March kicks off with a busy NBA schedule. How busy? Well, if Caron Butler were to play in every game next week, he'd go through approximately 648 straws -- that is, if the league hadn't forced him to give up his straw-chewing habit.
While Butler will have to find another way to calm down, at least fantasy owners should be able to relax heading into Week 19. You'll have plenty of good lineup options, with 19 NBA teams playing four games and 10 others taking the court three times. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves are limited to a pair of contests.
And if you're looking for help in free agency, you'll find it, starting with two guys named Thornton. More on them in a bit.
Week 19 at a Glance
In New York, Mike D'Antoni didn't always want to play Nate Robinson, but Robinson's problem with his new team is that the Boston Celtics simply don't have many minutes to give him. Rajon Rondo is too integral to sit much, and the same can be said for Ray Allen now that he's finally emerged from his season-long slump. Week 19 gives Robinson his best chance to be a fantasy factor with the C's. Each of the Celtics' opponents -- the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards -- is in the top 12 in 3-pointers allowed. The Bobcats, in particular, are getting burned from downtown -- they've surrendered 81 treys in their past 10 games.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
The Forecast: It's Their Week
Drew Gooden, PF/C, Los Angeles Clippers (UTA, PHO, OKC, @UTA): Gooden is now with his fifth team in the past two seasons, and that doesn't even count the Wizards, who flipped him west after getting him from the Dallas Mavericks. All his travels may have Gooden feeling a bit like one of Butler's discarded straws, but with the Clippers, he's suddenly needed. In his second game in L.A., Gooden got the start and put up 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Pistons. While Utah Jazz opponents are only 28th in total rebounds, I wouldn't sweat this schedule. Even if Gooden isn't a consistent scorer, as long as he gets his 30 minutes, the double-doubles should continue. The fact Jazz and Phoenix Suns opponents are in the top third in treys makes this set of games a bit more favorable to teammate Rasual Butler, who's averaging 2.9 3s in his past 10 games. Gooden and Butler might be two of your best options in free agency. Both are available in more than 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
George Hill, PG, San Antonio Spurs (@NOR, NOR, MEM): Irrespective of Tony Parker's health, Hill has secured consistent starter's minutes in San Antonio. In 15 of his past 16 games, the second-year pro has seen at least 29 minutes. While he isn't great at anything from a fantasy standpoint, Hill is a solid contributor in leagues of at least 12 teams. In February, he's averaging 15.6 points, 1.1 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 46.0 percent. Even though there are only three games here, Hill should get his points and boost his accuracy. Memphis Grizzlies opponents are third in shooting percentage, while New Orleans Hornets opponents are sixth-best from the field.
Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, Toronto Raptors (@HOU, NY, PHI): When he began February with four single-digit scoring performances in five outings, it seemed inevitable that Jose Calderon would regain his starting gig. But since Chris Bosh went down, Jack has stepped up. In the first three games the Raptors were without their superstar, Jack averaged 19.7 points, 8.7 assists and 2.3 3s. While Bosh figures to return at some point in Week 19, Jack can stay hot with this schedule. Houston Rockets, New York Knicks and 76ers opponents are all in the top nine in field goal percentage. In addition, Sixers opponents are fifth in 3-pointers and seventh in assists.
The Forecast: They're Weak
Omri Casspi, SF, Sacramento Kings (@OKC, @HOU, @DAL, OKC): Casspi's second stint as a Kings starter isn't going nearly as well as his first. The rookie is averaging just 10.8 points in his past 10 games, and since the Kings dealt Kevin Martin, Casspi is shooting just 36.0 percent (9-of-25). You'll want to watch Casspi, because he seems capable of much better things -- recall that he averaged 17.5 points over an 11-game stretch upon entering the starting lineup in December. However, he'll be challenged to find his stroke in Week 19, mainly because Oklahoma City Thunder opponents are just 28th in field goal percentage.
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Utah Jazz (@LAC, @PHO, LAC): I did tell you that the Bobcats are struggling against the 3 -- well, Korver had a season-high five triples against them on Feb. 24. Andrei Kirilenko's back problems have provided an opening for Korver, who's averaging 30 minutes and 3.0 treys in his past three games. While Kirilenko figures to return sometime in Week 19, Korver is a decent deep-league play until then. Suns opponents are sixth in 3s; however, Clippers opponents are only 20th.
Al Thornton, SF, Washington Wizards (@MIL, MIL, @BOS): Thornton is off to a strong start with his new team, and now, with Josh Howard's season-ending knee injury, he's a Wizards starter. In his first four games in D.C., Thornton is averaging 16.0 points, 6.0 boards, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals, and he pulled down a season-high 11 rebounds against the Grizzlies on Feb. 24. Since Thornton was often knocked for passive play during his Clippers career, it's fair to question whether he'll keep this up. There's little to note with this schedule, but you can obviously do better from a quantity standpoint. Thornton, incidentally, is available in 60-plus percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Marcus Thornton, SG, New Orleans Hornets (SA, MEM, @SA): After being hindered by back problems for the better part of three weeks, Thornton exploded for 62 points in back-to-back games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. He's well worth an add -- and Thornton is available in 85 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- but you can be forgiven if you hold off on activating him this week. Spurs opponents are last in 3-point makes.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.