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Top pickups with best schedules

3/4/2014

There are just six and a half weeks remaining in the fantasy hoops season. That means that if you are in a head-to-head league that uses two weeks for each postseason round and have a wild-card round, you may already be in the playoffs. Most leagues hit the playoffs a little bit later, though, stressing the final 4.5 weeks of the NBA campaign: Weeks 21-25 (March 17-April 16).

I always stress being ahead of the curve on the waiver wire, so now is the right time to begin considering which current free agents you might want to add to your roster before your postseason tips off. With that in mind, let's examine the teams with the best schedules over the final 4.5 weeks and which players are worth adding.

Miami Heat: No team has a tastier fantasy playoff schedule than the Heat, which play four games every week, and two in the abbreviated Week 25. In fact, they hit the hardwood four times this week and next week, too, giving them six consecutive weeks of four-game slates.

Unfortunately, the waiver wire doesn't offer much intrigue when it comes to Heat players. Mario Chalmers (59.5 percent ESPN ownership) is the only viable option for standard leagues, and I recommend picking him up. Not only is he a shoo-in for 10 PPG, 5 APG, 1 3-PPG and 1.5 SPG, but he has been shooting better than 50 percent from the field the past two months. Furthermore, he likely will get a bump in minutes and touches down the stretch as the Heat take it easy on Dwyane Wade's fragile body.

Brooklyn Nets: Like the Heat, the Nets hit the hardwood four times in each of the final four full weeks of the season and twice in Week 25, though they roll out only three times next week. However, unlike the Heat, they do have several players who could make a decent statistical impact down the stretch.

Andray Blatche (20.0 percent) has lacked consistency this season, but we can safely expect the Nets to rest their starters at times as the regular season winds down, and that would open the door for Blatche to turn things up. He also makes for a good handcuff for those who have Paul Pierce.

Marcus Thornton (0.4 percent) is showing some signs of life lately, popping off 25 points on Saturday and taking double-digit shot attempts in two of his past three games. We know he can score, and if his role continues to increase, he will be worth picking up in all formats. Odds are good that the Nets will lean on him more and Joe Johnson less in the waning weeks of the season.

Those in deep leagues may consider adding Andrei Kirilenko. His minutes and production are inconsistent, but he still has managed to average 1.6 steals over his past six games. Also, Shaun Livingston (0.8 percent) is a decent handcuff for the injury-prone Deron Williams.

Atlanta Hawks: They play only three times in Week 24 but make up for that with a trio of four-game stretches from Week 21 through Week 23.

I mentioned Louis Williams (30.4 percent) last week as a quality waiver-wire addition in most formats. Despite his shoddy FG%, he figures to be a steady play down the stretch for teams in need of scoring, dimes, 3s and a little help in steals. His poor shooting carries less of an impact in points leagues, which means he should be a quality H2H playoff option in those formats. I like DeMarre Carroll (60.0 percent) quite a bit, too. He's been a solid play in general, producing steals, 3s and terrific percentages. With a full schedule down the stretch, he is a quality waiver-wire addition.

Like Kirilenko, Elton Brand (13.1 percent) has offered spotty production, but he can help deep-league teams in need of blocks, averaging 1.7 blocks per game over the past two months. If Paul Millsap's knee injury lingers, Brand could do even more. The same goes for Mike Scott (3.6 percent), who can knock down 3s and carry quality percentages.

Toronto Raptors: They roll out only twice this week, but after that they have four games each week until Week 24. They also offer several intriguing fantasy free agents.

I think Terrence Ross (21.7 percent) is the most intriguing option. He doesn't do anything but score and hit 3s, but he's been hot lately, knocking down 13 3s in four games before sitting out Sunday's game with a sprained ankle. Jonas Valanciunas (78.2) is losing a lot of love lately, and rightfully so, considering his unimpressive production. Still, even if he's averaging only 10 PPG, 8 RPG and 50 FG% over four fantasy playoff games each week, he could round out a starting lineup in points leagues. The same goes for Amir Johnson (53.8 percent), whose production could pick up if he can get fully healthy for the stretch run.

If you own Kyle Lowry, it would be wise to handcuff him with Greivis Vasquez (35.5 percent), if you have the roster space. Lowry is prone to injury -- he hasn't played a full season since 2007-08 -- so you will be playing with fire by not backing him up down the stretch.

Indiana Pacers: Since the Pacers finish the season with just three games in Week 24 and one in Week 25, they don't have an ideal schedule. However, they rack up 12 games during Weeks 21-23, which means there is some upside here. The trouble with the Pacers is that their rotation is too tight to allow any of the current waiver-wire options much run.

George Hill (88.1 percent) is owned in most leagues and is worth snagging if he's been dropped in yours. I think we will see Evan Turner (95.6 percent) popping up on many more waiver wires in the coming weeks, since he figures to continue working in a reduced role in his new digs. Still, he could be worth consideration due to the Pacers' schedule.

Luis Scola (1.6 percent) makes for a decent handcuff for David West and Roy Hibbert in the frontcourt, but since neither has missed a game this season, there is no sense in adding him now, unless you have a deep bench.

Portland Trail Blazers: But for their five-game Week 22 stretch, the Blazers have a disappointing late-season run, since they play just three times in each of the other three weeks and just once in Week 25. With that in mind, you may want to add Mo Williams (4.0 percent) when Week 22 approaches, as he figures to be a solid play with five games. Thomas Robinson (0.4 percent) could carry some intrigue in deeper leagues, too, if he can get healthy.

Weak schedules: The Golden State Warriors (3, 2, 4, 3, 2 games) and Los Angeles Clippers (2, 4, 4, 2, 2) have particularly weak schedules during the final 4.5 weeks of the season. Not much use in adding waiver-wire guys from these teams.

If you make it to your league's finals, you'll take a hit by leaning on players from the New York Knicks (3, 4, 4, 2, 2) and San Antonio Spurs (3, 4, 4, 2, 2), since they play just twice in Week 24.

Also, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Clippers, Blazers and Sacramento Kings play just once in Week 25.