When the calendar turns to April, we reach the point that I think of as "antelope-spotting season."
In this example, the antelopes are NBA matchups from week to week. And we fantasy hoops owners are the lions, surveying this virtual Serengeti. You see where I'm going with this? You're looking for the weak and vulnerable. Really, this happens throughout each season. In 2012-13, we've all been feasting on matchups with the Charlotte Bobcats, whose opponents have been tops in making 3-pointers pretty much from the start of the season. It gets better though -- Bobcats opponents have also amassed the most blocks. So Charlotte is a stellar matchup for your shooters and your bigs. It's nice when things work out that way, isn't it?
As we wind down the season, the list of exploitable matchups generally grows. Injuries pile up and youngsters are afforded opportunities. So here's a quick list of five other teams that should provide excellent matchups over the final two-plus weeks:
Cleveland Cavaliers: No Kyrie Irving, no Dion Waiters. And of course, no Anderson Varejao. It's a simple case of a below-average team being overwhelmed by injuries. Even at full strength, the Cavs have been an enticing matchup for bigs. Cleveland opponents rank second only to Bobcats opponents in rejections.
Detroit Pistons: Since the All-Star break, the Pistons have defeated the Bobcats twice -- two of just three victories overall. Playing a road-heavy schedule, the Pistons have allowed 70 triples over their past eight games. They even surrendered 14 treys at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves, by far the league's least accurate team from long distance. It does appear that there's some good news with the Pistons, though. More on that in a bit.
Los Angeles Lakers: In two games without Metta World Peace, the Lakers surrendered 117 points to the Timberwolves and 113 to the Milwaukee Bucks. I don't know that this can be entirely attributed to MWP's likely season-ending knee injury. Certainly the Lakers have other issues, with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash all being some combination of injured and aged. The point is, don't give the Lakers credit for their marquee name and the reputations of their individual stars. In the games with the Wolves and Bucks, Nikola Pekovic and Larry Sanders both produced huge double-doubles. So yeah, your bigs can go against Dwight Howard right now.
Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo is done for the season, and it's not known when Nikola Vucevic (concussion) will return. Three rookies are currently starting. Like the Pistons, the Magic also have won only three times since the break. They've allowed 106 or more points in 10 of their past 15 games.
Phoenix Suns: Having rested Goran Dragic for the past two games, it seems like the Suns are playing strictly for pingpong balls. There's also the matter of Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal both being sidelined. This week, Al Jefferson and DeMarcus Cousins posted huge stats against Phoenix. Sure, those two can put up monster numbers against anyone, but I'd take my chances on lesser bigs producing against the Suns.
Week 23 at a Glance
Another sweet schedule. Eighteen NBA teams play four games between April 1-7. Every other team has three games. Balance and parity. That's what you want at this point in the season, especially for head-to-head league championships. May the best teams prevail.
"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 opponents' numbers in those categories, and their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played. The column to the right lists the team's total number of games scheduled ("G") as well as home games ("H"), and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule ("R").
Players to Watch
Brandon Bass, PF/C, Boston Celtics (@MIN, DET, CLE, WSH): With Kevin Garnett (ankle) presumed to miss most if not all of Week 23, fantasy owners are turning to Bass, who's coming off a season-high 22 points against…the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, the opponent can make a difference. Really though, Bass has been playing fairly well for about three weeks. Over his past 10 games, he's averaging 11.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.8 steals. In the week ahead, Bass could boost his rejection rate. In addition to another game with the Cavs, he'll get the Wolves. Minnesota opponents rank seventh in blocks.
Andre Drummond, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (@TOR, @BOS, @MIN, CHI): Word is that Drummond could finally return to action -- and perhaps even start -- this weekend. The 19-year-old dynamo has been out since fracturing his tailbone Feb. 6 against the Brooklyn Nets. While I generally question how immediately productive players can be after missing so much time, Drummond has been fully cleared in practice for a while, so maybe it will be an easier transition with him. This schedule should help. Celtics opponents rank second in rebound differential, while Toronto Raptors opponents rank ninth in this regard. Meanwhile, Chicago Bulls opponents rank just below the Wolves in blocks.
Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns (@LAC, GS, NO): I wrote about Johnson two weeks ago, and there isn't much I can add. For some help in 3s and steals (averaging 2.8 treys and 1.6 takeaways over his past five), you'll likely lose ground in field goal percentage (Johnson is shooting just 39.0 percent in that span). However, with Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets opponents all ranking in the top third in 3s, Johnson could work as an end-of-the-starting-lineup option.
Kyle O'Quinn, PF, Orlando Magic (@HOU, @SA, @CHI, @CLE): It's probably best not to make too much of O'Quinn's 23-point, 11-rebound and six-assist performance on March 27, because it came against the Bobcats. Still, O'Quinn has been reasonably productive playing in place of Vucevic, and it's surprising that he remains virtually unrostered in ESPN.com leagues. Perhaps that lack of interest stems from O'Quinn's lack of blocks. Despite averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds over his past four games, the 6-foot-10 rookie has but one rejection in that span. Even if O'Quinn isn't exactly a budding Serge Ibaka, he could do better with this set of games. Houston Rockets and Bulls opponents rank fifth and eighth, respectively, in rejections. And you have the Cavs, whose opponents rank second in blocks.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: Three-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.