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Knowing what you are up against

By Adam Hoff

Itís that time of the year Ö fantasy basketball is upon us! That means it is time to start drafting our teams, which is always one of the most exciting aspects of fantasy sports. There is an art to a fantasy draft and participants have theories on everything ranging from positional scarcity to the best way to find value.

One very important factor to consider is league format and obviously, most savvy owners know the league rules and structure before they even start preparing draft lists. If you are in a roto league, you are more likely to draft a balanced team. If you are playing head-to-head you might want to punt a few categories and load up on others.

However, one thing that gets overlooked is the importance of schedule when playing in a head-to-head league. I canít tell you how many times Iíve rolled into the playoffs with a dominant team only to lose because my star players have light schedules when it matters most. Last year I got beat because my main guns LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki were both playing only three games during the semifinals, while my opponent had Gilbert Arenas going five times. I wound up playing nine less games (38-29) and the result was an ugly loss. In the aftermath I vowed to never let that happen again.

Therefore, Iíve taken the liberty of doing the legwork for all of us and breaking down how many games each team plays late in the season. This information probably should not inform your draft decisions too much, but it might be worth considering during the first couple of selections. Your first three or four picks are likely to be the backbone of your team and players you hang on to all year. It make sense to know what their schedule looks like come playoff time. If you are debating between Jason Kidd and Chris Paul (I would contend that there should be no debate there, but whatever) in the second round and Paul plays two more games during your playoff stretch, well, that might be the deciding factor.

Here is the data:

Team

March

19-25

M/A

26-1

April

2-8

April

9-15

April

16-18

Early

Playoff*

Normal

Playoff**

Normal

Bye***

Total

Atlanta

4

3

3

3

2

10

11

8

15

Boston

3

4

3

4

2

10

13

9

16

Charlotte

4

3

4

3

1

11

11

8

15

Chicago

3

4

3

3

1

10

11

7

14

Cleveland

4

4

4

2

2

12

12

8

16

Dallas

4

4

3

4

2

11

13

9

17

Denver

4

4

4

4

2

12

14

10

18

Detroit

4

4

3

4

2

11

13

9

17

Golden State

3

3

3

3

2

9

11

8

14

Houston

3

4

3

3

2

10

12

8

15

Indiana

4

4

3

4

2

11

13

9

17

LAC

4

3

2

5

2

9

12

9

16

LAL

3

3

4

4

1

10

12

9

15

Memphis

3

5

3

2

2

11

12

7

15

Miami

3

4

4

3

2

11

13

9

16

Milwaukee

2

4

3

4

2

9

13

9

15

Minnesota

4

4

3

4

2

11

13

9

17

New Jersey

3

3

3

4

2

9

12

9

15

New Orleans

4

3

3

3

2

11

11

8

15

New York

3

4

3

4

2

10

13

9

16

Orlando

2

4

2

4

2

8

12

8

14

Philadelphia

3

3

3

4

2

9

12

9

15

Portland

4

3

3

4

2

10

12

9

16

Sacramento

4

2

4

4

2

10

12

10

16

San Antonio

3

4

3

4

2

10

13

9

16

Seattle

3

4

3

4

2

10

13

9

16

Toronto

2

4

4

3

2

10

13

9

15

Utah

3

4

3

4

2

10

13

9

16

Washington

4

4

4

4

2

12

14

10

18

 *Three-week playoff formats running from March 19 through April 8, so as to avoid the train wreck final 10 days of the season in which teams are either resting players for the playoffs or tanking for improved lottery chances.

**Normal playoff formats will usually run for three weeks from March 26 through April 18, and feature a final ďweekĒ that folds in April 16-18 for a 10-day period of time.

***Most head-to-head leagues feature a six-team playoff system that affords the top two seeds a bye in the first round. For those teams, the playoffs boil down to the final two periods, running from April 2 through April 18.

What is to be gained from all this information? Iím not sure how many concrete conclusions can be drawn, because everything is specific to given situations. The data shows that if you are in a league incorporating an early playoff system, Dwight Howard might not be a great option given the fact that Orlando plays the least amount of games in the NBA (eight) during that time. You might want to think twice about Allen Iverson, Michael Redd, and Vince Carter as well, since their teams all play nine games. On the other hand, fantasy stalwarts like LeBron James, Marcus Camby (if healthy), and Gilbert Arenas play full 12-game slates over that time. Just something to keep in mind.

The Wizards and Nuggets also are the only teams with 14 games during the normal playoff stretch and along with Sacramento, get 10 games during the final two scoring periods. The Hornets, Bulls, Bobcats, and Hawks all get just 11 games during the normal playoff stretch and the Bulls and Grizzlies are looking like the worst teams for the final two weeks, playing just seven games each.

Of course, you have to drill down even further that those splits at times. The Clippers, for instance, have 12 games during the three weeks of normal play and nine over the final two, which are pretty solid slates, but when you break those numbers down, there are some extremes to consider. They play only twice during what will be the semifinal week and then a whopping seven times over the final 10 days. You might think that Elton Brand will be a championship week force to be reckoned with, but will teams depending on Brand even get there with the 25/10 machine only playing twice in the semis? And even if you do make it that far, what if the Clippers are locked into a playoff spot and decide to limit his minutes? It seems that between the semis and the finals, the former might be the more important list.

Anyway, take the grid, check it over, and see if it helps. Happy drafting.

Adam Hoff is the columnist for WhatifSports.com.

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