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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 20

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The Hoops Lab

By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer

The Playoff Race

From here on in, the playoff races in the Eastern and Western Conferences will play a huge part in determining the fantasy landscape. We have officially entered the part of the season where every injury is filtered through the prism of "how does this affect our postseason chances"? Player motivation on a day-to-day basis is almost directly tied into whether there's a direct payoff coming this summer in the way of either playoff position or new contracts. And coaches are making their decisions more frequently for these reasons, too. Thus, instead of the usual weekly updates I'll instead take a more in-depth look at how every team fits into the playoff races in order to get a better idea of generally what to expect from its players over the last few weeks of the season.

Fighting for the top seed: The Lakers and Cavaliers are both running away with their respective conferences, but they are still within a game of each other in the standings. Usually I'd expect to see them rest their starters a bit for the playoffs, but the unique dynamic of both teams having lost to the Celtics last season partially due to home court advantage makes me believe that each will go all out until the number one seed overall is determined. Plus, with the LeBron James/Kobe Bryant for MVP side plot, I don't think either player will let their team throttle down until a winner is decided. This is good for the prospects of any of the usual fantasy starters from either team.

Former Champions still in contention: The Celtics and Spurs
The Spurs and Celtics are both older teams with injury issues, and both are full of veteran players that know that they can win on the road in the playoffs. As such, home court advantage is not the main goal for either team. In fact, both squads have already shown with their handling of their superstars (Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan) that when in doubt, they will choose rest and healing even in situations where playing their stars could lead to a win. This makes Garnett, Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and even Ray Allen questionable down the stretch as any could get unexplained absences. About the only young, fully healthy impact player on either team is Tony Parker, and he could be the one to really explode for his owners in the fantasy playoffs.

Battling for Home Court advantage: The Magic, Rockets, Nuggets, Hornets, Jazz, and Trailblazers: All of these teams are relatively young without a lot of recent success in the playoffs, so they all will be competing all out for the highest seed possible down the stretch. I would play any of their impact players with confidence, and even the injured players are likely to try to tough it out when reasonable to help their teams maximize their regular season wins.

Jostling to avoid the Big Three out East:
The Heat and 76ers are fighting for the 5th/6th seed in the East. The 5th seed gets a potentially winnable date with the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, while the 6th seed is looking at a much more daunting showdown with either the Celtics or the Magic. I would expect the impact players to play as much as possible, with the caveat that Dwyane Wade is so incredibly valuable for the Heat and his health is probably even more important than the difference in potential first round opponents so he could sit if his injuries pile up on him again.

Fighting for Playoff Lives: The Mavericks, Suns, Pistons, Bulls, Bobcats, Bucks, Nets, Pacers, Knicks: This group of teams spans from the very old (Suns, Pistons) to the very young (Bobcats, Pacers). But all of them have to keep their effort on absolute max for the short term if they want any hope of a postseason birth. The older guys know this might be one of their last chances, which is why you're seeing Shaquille OĠNeal, Grant Hill and Steve Nash having some of their best stretches of the season. The main risk with this group (excluding the Mavericks) is that one poor stretch could effectively end their playoff chances a week or two early, and in that case you could potentially see some of their vets shut down just in time for the fantasy championship game.

Former playoff teams that are out but have pride: The Raptors and Wizards are hopelessly out of contention now, but both teams have All Stars that have faced injuries but are now apparently healthy. And both teams seem to have pride. So expect them to continue to relish their spoiler roles for at least the next week, and enjoy the great play that you're getting from Chris Bosh and Antawn Jamison. As a wild card, there are rumors of a Gilbert Arenas return this weekend. Don't expect much from the Hibachi, as he probably gets spot minutes at best, but at the same time keep an eye out because he is just weird enough to decide that he wants to have a 40 point game just to prove to everyone that he can.

Veteran lottery teams where your guess is as good as ours: With Don Nelson in charge of the Warriors and Mike Dunleavy running the Clippers, I have no idea what to expect down the stretch. Nelson has been randomly sitting starters for several weeks now, and Stephen Jackson has a toe injury that could potentially shut him down for the rest of the season. This makes me believe that players seen as the future of the team (like Monta Ellis) or young guys trying to prove themselves (like Brandan Wright or Anthony Morrow) will get more run down the stretch than vets like Corey Maggette. Similarly, Dunleavy went with the hot hand in Mike Taylor for more minutes than unhappy veteran Baron Davis on Wednesday night, so I would think the Clippers may go youth movement soon as well. But you never know.

Young teams eagerly planning for next season: The Thunder, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, and Kings have unapologetically been in full youth movement mode for weeks, if not months now. This is where I would look for young players and free agents that could all of a sudden go off down the stretch. Rodney Carney's seven treys on Wednesday and Rashad McCants' 30-point explosion last week are both examples of guys readily available on the free-agent wire that could put up numbers in a hurry for these teams.

New Additions

I'm expanding this section today, because the trade deadline is past, and it's playoff time in just about every league. Free agent pick-ups could be the difference between a title and an early playoff exit, so IĠm going to do my best to see that you're armed with some decent options.

Spencer Hawes (66% owned): Hawes is one of several young Kings that can pick it up and become their primary producer at any given time. The reason he's on this list is that he is doing it now, with averages of 17.5 points, 12 boards, seven assists, 1.5 treys and a steal over the last week.

Kelenna Azubuike (56% owned): If Stephen Jackson is shut down due to his toe injury, Azubuike becomes an even larger part of the Warriors' rotation. Azubuike is valuable even with Jackson around, so if he's available he's a solid pick-up with good upside.

Steve Blake (50% owned): Blake has been quietly one of the best roto producers on the Trail Blazers, and last week's averages of 19 points, 4.7 assists, 3.7 treys, 2.0 boards and 1.0 steals are worthy of starting in most leagues.

Shane Battier (44% owned): After spending most of the season injured, then another portion of the year invisible due to Houston's glut of swingmen, Battier has picked it up of late since Tracy McGrady went down. Over the last week he is back to his "garbage man" best, with averages of 11.7 points, 4.0 boards, 2.7 treys, 1.7 steals, 1.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, and good shooting percentages from both the field and the line.

Beno Udrih (42% owned): Udrih is the second King to show up on this list, and again he fits the mold of a young player that can step up and produce in any given stretch for a bad team. After a recent injury, he's back and averaging 16 points, 6.5 assists, five boards and a steal over the last week.

Kirk Hinrich (39% owned): Hinrich has shown this week that he can still produce impact numbers as a starting guard, but it appears that Derrick Rose's injury was minor and that Hinrich's stint in the starting line-up might be short. Still keep an eye on him in case Rose takes a turn for the worse.

Chris Andersen (38% owned): Andersen has been a reasonable shot-blocking role player at times this season, but with Nene serving his two-game suspension Andersen makes a decent short-term add. He has averaged 13 points, 7.7 boards, and 3.3 blocks over the last week.

Louis Williams (31% owned): Williams is a solid scorer with reasonable all-around capabilities, but he's limited by his role off the bench for the Sixers. His 14-point/4.3-assist/4.0 rebound/2.0-steal averages over the last week could benefit some teams, though, so if in need give him a look.

Flip Murray (16% owned): Murray has been a solid scorer off the bench all season, but his current hot-streak has him making a starter-sized impact. With averages of 22.3 points, 2.7 treys, and 2.7 assists over the last week he deserves to be owned by more than 16% of the leagues.

Jeff Foster (13% owned): Foster has proven for years to be a great role-player rebounder when he gets minutes. Troy Murphy's injury has his availability up in the air, and in the meantime Foster is back to crashing the boards and could be worth a short-term add.

Courtney Lee (10% owned): Lee continues to put up good numbers for the Magic, averaging 15.3 points, 2.3 steals and 1.7 treys over the last week.

Anthony Morrow (8% owned): Morrow is a cold-blooded shooter from long range, and he has shown several times this year that if he gets the opportunity and has his shot going he can put up points in a hurry. He is another Warriors player that could become a lot more valuable if Stephen Jackson shuts it down early this year.

Will Bynum (5% owned): Bynum has earned his spot on this list with consecutive huge games (including a career-best 25 points and 11 assists on Thursday night.) His impact period is probably limited, as both Richard Hamilton and Allen Iverson could return for the Pistons within the week. Nevertheless, I had to take this chance to give my Georgia Tech brethren some shine.

Article first appeared 3/27/09