plays 19 games over the last month, but has one of the toughest fantasy schedules in the league. They play the Celtics three more times and the Bulls twice, along with the Sixers, Pacers and Grizzlies (three of the tougher teams to play against for fantasy purposes). They should also lock up either the first or second seed in the East well before the end of the regular season, which could result in Dwyane Wade getting some time off to rest before the NBA playoffs start.
A total of five teams play a league-low 16 games over the last month of the season: the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets. There are some big-name players on those teams and, in particular, Derrick Rose owners will be in a tough spot as the Bulls have two straight three-game weeks right in the middle of the playoff period in most leagues.
In leagues that run to the very end of the regular season, the team with arguably the worst schedule is the New Jersey Nets. The Nets finish off the year with weeks of 3, 3 and 2 games. Considering that both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are dealing with injuries and the team currently has a record of 14-26, it is possible that both players shut it down before the end of the year as the Nets are officially eliminated from the playoffs. Williams owners may want to quickly shop him around and try to swap him for a point guard with a better playoff schedule, like Kyrie Irving.
On Friday it was reported that Kyle Lowry was hospitalized in New York with an illness and would miss the Rockets current three-game road trip. By Sunday news came out that he actually has a bacterial infection and will miss the next 2-4 weeks while he recovers in Houston after being released from the hospital. It's tough news for the Rockets and Lowry, who was in the midst of a career year as Houston's starting point guard averaging 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 threes and 1.8 steals per game.
In his absence, Goran Dragic will take over starting point guard duties for the Rockets and is worth an immediate add in all leagues. In four starts this season, Dragic has averaged 18.3 points, 8.8 assists and 2.8 threes while playing about 36 minutes per game. Starting his second straight game on Sunday night against the Cavaliers, Dragic finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds while hitting 4-5 from three. Dragic might not be able to completely duplicate Lowry's across the board numbers, but he'll contribute strong points, assists and threes while Lowry is out.