If you’re reading this, chances are good you’re still setting Fantasy basketball lineups next week, as playoff season has completely come into play for almost all head-to-head formats. At this point, those who brought you to this dance will most likely continue to stay in tune for your franchise, while those of you looking to find a Roy Hobbs-like miracle sitting on the waiver wire are in need of prayer. Late March rarely presents a waiver savior.
Still, there are players that are sitting on playoff rosters who may not be the focal point of your success, but have stepped their games up over the past few weeks. They may not give you high-end production, but their ability to specialize in a category or two could be the driving force to a deep playoff run for your squad.
Take, for example, Marvin Williams of the Hornets. Williams has been boss on the glass much of this month, recording six games of at least ten rebounds while also averaging 13.6 points per contest. March has been good for Williams, yet he’s not the only one playing an unsung role this month.
*Nikola Mirotic, F, Bulls: A couple of weeks ago, Mirotic was on the inactive list, but he’s become Fantasy-relevant in the wake of Dwyane Wade’s season-ending elbow injury. Entering Saturday’s game against the Jazz, Mirotic averaged 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and just over three treys per game this week. With Chicago’s season all but lost, Mirotic should see increased minutes (at the expense of Bobby Portis) and should be able to maintain solid production considering the Bulls have few healthy and reliable offensive options.
*Clint Capela, F/C, Rockets: Had he not missed time with a stress fracture early in the season, Capela might have been in the conversation as a Fantasy Basketball breakout player. He’s making up for lost time, as he has quietly averaged 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds this month while shooting nearly 58 percent from the field. Capela is also good for a blocked shot or two, yet perhaps the biggest reason he’s on this list is his 58 percent shooting from the free throw line. No, it’s not quite Rick Barry territory, but considering where Capela’s FT shooting was a year ago, this constitutes a small miracle of sorts.
*Brandon Ingram, F, Lakers: He’s finally beginning to show signs of why he was the second overall pick in the draft. Ingram is shooting just under 51 percent from the field this month while displaying defensive prowess (1.1 steals per game in March). His 12.3 points per game this month isn’t enough to write home about, yet when you consider his season/career high is 22 points and that the Lakers will continue to play him in the neighborhood of 36 minutes a night, that lightbulb just might turn on down the stretch.
*James Johnson, F, Heat: The journeyman is playing perhaps the best stretch of ball in his career, averaging 13 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 blocks and a steal in eight games this month. Keep in mind Johnson is putting up solid numbers despite playing less than 28 minutes a night. Still, his lunch pail-like work has been a surprise to Fantasy owners while also helping keep the Heat within sight of the final playoff spot in the East.
*Elfrid Payton, G, Magic: Known as an offensively-challenged player, Payton has turned into Russell Westbrook lite this month, recording three triple-doubles while averaging 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. Orlando has one of the worst offenses in the league, making Payton’s assist totals more impressive, and since when did anyone moan about getting nearly eight boards a night from a point guard not named Harden or Westbrook?
*Robert Covington, F, 76ers: RC won’t do wonders for your shooting percentage (40.9 percent this month), but he’s emerged as a solid second option behind Dario “We Told You So…” Saric. Injuries have plagued Covington, but when he’s on the court, his 15 points and 6.6 rebounds are enhanced by 1.6 blocks and 1.3 steals.
*T.J. Warren, G/F, Suns: Remember the stellar start Warren had to begin the season? He was a hot sell-high player before injuries chewed up much of his season, yet Warren has reminded us just how good a player he can be this month. Entering Saturday, Warren was scoring 17 points on nearly 59 percent shooting while also pulling down 8.2 rebounds to go along with 1.3 blocks per game. Damn, this Suns team could be scary 2-3 years from now.
Most Fantasy-Friendly Matchups of the Week
*Nuggets at Rockets, Monday: Less than 48 hours after their previous meeting, these two high-scoring teams head to the Toyota Center to partake in another Caligula-like display of defensive depravity. James Harden and Nikola Jokic are the stars, yet keep an eye on a pair of reserves who can easily put up a 30 FP night. Denver’s Miles Plumlee looks as if he has become comfortable in his new role and had back-to-back 30 FP outings this past week. Houston’s Lou Williams is averaging nearly 47 percent from beyond the arc over his last five despite seeing his usage rate tail off a bit.
*Nuggets at Cavaliers, Wednesday: The third highest-scoring team welcomes the fourth-highest. Cleveland won the first meeting in a 125-109 slugfest on February 11 that saw Jokic, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving score at least 20 points while Tristan Thompson added 13 points and 13 boards. If both teams are close to full strength come tip-off, 125 points may not be enough for either team to claim victory.
*Suns at Celtics, Friday: This should be a fun matchup involving each backcourt. Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker are both averaging over 19 points per game in their last ten and are capable of filling it up much more than that. Isaiah Thomas now has his running buddy back in Avery Bradley, whose usage rate has greatly increased now that he’s close to 100 percent. Al Horford is putting up nearly 35 FP per game over his last five entering Saturday and looks long past the mini-slump he had after the All-Star break.
Best Matchups to Exploit
*Chris Paul vs. Lakers, Tuesday: Luke Walton’s charges are assist-friendly to the tune of a league-worst 25.6 dimes allowed per game. Paul crucified the Lakers backcourt with 20 points and 13 assists in his only meeting against them on January 14, which was only his fourth game back from his thumb injury. Expect similar numbers at the very least.
*LeBron James at Nuggets, Wednesday: LBJ is eighth in scoring over the past ten games, averaging 28.8 a night. He might get that in a half against a Nuggets defense ranked 27th in points allowed per contest (110.8) even though he “underachieved” by scoring 27 on Denver in home win against them on February 11. This has playoff implications for both teams, a factor that could translate into a long night in the Mile High City.
*Jokic at Pacers, Friday: Denver, surprisingly, leads the league in total rebounds per game. Indiana, surprisingly, is ninth in most boards allowed per contest. Jokic entered Saturday’s play averaging 12.8 boards in his last ten and will likely draw much attention from Myles Turner, who is pulling down only 6.9 rebounds per game since the All-Star break and might get sent to the learning tree via Professor Jokic.
Best One-on-One Matchups This Week
*Steph Curry vs. Russell Westbrook (Warriors at Thunder, Monday): There is no need to watch Monday Night Raw or whatever the hell comes on besides basketball and hockey on Monday nights. Curry has long ceded the Fantasy throne to Westbrook, but make no mistake: Curry, evidenced by the 50 FP outing he had at against the 76ers last Tuesday, is still elite. There’s little else you can say about Westbrook at this point. Four straight triple-doubles heading into the weekend and an overall 42.1 usage rate are numbers we may not see for a long time after this season.
*Rudy Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan (Jazz at Clippers, Saturday): This one’s early (3:30 PM Eastern tip-off), yet worth carving some time out of your weekend to watch. Gobert’s breakout season has been overshadowed by Nikola Jokic’s bust-out campaign, yet the Stifle Tower has established himself as a first-line Fantasy center. He came into the weekend averaging 41 FP per game over his last five and his improved offense makes him a double-double the moment Gobert steps on the court. Prior to missing this past Thursday’s game against the Nuggets, Jordan had 59.50 and 50 FP outings sandwiched between a 24.7 snoozer. If Jordan’s healthy, this game will have an impact on what is Fantasy quarterfinals week in most leagues.
*Westbrook vs. Harden (Thunder at Rockets, Sunday): No words, although I know of a friend in a longtime dynasty league who has both Harden and Westbrook. Prosperity doesn’t come to all of us in Fantasy hoops.
TEAMS PLAYING FIVE GAMES:
TEAMS PLAYING FOUR GAMES:
Hawks, Nets, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Nuggets, Warriors, Pacers, Bucks, Knicks, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Wizards
TEAMS PLAYING THREE GAMES:
Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, Rockets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz