I've said it before, and I still believe it: This is the best time of the fantasy hoops season. Sure, the draft is exciting, but now is when championships are decided, and anything can happen.
Anything, in this case, just might mean Samardo Samuels saving your season.
Samuels is the undrafted rookie who became the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting power forward after Antawn Jamison went down with a broken pinkie. This week, in his first NBA start, he recorded 23 points and 10 rebounds against the San Antonio Spurs on March 2. While Samuels has already impressed Cavs head coach Byron Scott, he'll of course have to show a bit more to establish himself as a legitimate fantasy factor. But he could certainly provide a boost in leagues of at least 12 teams. If you're wondering about other potential March sleepers, John Cregan has a good list.
If you're wondering about the upcoming NBA schedule, well, of course, this is the place for that.
"R" 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 overall rating from 1-10 for that week's matchups.
Teams to watch
The Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards have only two games in the week ahead. The good news is we've seen about the last of the scheduling booby traps for this season. In the next three weeks, there's only one two-game weekly schedule set in the entire league (that's the Indiana Pacers for the week of March 21-27).
Cleveland Cavaliers (GS, @MIL, OKC): It sounds like Baron Davis could make his Cavs debut this weekend. Though Davis won't start right away, Ramon Sessions owners should brace themselves. At least Golden State Warriors opponents are tops in assists. As for Samuels' prospects, of course there isn't a lot to go on, but Warriors opponents are also tops in rebound differential. And the matchup in Milwaukee on Wednesday becomes more favorable should Andrew Bogut remain sidelined.
Minnesota Timberwolves (DAL, IND, UTA, @GS): Wesley Johnson has been here before. In January, the rookie struggled so much that the Wolves took him out of the rotation for a couple of games. He then responded with four straight games of double-digit scoring and multiple 3-pointers before floundering into the All-Star break. Now, in his past four games, Johnson is averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 3s, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. So can he keep it going this time? The schedule offers some encouraging signs. Utah Jazz opponents are fourth in treys, and Pacers opponents have been hot from downtown recently. In addition, Warriors opponents are second in steals and Pacers opponents are fifth in blocks. Johnson is averaging 0.7 rejections for the season, a pretty healthy number for a swingman, so his recent shot-blocking surge shouldn't be dismissed.
New York Knicks (UTA, @MEM, @DAL, IND): Should Chauncey Billups' quad injury linger, add Toney Douglas, who dropped 24 points and four 3s on the New Orleans Hornets on March 2. Douglas has been astonishingly streaky of late (his shooting lines in six games since the break: 1-of-5, 10-of-12, 1-of-8, 1-of-7, 1-of-6, 10-of-13), but Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies opponents are fourth and fifth, respectively, in 3s.
Oklahoma City Thunder (@MEM, @PHI, DET, @CLE): It's unfortunate that Kendrick Perkins is injured, because this is a great schedule for him: Grizzlies and Cavaliers opponents are first and fourth, respectively, in blocks, while Cavs and Detroit Pistons opponents are in the top five in rebound differential. It is believed that Perk will return to action sometime next week, so check for updates over the weekend.
Orlando Magic (POR, @SAC, @GS, @PHO): It might be time to get back on the Ryan Anderson bandwagon. Though Anderson is once again a reserve, he's popped in seven from downtown in his past two games. While none of these teams is particularly vulnerable to the 3 (Phoenix Suns opponents are ninth and Warriors opponents are 10th in buckets from beyond the arc), Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Warriors and Suns opponents are all in the top nine in field goal percentage. Anderson, by the way, is available in about 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Sacramento Kings (HOU, ORL, @SA, @NOR): I mentioned the Kings last week, but it's worth noting that, as of March 7, they will have the most games remaining (22) of any NBA team. All the more reason to add Marcus Thornton, who's still available in about half of ESPN.com leagues. However, quantity is the main thing Thornton has going for him here. While Houston Rockets opponents are eighth in shooting, Magic, Spurs and Hornets opponents are all in the bottom eight in 3s. There is an intangible at play as well, with Thornton returning to New Orleans; he's not only a former Hornet, but a Baton Rouge, La., native who played in college for LSU.
San Antonio Spurs (DET, SAC, @HOU): After a poor start in his first game replacing the injured Tony Parker, George Hill responded with 22 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds against the Cavs. This schedule doesn't offer a ton of help, but Pistons opponents are fifth in assists. Of potential free-agent point guards, I'd take Kirk Hinrich over Hill for the short term, though Hinrich's schedule -- Los Angeles Lakers at home, at Chicago Bulls and back home for the Blazers -- leaves much to be desired, too.
Utah Jazz (@NY, @TOR, @MIN, @CHI): In a 20-game span leading up to the All-Star break, C.J. Miles averaged 1.9 3s, but in the five games since the break, he has just two buckets from downtown. Encouragingly, though, Miles put up 22 points, 6 boards and 2 steals against the Nuggets on March 3. Owners in leagues of at least 12 teams might want to take a shot this week; Timberwolves opponents are tops in steals and third in triples, while Toronto Raptors opponents are first in shooting and sixth in steals. Of course the Bulls are the clunker matchup here; Bulls opponents are just 29th in shooting and 28th in 3s.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.