Special to Yahoo Sports
The fantasy basketball season continues to rapidly wind down, with many leagues in the thick of the postseason with only a few more full weeks remaining. Entering Tuesday, every NBA team has played at least 67 games, while three teams — Sacramento (70), Minnesota (70) and the LA Clippers (71) — have already eclipsed the 70-game mark.
At this point in the calendar, there’s only so much fantasy managers can do. The trade deadline has passed, and while the waiver wire is still active, most of the previously ignored players who emerged after the All-Star break — Trendon Watford, Isaiah Hartenstein, Brandon Williams, Justise Winslowto name a few — have either fallen off or were already snatched up weeks ago.
So, in most cases, fantasy managers are probably playing out the string with the hand they’ve been dealt with — or, rather, the hand they’ve meticulously built, tweaked and then tweaked several more times over the previous 20-odd weeks. That means that taking advantage of the schedule is more important than ever.
For the most part, your stars will be in the lineup every single week, but it’s vital to maximize opportunities for the production of role players and waiver wire adds.
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With that in mind, let’s examine the upcoming schedule before we dig into the top fantasy storylines of the week. With a few notable exceptions, it’s fairly balanced during the semifinals and Finals for most head-to-head leagues:
Fourgames: BK, CHA, CHI, DAL, DET, GSW, HOU, MIA, MIN, NOR, NYK, PHI, POR, UTA, WAS
Threegames: ATL, BOS, CLE, DEN, IND, LAL, MEM, MIL, OKC, ENT, PHO, TOR
Twogames: LAC, SAC, SAN
Fourgames: ATL, BOS, CHI, DAL, DEN, DET, GSW, HOU, IND, LAC, LAL, MIA, MIL, NYK, OKC, ENT, PHI, POR, SAC, SAN, TOR, WAS
Threegames: BK, CHA, MEM, MIN, NOR, PHO, UTA
Over those two weeks, the Bulls, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Heat, Knicks, 76ers, Trail Blazers and Wizards each have an advantage as the only 11 teams to play eight total games.
Conversely, the Clippers, Kings, Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs each play only six games. That doesn’t mean the likes of Ja Morant, Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox, Devin Booker and Dejounte Murray should be parked on the bench. But it should give fantasy managers pause when considering lower-level starters or potential waiver wire additions.
Let’s take our typical, rapid-fire approach to dive into the top fantasy headlines of the week:
A monster Monday in the NBA
– The two MVP favorites squared off in Denver last night, and it was Nikola Jockic out dueling Joel Embid en route to a come-from-behind, 114-110 win for the Nuggets. After a sloppy first quarter, Jokic refocused to finish with 22 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks in 34 minutes, extending his double-double streak to 22 straight games.
Scoring-wise, Embiid had the bigger night, leading the Sixers with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Over his last three games, Embiid is a combined 7-of-11 from beyond the arc and 39-of-46 at the free-throw line.
In terms of the betting market, oddsmakers essentially viewed Monday night’s game as a wash. Jokic’s team may have come away with the win, but Embiid (-145) still maintains a slight lead over Jokic (+145) in the MVP odds via BetMGM.
Fantasy-wise, Jokic is well on his way to finishing as the No. 1 overall player for a second straight season. Embiid, meanwhile, ranks fourth in total value (8-cat) behind Jokic, Stephen Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns and Bring Young.
Here’s how the two big men stack up since the All-Star break:
Embiid- 9GP, 31.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 43.6% FG, 85.5% FT (15.3 FTA/G)
Jokic- 10 GP, 26.0 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 9.0 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 58.4% FG, 78.9% FT (7.6 FTA/G)
– The oddsmakers may not like his chances (+750), but Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to keep his name in the MVP race. The back-to-back winner in 2019 and 2020 led the Bucks to a 117-111 win over the Jazz on Monday, marking Milwaukee’s first win in Salt Lake City since 2001. After posting 30 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in the victory , Antetokounmpo is up to 32.8 points (57.8% FG), 13.0 boards, 5.5 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game since the All-Star break.
– Rookie big man Evan Mobley had a fantastic night in the Cavs’ overtime win over the Clippers, putting up a career-best 30 points (13-22 FG) to go with six rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 40 minutes of action. Mobley has stepped up in a big way since Jarrett Allen went down, posting 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 steals over the last five contests (37.0 MPG). Per BetMGM, Mobley (-500) looks to have the Rookie of the Year award essentially locked up. Cade Cunningham has the next-lowest odds at +450, followed by Scotty Barnes at +650.
– Trae Young’s scoring tear continued Monday night, as he topped 40 points for the second straight game and for the eighth time this season. Young scored 33 of his 46 points in the first half. After going for 47 points Sunday against Indiana, Young has racked up 93 points on 28-of-51 shooting (25-25 FT, 12-24 3Pt) over his last two appearances.
– Not to be outdone by Young, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns erupted for 60 points in a victory over the Spurs. More than half of Towns’ points (32, to be exact) came in the third quarter alone. Sitting on 57 points with under two minutes to play, the big man drilled a pull-up three-pointer with 1:38 remaining to clinch the 60-piece. He added 17 rebounds and joined james harden and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players to put up a 60-15 game over the last 30 years.
Weekly Kyrie Irving update
– Outside of the Nets being fined $50,000 for allowing Irving to enter the locker room at halftime of Sunday’s win over the Knicks, nothing has really changed on the Kyrie eligibility front.
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Time is quickly running out for New York City to amend its vaccine mandate, and if nothing changes between now and April 10, Irving will only be eligible to play in four more regular-season games, including Tuesday’s matchup with the Magic in Orlando. Following that contest, Irving will sit out Wednesday (vs. DAL), Friday (vs. POR) and Monday (vs. UTA) before returning to eligibility for the Nets’ two-game road swing, which includes stops in Memphis (next Wednesday). ) and Miami (next Saturday).
Draymond Green returns to action
– Monday was such a wild night in the NBA that Green’s string of 31 straight absences coming to an end somehow felt like just a minor footnote. In his first action since Jan. 5, Green finished with six points, seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and one three-pointer as the Warriors sprinted past the Wizards, 126-112. It marked the first time this season — and the first time since the 2019 NBA Finals — that all three of Green, Curry and Klay Thompson took the court together (no, we’re not counting Green being out there for the opening tip on Jan. 9).
Curry immediately felt Green’s impact, as he coincidentally posted his second-highest scoring total of the season, going for 47 points on 16-of-25 shooting in just 35 minutes. Coming off of a monster outing against Milwaukee on Saturday (38 points, eight threes), Thompson finished with 20 points and four three-pointers of his own.
The Warriors will likely exercise caution with Green down the stretch, and with four back-to-back sets remaining on the schedule, fantasy managers should do the same. Golden State has a particularly thorny stretch coming up next week, when it plays five games in seven nights from March 22 through 28.
– Kristaps Porzingis continues to look good in limited action since debuting for the Wizards earlier this month. Through four appearances, Porzingis is averaging 20.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 blocks in 24.8 minutes. I have finished Monday night’s loss to Golden State with 25 points, eight boards and four assists.
– The Pelicans announced Tuesday morning that CJ McCollum has cleared COVID-19 protocols and will return to action Tuesday night against Phoenix. McCollum landed in protocols Friday, but he’ll end up missing only two contests. With Brandon Ingram still sidelined, expect McCollum to step back in as the Pelicans’ No. 1 scoring option.
– Joseph Alvarado took advantage of McCollum’s absence to go for 16 points, 10 assists and six steals in Sunday’s win over Houston. In the two days since, Alvarado has been one of the most popular point-guard adds in Yahoo leagues.
– The most popular add of the day is Markelle Fultz, who joined nearly 9,000 rosters after a pair of strong showings off the bench. Fultz finished Friday’s win over Minnesota with 14 points, seven assists and three rebounds before posting eight points, 11 assists, four rebounds and two steals Sunday against Philly. Fultz is currently rostered in 31% of leagues.
– Trendon Watford’s roster rate is up to 48% after his third straight 20-plus-point effort in Monday’s loss to Atlanta. Over his last three games, Watford is averaging 23.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
– The most-dropped player in Yahoo leagues? Isaiah Robywho appears to have lost his starting spot to Olivier Sarr. Roby played just nine minutes off the bench Monday night against Charlotte.
– Cade Cunningham is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the Heat due to a non-COVID illness. The No. 1 overall pick continues to play well since the break, averaging 22.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.5 threes over his last 10.
– The Grizzlies are expecting to be without Ja Morant on Tuesday night as he deals with a sore back. Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton make for solid streaming options for managers in daily lineup leagues.
– Alex Caruso made his return to action over the weekend, playing 29 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s win over the Cavs. Caruso immediately made his impact felt, swiping four steals to go with 11 points and four assists. The Bulls continue to await the returns of patrick williams (wrist) and Lonzo Ball (knees).
– We had a rare Chris Dunn sighting in Atlanta on Monday night when the veteran guard made his debut for the Trail Blazers. In a sign of the times, Dunn was the first guard off the bench for Portland, which continues to embrace one of the clearest tank jobs in recent memory. A top-five pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Dunn appeared in only four NBA games last season as a member of the Hawks.