The NBA season is long. As fantasy owners, we love that. However, because the NBA season is so long, you must allow your perceptions to evolve along the way.
A player's situation can change radically over the course of a season. For instance, few if any of us were thinking about Kris Humphries back in October, but the New Jersey Nets' new coach, Avery Johnson, quickly took a liking to him. So in November and December, Humphries grabbed some minutes and scored a few big double-doubles, which opened some eyes in the fantasy world. However, as the Nets tried to develop rookie Derrick Favors at his position, Humphries' fluctuating numbers kept him on the borderline of fantasy relevance. Then Favors was shipped west in February as part of the Deron Williams deal, leaving Humphries with the power forward spot to himself. Now he's putting up Blake Griffin-like numbers (but with blocks!) and is rostered in almost all leagues.
But just like with the players themselves, the situations and circumstances around teams can also change during the season. So if you're making your weekly lineups with an eye on NBA matchups -- that's why we're here, yes? -- keep in mind that a team that was a tough matchup last fall could be a favorable one now, and vice versa.
Consider the Utah Jazz. Even as the Malone-Stockton era passed, the Jazz remained the picture of stability under coach Jerry Sloan. Though not a dominant defensive team in recent years, the Jazz were still respectable. Over the past five seasons, dating to 2006-07, they allowed 98.6, 99.3, 100.9, 98.9 and 101.3 points per game. Again, not great, but at least you knew what to expect.
However, since the sudden departures of Sloan and then Williams, opponents have been putting up big numbers against the Jazz. Big. Over their first eight games in March, Jazz opponents are averaging 110.1 points and 9.0 3-pointers per game. What was for years a fantasy-neutral matchup is now a prime play, especially when the Jazz leave Salt Lake City. During a recent four-game road trip, the Jazz allowed the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls to shoot 56, 55 and 53 percent. In that March 12 blowout in Chicago, the Bulls drained 18 3s.
Like the Jazz, last month the Denver Nuggets dealt their top player, Carmelo Anthony. But a different sort of transformation is going on in the Mile High City. Since Melo's departure, the Nuggets are actually becoming an above-average defensive team. Over their first seven games in March, Nuggets opponents are averaging just 94.1 points and 6.1 3s (compared with 103.6 points and 7.0 3s for all of the 2010-11 season). What was a very positive matchup is no longer.
Sure, a lot of what I said about favorable and unfavorable matchups in the early-season Forecasters still holds true. But things do change.
"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
We have another solid week of scheduling as playoffs commence in many head-to-head leagues. Fifteen NBA teams have four games, while only the Houston Rockets play twice. (I was mistaken two weeks ago when I apparently looked at the schedule cross-eyed and determined that the Indiana Pacers were the team with two games for March 21-27. It is indeed the Rockets.)
Charlotte Bobcats (IND, @BOS, NY): The team's trade of Gerald Wallace made Gerald Henderson a full-time starter, and the second-year pro has responded by averaging 13.8 points and 1.3 steals in March. In leagues of at least 12 teams, Henderson is a decent though not great play here. Boston Celtics opponents are only 27th in steals, while Pacers and Knicks opponents are middling in this regard.
Dallas Mavericks (MIN, @UTA, @PHO): Rodrigue Beaubois is giving me a bit of a Nicolas Batum vibe: He's a promising young player who will have a few big games but for now is far from a sure thing in fantasy. At least that's what I think. But for owners in leagues of at least 12 teams who see something more in Beaubois, who is coming off the best performance of his injury-marred season (18 points, four assists, four steals and a season-high 37 minutes against the Golden State Warriors on March 16), the schedule offers its full support. Timberwolves opponents are tops in points and steals, while Jazz and Suns opponents are third and seventh, respectively, in takeaways. You won't find a sweeter three-game set this week.
Detroit Pistons (MIA, @CLE, IND): After being benched for the better part of six weeks, Richard Hamilton has made a sudden return to the Pistons rotation. He has started the past two games and has played at least 24 minutes in each of his past seven, in which he has averaged 15.7 points, 3.4 assists and 1.1 3s. If you're thinking about adding or activating Hamilton for next week, you'll want to search for updates because he'll be away from the team this weekend (for personal reasons). However, it's logical to think Hamilton will return for the next Wednesday's game against the Miami Heat. Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are tops in 3s and third in assists. Heat and Pacers opponents are middle-of-the-pack as far as treys.
New York Knicks (BOS, ORL, MIL, @CHA): After filling in admirably for an injured Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas has put together two great outings (and one horrible one) since Billups' return. I'm actually a Douglas fan, but I'm not sure he's a legit, mainstream fantasy play with Billups in the lineup. At least not this week, because Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks opponents are 28th and 26th in 3-pointers, respectively, and all four of these opponents are in the bottom nine in shooting percentage. Bobcats opponents, though, are seventh in treys.
Sacramento Kings (@CHI, @MIL, @IND, @PHI): Francisco Garcia doesn't score a lot, but as long as he's getting 30 minutes a night, you'll take his 3s and hustle-category production. Since returning to the lineup on March 6, Garcia is averaging 13.0 points, 1.7 triples, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks. Given Garcia's versatility, I can understand why owners in leagues of at least 12 teams would play him here, but don't expect too much, even with four games. Bulls, Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers opponents are all in the bottom four in 3s and bottom 11 in steals. On the bright side, Bulls and Pacers opponents are fourth and seventh, respectively, in blocks.
Utah Jazz (@MEM, @OKC, NOR, DAL): After erupting for 40 points and six treys against the Wolves, C.J. Miles' ownership tripled in ESPN.com leagues. I'd say the lesson here, though, is that a lot of guys look good when playing Minnesota. In four games against the Wolves this season, Miles averaged 21.3 points and 3.0 triples. He probably won't have it so easy in the four games ahead, though Memphis Grizzlies opponents are fourth in 3-pointers.
Washington Wizards (@POR, @LAC, @DEN, @GS): My search for the fantasy find of this March now arrives at Jordan Crawford. With Nick Young (knee) hurting, Crawford has stepped in with three nice performances in his past four games. He started, played all 48 minutes and scored 27 points against the Bulls on March 16. You might not see him score that much again, but on a Wizards team without Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard and Young, Crawford is looking like the second-best scoring option behind John Wall. The Nuggets are improved, but there is some positivity with this set of games; Warriors opponents are second in steals, while Los Angeles Clippers opponents are fourth in 3s and fifth in steals. Crawford is available in more than 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and he certainly looks like one of the best available free agents in leagues of at least 12 teams.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.