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Saturday, March 29, 2008
Updated: March 30, 7:49 PM ET
Fast Break Week 23 column

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

It's stretch drive time in the NBA. It's going to be a very satisfying final 15 games, as we're witnessing a classic (at least in the Western Conference) playoff push.

Usually by this point in the season, more than half the teams have become fantasy black holes; the worst teams are tanking, and the best teams are beginning to rest their starters. The unpredictable nature of this stage of the season wreaks havoc with Fast Break lineups.

Which teams could be defined as tanking/resting? Thankfully, it's a short list: Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Miami, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Memphis, Minnesota and Seattle. The number of tanking/resting teams is way down this season, which is excellent news for Fast Break owners.

This is thanks to two factors: conference-wide goodness in the West and the relative ease of qualifying for the playoffs in the East. Statistically, there is an inverse reaction to all of the tanking/resting, in the form of shortened benches and playoff jockeying. That leads to individual players attempting to carry their respective teams.

So while a lot of historically reliable players (Brad Miller, for instance) are spending more time on the bench, others (Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer) are carrying their teams on their back. These are the players we want to be fielding in our Fast Break lineups, players that are doing what I call "binge producing."

Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz (32.6 Fast Break points avg. over past five games): When I write a column plugging four shooting guards and zero centers, that's when you know things have gone topsy-turvy in the Fast Break world. Early in the season, big men ruled FBC. Things are a little different now, but there are still several power forwards you can count on to anchor your lineups.

Boozer has an easy "tell" as to when he's binging: his rebounding totals. When it starts creeping over 12 boards per game, it's time to make sure he's in your Fast Break lineup.

Amare Stoudemire, PF, Suns (30.8 FBPTs/past five games): Stoudemire has been as solid as they come throughout the season, but he has found another gear in the post-Marion landscape. Shaq's presence has obviously been good for him, and I look for Stoudemire to average more than 30 FBPTs from here on out.

Lamar Odom, PF, Lakers (30.4/past five games): "Thrilling" is a word fantasy columnists should parse out with impunity -- it's a notch below "Dungeons and Dragons" territory (as in "the confrontation with that Tiamat was thrilling") -- but that's what Odom has been in March. Long oozing with elite Fast Break potential, Odom has been fantasy manna from Valhalla since Pau Gasol went down. Odom specializes in across-the-board production, and has been (gasp!) just as good in March as Garnett was in November. Imagine that.

Odom has been dealing with a respiratory infection the past couple games, which explains the short-term drop. Watch how he does against the Wizards on Sunday before you plug him into a weekly lineup, and then be wary of how he responds when Gasol returns (maybe Wednesday). Still, it's hard to ignore these types of box scores.

Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers (30.2/past 5): With the Lakers slipping a bit in playoff positioning, Kobe has reverted back to some vintage team-carrying. If I were a Lakers fan, I'd be slightly terrified about Kobe (and his finger) having nothing left for the playoffs. But as a Fast Break enthusiast, I couldn't be happier.

Allen Iverson, SG, Nuggets (28.4/past five games): Iverson is obviously as outraged as I am with the prospect that a 50-win team might miss the playoffs. Since his much ballyhooed/overhyped return to Philadelphia, Iverson and the Nuggets have been beyond postal. Per usual, AI's done all this while being phenomenally banged up.

What makes Iverson season so statistically special? The fact that he's doing all this while hitting almost 46 percent of his shots. He's pure efficiency, shooting 49 percent in March, while even boosting his 3-point production. By the way, Carmelo Anthony has been almost as good, averaging 25.2 FBPTs over the same period.

Deron Williams, PG, Jazz (27.6/past five games): As fantastic as Chris Paul has been, Williams has been just as good since the All-Star Break. Not that you'd hear much about it. It's kind of crazy how someone on as much of a tear as Williams can be this under the radar. As a matter of fact, it's kind of crazy how the Jazz as a whole are under the radar. Outside of San Antonio, they'd be the team I'd fear the most in the Western Conference playoffs right now, especially if they get home court (32-4 within the Salt Lake City Limits).

Williams might average 3.5 turnovers per game, but he overwhelms that negative with 10.4 assists (13.1 in March). Oh, and he shoots 52 percent from the field.

Vince Carter, SG, Nets (27.2/past five games) There's a part of me that will still never forget 2004. That was the year I petitioned the old TMR.com for permission to use the exclusive Snell Roundhand font whenever I referred to Carter in a column.

Obviously, I get very conflicted with Carter; I have a hard time separating the man from his art (I have the same problem with Lou Reed. I did this internship once where I got to hang around him for an afternoon, and I wasn't able to feel my legs for three days). But it's hard to ignore Carter's Fast Break goodness when he gets on a roll (which also makes him frustrating to own when he packs it in). With the Nets fighting for the 8th seed, Carter has absolutely no reason to take a game off.

Paul Pierce, SF, Celtics (26.8/past five games): Now here's someone with a gazillion reasons to take a game off. You must assume the party is about to end for Pierce, who's playing his (statistically) best ball of the season. After the next five games, he should have absolutely nothing to play for. That said, he should still be a solid play for this week, and he's a bargain at $20.20.

Jason Richardson, SG, Bobcats (26.0/past five games): I don't know why, but I really like these Bobcats. Actually, I do know why: They're a sneaky underrated team for fantasy purposes. They have a firm rotation that's shortening by the day, which means a reliable doling out of minutes for all involved.

Richardson has his team on the outskirts of the Eastern Conference playoffs. This is heady territory for the Bobcats, and they've responded by letting Richardson, a savvy veteran on a team of neophytes, do whatever he wants. When Richardson's 3-point shot is falling, he's a very efficient fantasy player. The good news is that he's hitting them at a 39-percent clip for March.

Kevin Durant, SF, SuperSonics (22.4/past five games): The "carrying" tends is not restricted to players on solid playoff squads. There are also a few players who have gotten the green light as their teams have entered the "Ah, what the heck" stage of their season. Durant, Rudy Gay and Jamal Crawford spring to mind.

Durant might not be averaging as many FBPTs as everyone else in this column, but I thought he had earned a small shout-out thanks to the subtle refinement in his production. Basically, he has cut back on his 3-point attempts and gotten to the line at a higher rate. This scaling back of the negatives should make Durant a nice value play during this season's endgame.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball writer for ESPN.com.