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You're familiar with the cliché that re-emerges every sports postseason, the one about the underdog team that "no one wants to face," right? Well, if you're in your fantasy head-to-head playoffs next week, one player you absolutely don't want to see against you is Ben Gordon. What's so great about Gordon? His upcoming schedule, of course.
In this key week, the NBA is making it challenging for fantasy owners. For instance, I want to get excited about Jason Thompson's re-emergence, I really do. The kid is averaging 14.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over his past four games, and he's available in 92 percent of ESPN.com leagues. He could really help some fantasy teams. Unfortunately, he and the Kings play just twice in Week 22. (Sacramento does have 10 games over the season's final 16 days, however, so don't forget about Thompson.) Yao Ming, Ron Artest and the Rockets also go just twice next week. And 14 other NBA teams have only three games.
On the other hand, Week 22 also brings us the rarest of scheduling quirks; not one, but two teams have five-game weeks. As you might have guessed, Gordon and the Bulls are one of those two. The other is the Phoenix Suns. So how can fantasy owners make the most of these unique circumstances? Read on.
Check the grid for Week 22 schedules of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Chicago Bulls (@WAS, DET, MIA, IND, @TOR): One thought if you do draw Ben Gordon next week in a head-to-head league: Consider punting the 3-pointers category. Wizards, Heat, Pacers and Raptors opponents are all in the top seven in 3-pointers made, after all. As for Bulls players who can help your team, it starts with Tyrus Thomas. While Thomas recently endured a stretch of six straight games of single-digit scoring, he bounced back with 18 points versus Boston and 12 more at Oklahoma City. Besides, it isn't scoring that makes Thomas a Forecaster fave. It's his proficiency in the hustle categories. Even though Pistons and Heat opponents get few steals and blocks, I'll still take my chances with Thomas, who's available in 75 percent of leagues. Indiana figures to be the most favorable matchup; Pacers opponents are fifth in blocks and eighth in takeaways. Other Bulls worth adding for deeper leagues are Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich. While Brad Miller's presence has hurt Noah's production, Hinrich could get you a few assists, as Wizards and Raptors opponents get the most and fourth-most dimes.
Phoenix Suns (DEN, Utah, @POR, @Utah, @SAC): Leandro Barbosa's knee injury came at a bad time for fantasy owners. The Suns were basically a five-man team on Wednesday, but in cavernous leagues, be ready to pounce on Jared Dudley or Alando Tucker if they show you anything. Then of course there's Matt Barnes, who's still available in 84 percent of leagues. Though Barnes had only five points the other night against Philly, he still gave you nine boards and five assists. Look for him to pick up some steals with this schedule, with Kings and Jazz opponents first and fifth in this regard.
Some quick tips for owners in daily leagues. Recommendations -- start, sit or add -- are made for specific days of the coming week, based on the schedule.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers (@OKC, @DET, @NJ, @ATL): Speaking of steals, Ariza has a whopping 14 takeaways in his past five games. Even with Oklahoma City ahead (Thunder opponents are second in steals and fourth in shooting percentage), he'll have a hard time keeping up that pace with this schedule; Pistons, Hawks and Nets opponents are all in the bottom nine in steals per game. Still, Ariza is starting for the Lakers now, he's capable of scoring in double figures and giving you a few boards, and he's available in 90 percent of leagues. He's a worthwhile option.
Kelenna Azubuike, SG/SF, Warriors (@SA, @DAL, @DEN): You never know who Golden State will run out there from one night to the next, but Azubuike, who's available in 75 percent of leagues, is actually one of the Warriors' more reliable options. He has reached double figures in four straight games, highlighted by 25 points with five 3s against the Lakers. Similarly to Barnes, Azubuike can give you a little of everything. While Denver opponents have hit the eighth-most 3s, this schedule, however, doesn't favor Azubuike. Spurs, Mavs and Nuggets opponents all shoot under 45.5 percent.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat (MEM, @IND, @CHI, MIL): The rookie's inconsistency has depressed his ownership, but the 72 percent-available Chalmers is having his best month. So far in March he's averaging 13.6 points, 4.9 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 3s. Nothing really stands out with this schedule, these are just four teams that aren't great defensively.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (@MIA, @SAC, @POR): Conley continues his solid play under coach Lionel Hollins, averaging 14.8 points, 6.1 assists, 1.5 3s and 1.4 steals since the All-Star break. Expect Conley, who's available in more than 70 percent of leagues, to pick up his scoring in the short term. Kings opponents are second and Blazers opponents are ninth in shooting percentage, while Heat opponents are fifth in triples.
Keyon Dooling, PG, Nets (@CLE, LAL, @MIN): As long as Devin Harris remains sidelined, Dooling is a solid fantasy point guard. In eight starts this season, the 28-year-old has averaged 15.8 points, 5.5 assists and 1.4 3-pointers. This schedule doesn't offer a lot of help, but Lakers opponents are sixth in 3s, and Timberwolves opponents are fifth in shooting percentage.
Jarrett Jack, PG, Pacers (MIA, @CHI, WAS): After Jack went a combined 9-for-36 at Atlanta and Toronto, ESPN leaguers jumped off the Jack bandwagon; he's available now in more than 60 percent of leagues. While the Pacers do play just six games over the next two weeks, you folks might have bailed a bit early, given that the Wizards allow the most 3s and the most assists to opponents. Jack might have one more big week in him.
Chris Kaman, C, Clippers (@BOS, @NY, @SA, @HOU): Kaman is said to be out of shape, but he had his best game since his return (19 points on 9-of-10 shooting) versus the Wizards this week. And actually, even limited to 20 minutes per night, Kaman could still be the best free-agent center available (he is available in nearly 30 percent of leagues). In keeping with the theme, though, I'll add that Celtics, Rockets and Spurs opponents are all in the bottom eight in shooting percentage.
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Jazz (HOU, @PHO, PHO): Last week I mentioned that Michael Finley was stroking some 3s but qualified that by saying you probably have better free-agent options. In that same spirit, I give you Korver, who's available in more than 95 percent of leagues. Despite his inconsistency, two shots at the Suns (Phoenix opponents are fourth in treys) make Korver intriguing if you want to try to keep up with those teams throwing Ben Gordon at you.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.