April 02, 2012

With the playoffs here in most head-to-head leagues, all it takes is one bad week to end your fantasy basketball season. However, there are a number of things teams can do not only to prevent an early playoff exit, but to help dominate a fantasy playoff series. Here are some tips to help your fantasy team win a championship.

Focus on the categories you can win: Records no longer matter once the playoffs arrive in head-to-head leagues. From this point on your goal should be to simply do whatever it takes to win the week. It doesn't matter if your team wins by a score of 9-0 or 5-4 as long as you win and advance to the next round. As the competition gets tougher, it is important to focus on the categories your team is strongest in and be prepared to punt other categories where you are not. All of your waiver wire moves at this point in the season should be in service of your team's five or six strongest categories. A player like J.J. Hickson might be exploding for the shorthanded Blazers, but he may not fit your team's needs if you are punting points or rebounds.

Know the NBA schedule to maximize games played: One of the easiest ways to get an advantage over your opponent in a weekly head-to-head match up is to use the schedule to your advantage by picking up players with favorable schedules and dropping players with bad schedules. While there are a few teams that play five games either this week or next week, the Grizzlies are the only team in the league that have back-to-back five game weeks in a row. That makes marginal fantasy players like Tony Allen and even O.J. Mayo more valuable than a lot of other players who only play seven or eight times over the next two weeks.

Even if you play in a league that has a weekly transaction limit, you can plan out your adds and drops based on the schedule to squeeze out a few extra games. For example, the Wizards play four games this week, but all of their games come before Saturday. So if you own a Wizard, you can play him through Friday then drop him for someone on the Celtics, Sixers or Kings; the three teams that play on both Saturday and Sunday. The result is six games out of one roster spot and a single transaction.

One of the most useful tools to have in the fantasy playoffs is a daily schedule grid. This will allow you to see what teams play on what days, who is home or away and good and bad match ups for fantasy purposes.

However, overall talent is more important than the schedule: Now is not the time to get too cute with lineup changes. In many cases, you'll be better off playing top-tier players who have three-game weeks rather than swapping in a lesser player who plays four or five games. The Kings play five times this week, but that doesn't make their bench of John Salmons, Terrance Williams, Donte Greene and Chuck Hayes any more attractive for fantasy purposes. Don't sit players like Luol Deng or Jarrett Jack because their teams only play three games this week. You can do the math yourself by taking a player's game averages and multiplying it by the number of games they play in a specific week. Then compare the results to find the best option for your team.

The playoffs are not the time to be patient: During the regular season, you can afford to wait out injuries to players at the cost of having a losing week or two. Unfortunately, teams do not have that luxury in a single-elimination playoff series. This means that you may have to make the difficult decision to cut players who are "day-to-day" with nagging injuries.

For example, Derrick Rose missed his 10th-straight game on Sunday with a groin injury. Despite being listed as day-to-day, the team is clearly taking it about as slowly as possible with Rose since they are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls only play three games this week, starting with a Monday night game against the Rockets and not playing again until Thursday, when they face the Celtics. If Rose misses Monday's game, it is a risky move to wait until Thursday and hope that he returns to the court. That means Rose owners with tough matchups this week may have to make the tough decision to drop Rose if it doesn't look like he's going to be back in the lineup by Monday.

Similarly, there is little reason to hang onto players like Amare Stoudemire, Anderson Varejao, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry if there is a chance that your team won't be playing past this week.

Be prepared for the unexpected: Whether it is due to injuries or NBA teams simply falling out of playoff contention, the end of the season is the time that young players across the league get a chance to play big minutes. As long as fantasy owners pay attention and are prepared to act quickly, there is value to be had on the waiver wire this time year.

This includes players like Golden State's rookie point guard Charles Jenkins. Due to a Nate Robinson hamstring injury, Jenkins has been thrown into the Warriors' starting rotation and has made the most of his opportunity, averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 assists per game in his last four starts. Jeremy Lin's season ending knee injury means that rookie Iman Shumpert will likely remain in the Knicks' starting rotation for the rest of the season. J.J. Hickson has exploded since being picked up by a Blazers' team that was light on big men. Kyrie Irving's sprained right shoulder meant that little-known Donald Sloan got the start for the Cavaliers at point guard on Saturday night.

There will be plenty of opportunities on fantasy waiver wires over the next few weeks due to injuries and roster changes. Be prepared to take advantage of them.

Win the week at all costs: If you play in a single elimination, head-to-head playoff league and it looks like you might lose, then it is important to do everything in your power to win the week. If you play in a league with a transaction cap, do not leave any moves on the table. Burn through as many as possible to gain a games played advantage. If you are losing heading into the weekend, drop players who might be good, but don't play on Saturday or Sunday. Punt categories you can't win and focus on adding players who help you in the categories you can win. Drop players who have nagging injuries and are uncertain to play. Even drop players like Derrick Rose and Nikola Pekovic if it looks like they won't play.

This strategy may leave you at a disadvantage if you win and advance to the next round, but compared to the alternative of not advancing at all, at least it will give you a chance to continue fighting for another week and for a championship.

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