In-Season Strategy: Week 21 Schedule Considerations

In-Season Strategy: Week 21 Schedule Considerations

This article is part of our In-Season Strategy series.

After a really busy slate in our first full week after the All-Star break, the schedule slows down a bit in Week 21. Ten teams have four games, and two teams, the Cavs and the Clippers have just a two-game slate. Before we break into the ramifications of this slate, here's a full look at the game breakdown.

Number of Games:

Four Games: ATL, CHI, DAL, MIA, MIL, MIN, NOR, NYK, PHI, PHO

Three Games: BKN, BOS, CHA, DEN, DET, GSW, HOU, IND, LAL, MEM, OKC, ORL, POR, SAC, SAS, TOR, UTA, WAS

Two Games: CLE, LAC

Kevin Love's "rest day" Saturday reminded us that NBA teams don't care about your fantasy team, and they especially don't care when they are racing to the bottom of the NBA standings to get a coveted "bottom three" spot in the lottery. It's a shame, too - Love had been on a roll, averaging 38.7 Yahoo fantasy points over his previous four games. Love's return has also put the Cavs in a tricky spot, as they've won four of their last 10, including a win directly over fellow lottery contenders in the Knicks. Lucky for them, the Bulls are playing better, winning six of 10 to "fall" three games ahead of the Cavs in the standings. Even if the front office wants to lose, or at least doesn't mind losing, the players still draw a paycheck in this league and in a way are always auditioning for their next job. So look

After a really busy slate in our first full week after the All-Star break, the schedule slows down a bit in Week 21. Ten teams have four games, and two teams, the Cavs and the Clippers have just a two-game slate. Before we break into the ramifications of this slate, here's a full look at the game breakdown.

Number of Games:

Four Games: ATL, CHI, DAL, MIA, MIL, MIN, NOR, NYK, PHI, PHO

Three Games: BKN, BOS, CHA, DEN, DET, GSW, HOU, IND, LAL, MEM, OKC, ORL, POR, SAC, SAS, TOR, UTA, WAS

Two Games: CLE, LAC

Kevin Love's "rest day" Saturday reminded us that NBA teams don't care about your fantasy team, and they especially don't care when they are racing to the bottom of the NBA standings to get a coveted "bottom three" spot in the lottery. It's a shame, too - Love had been on a roll, averaging 38.7 Yahoo fantasy points over his previous four games. Love's return has also put the Cavs in a tricky spot, as they've won four of their last 10, including a win directly over fellow lottery contenders in the Knicks. Lucky for them, the Bulls are playing better, winning six of 10 to "fall" three games ahead of the Cavs in the standings. Even if the front office wants to lose, or at least doesn't mind losing, the players still draw a paycheck in this league and in a way are always auditioning for their next job. So look for them to keep playing hard, until they're pulled from games, as the Pels have been doing with Anthony Davis.

It's a pretty good bet that Love will play both games this week, however - they play on Wednesday and Friday, so there's no fear of back-to-backs, and both games are against playoff contenders in the East - at Brooklyn and at Miami. The pickings get a little thin after that, though Cedi Osman had been on a roll from beyond the arc prior to Saturday night's loss to the Pistons. He's probably useable in a pinch, and to a lesser extent Collin Sexton might also be a play, though his production has been less consistent lately.

Does anyone remember when Bill Walton was one of the Clippers' broadcasters? I first moved to Los Angeles in January 1999 from Chicago, back when we were still RotoNews (and later "RotoNewsDirect"). We used to work a lot of late nights, and the Clippers games done by Walton and Ralph Lawler were highlights. Oh how I loved his tangents when the game would get out of hand in the second quarter, how he'd extol the virtues of Michael Olowokandi, Keith Closs and Eric Piatkowski ("If Eric Piatkowski continues playing at this level, he's going to replace Jerry West on the NBA logo."). I suppose he's an acquired taste for some, but he appeals to my quirky sense of humor.

Anyhow, the Clippers' schedule is potentially tricky, as their first game is the second game of a back-to-back on Monday, though it's against their co-tenants, the Lakers. They're currently 4.5 games up on the Lakers after the latter inexcusably lost to the Suns on Saturday night, and they'd like nothing more than to push them out of the playoff picture. The other problem beyond the two-game slate is that the Clippers spread their production around between eight players without having a main guy. Lou Williams is the closest to being a primary producer after the Tobias Harris, as he's scored at least 26.6 Yahoo fantasy points in his last eight games. Montrezl Harrell might also be an option for you.

Even before the epic four-overtime game against the Bulls, the Hawks have been the fantasy gift that keeps on giving. They play at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, behind only the Sacramento Kings. Part and parcel with that is a league worst 119.1 points per game scored against them. They're also scoring 112.1 points per game, so there's plenty of fantasy chances to be had with them - unless you own John Collins, see that sweet 168-161 game against the Bulls, only to realize he had sat out with an illness, one that will likely keep him out of the rematch against Chicago on Sunday. Meanwhile, Trae Young had already been on a streak before his epic game against the Bulls. He has topped 40 Yahoo points in six of his last seven, still posting 38.4 in the one that didn't make that standard. The Luka Doncic trade is starting to look more even now.

The Hawks have four games this week, and the fantasy lottery winners that get to play them are the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans. Who are some of the non-obvious guys that you might use from those teams to get an edge this week? I wanted to use RotoWire's Opponent Averages tool to narrow the search, but that just revealed that the Hawks are nearly uniformly terrible defensively. They allow the most fantasy points in the league against both point guards and shooting guards, second-highest by small forwards and fourth-highest in the NBA by power forwards. Only opposing centers even approach league-average production against Atlanta.

Miami - The Heat have four games this week, and in addition to the Atlanta game they also have a big matchup against Charlotte, who are tied with the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, one game behind Orlando for the final playoff spot. Hassan Whitesidehas missed the last three games with a hip injury, but on Saturday he at least appeared close to returning. If he doesn't play against the Hawks on Monday, look for another productive game from Bam Adebayo. It's a pretty direct correlation for Adebayo - when Whiteside is out, he gets more minutes/chances and his production spikes. Justise Winslow is having a breakout season and has gone back to scoring around 30 Yahoo points per game after missing two games last week with a minor knee sprain. Josh Richardson has been the Heat's steadiest player lately, also chiming in around the 30 Yahoo point level, with flatter peaks and valleys than Winslow.

San Antonio - LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are mainstays for the Spurs, but this is a good week to take another look at Rudy Gay and Derrick White. Both are averaging around 30 Yahoo points per game, and should be able to take advantage of the Hawks' sieve-like defense. White missed a handful of games with plantar fasciitis in his heel, and thus is a little bit more of a risk to miss games. But he's played 25+ minutes each of the last three games and none of the Spurs' three games this week are on a back-to-back. Gay's production fluctuates more than your average player, as it all depends on whether his shot from outside is falling.

Brooklyn - The Nets are a little tricky to handicap in terms of who besides D'Angelo Russell is going to produce on any given night. But Spencer Dinwiddie is now back from his thumb injury and I'd expect him to regain some of his mojo this week. The Nets' other two games this week are against Dallas and Cleveland, hardly defensive juggernauts, so I'd expect the Nets to be able to at least put up good scoring numbers this week. Caris LeVertis also back after a lengthy injury absence, this one due to an ankle injury. His production has been all over the map since his return, which is sort of to be expected after such an absence. He was a pretty big part of the Nets' offense prior to the injury, however, and I expect over time he'll improve. Right now he's around a 35 Yahoo-point ceiling, but the floor is the ocean.

New Orleans - We alluded to the Pelicans' annoying tendency to sit Anthony Davis in the fourth quarter already, plus there's a real risk of him getting a rest day given the tricky situation that New Orleans is in. Strangely, the Pelicans seemingly are playing better in stretches where they don't have him, including a win over the Nuggets in Denver on Saturday night, when he didn't play at all. The Pelicans' other three games this week are against good defenses - Toronto, and Utah twice. Jrue Holidayand Julius Randle have been great most of the year, really picking up the slack whenever Davis is out and even taking over at times when he's in there. Elfrid Payton has been rock-solid in the six games he's played since returning from an ankle injury, posting between 25.9 and 35.8 Yahoo fantasy points in each game. If only he could shoot, he'd become a fantasy monster. But he's had nine or more assists in his last five games and at least four rebounds in that stretch, with a high of 11 rebounds in one of those games.

We mentioned Sacramento earlier as playing faster-paced than anyone in the NBA right now, so it should come as no surprise that they are also among the worst defensive teams, allowing 115.2 points per game. They profile similarly to the Hawks - they're best at stopping opposing centers and get crushed by point guards and small forwards. They play the Knicks twice and the Celtics once this week. Mitchell Robinson has been a great story for the Knicks lately, becoming a block machine. With Marvin Bagley out for the Kings, Robinson could have his way in both games. I also like the chances for Damyean Dotson continuing his breakout, though as always with the Knicks, the playing time rotations are always fragile there. Meanwhile for the Celitcs, they've been a nightmare lately, though the Wizards helped cure their woes on Friday. Kyrie Irvingand Al Horfordare bankable, everyone else is pretty spotty. Jayson Tatum at least is coming off of a pretty good game and has a reasonably high ceiling.

Dig into the schedule and you might find your own angles. As always, the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards are also poor defensive teams. The only risk you run with them (unless you're the Lakers, but I digress) is that a blowout in those games could limit your players' minutes. But then again, that's typically because they've been playing so well. Good luck down the final five weeks of the season - playoffs are coming up in many leagues, so make that final push for your playoffs!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Erickson
Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).
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