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Fantasy Forecaster: Tipping off

Welcome to the Fantasy Forecaster. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to read about the NBA schedule.

That is the focus of this weekly feature: the schedule. The columnist (that's me) takes a long look at upcoming NBA games and tries to find some nuggets of information that can help you make your toughest lineup decisions. So there's a lot to discuss, but there's also plenty we won't talk about here. For instance, Kevin Durant: You're lucky if he's on your team. And that might be as much as I'll say about him all season; unless Durant happens to rent me a suite when his Oklahoma City Thunder come to visit my Minnesota Timberwolves. (Not that scoring a good seat to a Wolves game is tough to do or anything.)

Other players you generally won't read about here: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Brandon Roy, Blake Griffin or pretty much any of the first 80 or so names on this list. I think you get the logic. These are fantasy's top players, and you'll keep them active as long as they're healthy. Nothing more needs to be said, so we'll spend our time on the ninth, 10th, 12th players on your roster, the ones who will round out your lineup.

Another thing: The information here is meant primarily for fantasy owners in weekly lineup leagues. We'll tackle one week of the schedule at a time, in Monday-to-Sunday increments. However, if you play in leagues that allow daily lineup changes, I want to be of some assistance to you. That's why, once we have enough data, every game on the grid will have its own rating. Use these to break ties between otherwise similar players. So if you're looking at a busy Friday night slate and there's someone you want to play and someone you have to sit, you'll have a good idea of what their opponents will allow them to do. You can also free feel to send me your questions (my e-mail is listed at the close of this column), and I'll respond whenever possible. Please note: "whenever possible" means I don't live at my computer. So if you're asking about who to start on a Friday, you'll have better luck if you send your query at least 2-3 hours before tip-off. I do want to help, though, and I feel your questions will also make the Forecaster a more interesting and informed feature.

So what am I getting into this week? Glad you asked. For starters, I'm getting into Elton Brand.

Now, as a one-time first-round fantasy pick, Brand used to be just the sort of lineup lock that we wouldn't dwell on in the Forecaster. But that was before the ruptured Achilles, before the big free-agent move and before the disappointment (and more injuries) in Philadelphia. Today -- literally, today -- Elton Brand is an end-of-draft afterthought. That 105.3 next to his name as of Friday isn't his favorite spot on the FM dial -- it's Brand's average draft position (ADP) on ESPN.com.

I'll point out that the Philadelphia 76ers' Week 1 schedule doesn't offer a hearty endorsement of Brand. After the opener with the ballyhooed Miami Heat, Brand must contend with Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks and Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers. But, as a fellow fantasy owner, I want to add this: Brand is healthy, he's playing for a coach who will make better use of his talents and, with Samuel Dalembert in Sacramento, Brand is playing for a team that is counting on him to get after it on the glass like he used to. If you have a draft or auction yet this weekend, do yourself a favor and draft Brand late or get him cheap. I think he's the steal of the draft.

"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.

"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.

Weeks 1-2 Forecast: Teams to Watch

A quick note: In ESPN.com leagues this season, the first 13 days of the NBA schedule (Tuesday, Oct. 26 through Sunday, Nov. 7) is treated as one scoring period. This is a change from previous seasons, so we want to make sure you're aware of it. Thus, the recommendations that follow cover Weeks 1 and 2.

Miami Heat (@BOS, @PHI, ORL, @NJ, MIN, @NOR, NJ): The revamped Heat are the team to watch out of the gate. However, the league is doing them no favors by making them bounce up and down the Eastern Seaboard during the first four games of this schedule. With Mike Miller expected to miss about two months, I feel obligated to note that James Jones started and scored five points in 34 minutes in the Heat's Oct. 21 preseason game at the Hawks. The 30-year-old averaged 1.6 3-pointers for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007-08, but you'd have to be in a canyon-deep league before considering taking on Jones or Eddie House. Although Wolves and Sixers opponents finished 1-2 in 3s last season, Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets opponents were 27th and 28th, respectively, in triples made.

Portland Trail Blazers (PHO, @LAC, @NY, @CHI, @MIL, OKC, TOR, @LAL): If anyone has a crazier early schedule than the Heat, it's the Blazers. After consecutive road games in Los Angeles and New York (at least they have two off days in between), the Blazers close out the first two weeks with five games in seven days. The only thing missing here is a trip to Denver -- that way the Blazers could have made a stop in each time zone. The quantity alone makes Andre Miller a must-start. The fact that three of these opponents -- the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors -- yielded more than 105 points per game last season is just a bonus. In deep leagues -- which I'll loosely define as leagues of at least 12 teams -- you may also want to look at Wesley Matthews. The former Jazz player enjoyed an impressive preseason.

Atlanta Hawks (@MEM, @PHI, WAS, @CLE, DET, @MIN, PHO): Sure, it's a new season, but I can't help but notice that five of the Hawks' first seven opponents absolutely stunk in 3-point defense last season. As noted, Wolves and Sixers opponents drained the most treys in 2009-10, but Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons and Suns opponents were also among the top nine. (By the way I've lived in not one, but two towns with paper mills, so I know something about stench.) Anyway, deep-leaguers might seize this opportunity to tap into what little is left of Mike Bibby. Jeff Teague's injury-plagued camp means Bibby's starting spot is safe for now.

Houston Rockets (@LAL, @GS, DEN, NOR, @SA, MIN): Though they play only six times during the first two weeks, the Rockets have two back-to-back sets. So don't expect more than four games from Yao Ming.

Indiana Pacers (@SA, @CHA, PHI, @PHI, MIL): I view Hibbert as a breakout candidate and potential every-week starter this season. But I understand if you choose to let him ride the virtual pine to start the season. In addition to the dearth of games during the opening two weeks, there's little quality. Sixers opponents were only 27th in blocks in 2009-10; Charlotte Bobcats opponents were second in rejections, however.

New York Knicks (@TOR, @BOS, POR, ORL, @CHI, WAS, PHI): The Toronto Raptors could really struggle this season, but the Celtics, Blazers and Orlando Magic will make it tough on the Knicks. Blazers, Magic and Celtics opponents were in the bottom eight in scoring in 2009-10, while Blazers and Magic opponents were 30th and 23rd, respectively, in total rebounds. So it might be good to leave Anthony Randolph and Wilson Chandler on your bench for now.

Oklahoma City Thunder (CHI, @DET, UTA, @LAC, @POR, BOS): I'm looking forward to James Harden's sophomore season. His shot hasn't always been there this preseason, but he's gotten to the line and shown he could be more of a factor in the hustle categories. Can't say this schedule does a lot for him, but Chicago Bulls opponents were fourth in treys in 2009-10, and Utah Jazz opponents were seventh in steals.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at editor_njt64@yahoo.com.