Miami Heat Many Heat players will likely be held back down the stretch. Credit: Reuters

The nightmare for every fantasy hoops owner is to turn into a Charles Barkley or a Karl Malone or a Patrick Ewing or an Allen Iverson - a great player that put up monster stats but never kissed the ring. In today’s almost exclusive head-to-head fantasy sports climate, the five-month regular-season grind means very little if we choke in the playoffs. That means shaping your roster to fit the homestretch is the priority.

Maxing Out Games
Far too often, head-to-head hoops matchups are decided by raw games played in a given week. Al Jefferson for two games or Marcin Gortat for four? Exactly. We’re not going to dump our studs, but we are going to bolster the bottom of our roster with guys operating on plus schedules. Over the final four weeks of the regular season, the Nets, Heat, Hawks, Pacers and Raptors all play a healthy 15 or 16 games. The Warriors and Clippers play a meager 12. The Blazers (March 24) and Bucks (March 10) have rare five-game weeks coming up. The Clippers and Knicks each have two-game weeks at the worst possible time: April 8.

Beware of the Resters
Unfortunately, NBA coaches don’t have fantasy owners in mind over the final couple weeks of the regular season. They're selfishly worried about having fresh players for the playoffs. Therefore, we can predict a ton of DNP-CDs in the fantasy playoffs, especially from aging veterans. Dwyane Wade sat out nine of the final 14 games last year and eight of the final 16 in 2011-12. Tim Duncan was held out four times over the last two weeks in 2012. Know the rotations and have backup plans in place.

 

Category Hunting
Throughout the regular season, most of us simply try to find the best players and see how the categories shake out. In the playoffs, we need to be more assertive. Whether we win 9-0 or 5-4 doesn’t matter, so focusing all our energy on just five categories is optimal. Identify the five you’re going after before the playoffs and build the bottom third of your roster from there. If you can’t win blocks and rebounds but can win 3-pointers and assists, there’s little reason to carry Roy Hibbert over Kendall Marshall.

NBA Pickups
Kent Bazemore, SG, Lakers – An ideal Mike D’Antoni player in that he can put up shots and points in a hurry.
Kevin Seraphin, C, Wizards – With Nene out, Seraphin is the play over Trevor Booker due to upside.
Timofey Mozgov, C, Nuggets – The struggling Nuggets are switching their lineup, promoting Mozgov into a starter’s role.

MLB Sleepers
Get these guys on your radar:
1. Billy Hamiton, OF, Reds – The fastest man in the league is expected to hit leadoff and start in center field.
2. Scott Kazmir, SP, Athletics – A 29-year-old sleeper is rare, but Kazmir gets a huge bump as he goes to Oakland’s pitcher-friendly confines.
3. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins – If he can hit lefties, the 22-year-old will have a chance to be an everyday run producer for Minny.

NFL News
At the NFL Combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy raved enthusiastically about Jarrett Boykin. It means free agent James Jones is a goner, and Boykin is going to be the No. 3 receiver behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. On most teams that’s a bit role, but on the Packers it’s an every-down job and one that benefits from Aaron Rodgers’ ability. Boykin will be a WR3 with upside in 2014.

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