By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We head into a Week 21 that’s a stark departure from Week 20 when more than half of the league had four games on the schedule. In contrast, we’re down to only six teams with full schedules this week, although, luckily, 24 of 30 teams play at least three games.
TEAMS WITH FOUR GAMES: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz
TEAMS WITH THREE GAMES: Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards
TEAMS WITH TWO GAMES: Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors
Without further ado, let’s examine some of the tougher start/sit decisions for Week 21:
Start: Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets (four games)
Harris’ offensive production has been up-and-down this season, but he enters the new week in the midst of some strong shooting and with the benefit of a full four-game schedule. Harris has three double-digit scoring efforts in the last four games, as well as a scalding-hot 56.5 percent success rate from the floor over his last seven contests. That figure includes an even more impressive 62.5 percent from three-point range, where Harris has mostly struggled this season. The sixth-year guard also has 10 steals over the last three games, and he’s currently averaging the second-highest figure of his career (1.4) in that category for the season.
Start: Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics (four games)
Jaylen Brown continues sidelined with his hamstring injury as the new week begins, which will allow Smart to remain in the starting five for the time being. He’s been a success as a starter this season, averaging 14.2 points, 5.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals across the 37 games he’s opened on the first unit. The good news is that he’s also seeing nearly a starter’s workload even when he comes off the bench and that he continues to check off every box on the stat sheet with regularity. With a full schedule ahead, Smart is worthy of a start, even if Brown returns at some point during the week.
ALSO CONSIDER: Terrence Ross, ORL (three games); Duncan Robinson, MIA (three games); Elfrid Payton, NYK (three games)
Sit: Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons (two games)
Knight checks into Sunday’s action with six straight double-digit scoring efforts, the last two as the starting point guard in place of Derrick Rose (ankle). Those factors could certainly make him tempting for fantasy managers savvy enough to have already grabbed him off the wire. However, a lack of opportunity does the veteran guard in this week, as he’ll only have two chances to take the court. Those games are tough road dates at Philadelphia and Toronto, which further dampens his fantasy outlook.
Sit: Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs (three games)
Murray has a decent schedule ahead of him this week, but his rollercoaster performances recently make him worthy of consideration for a seat on your bench. Murray’s last six games serve as a perfect example: The third-year guard has three double-digit scoring tallies during that span, but those have come alongside a scoreless effort against the Thunder in 21 minutes and a pair of single-digit point totals. Murray’s inconsistency has already cost him his starting job for stretches this season and could continue to plague him in a couple of tough upcoming matchups against the Mavericks and Nuggets this coming week.
Start: PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets (four games)
Washington has gone through some of the expected ups and downs of a rookie, but he’s been on an extended stretch of strong all-around play since the All-Star break. Washington comes into the new week with six straight double-digit scoring performances — the longest such streak of his career — and averages of 16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists across 33.3 minutes per game during that span. Washington has also been an efficient floor-spacer all season (45.9% shooting, including 38.1% from three) and could reward you with the benefit of a four-game schedule over the next seven days.
Start: Robert Covington, Houston Rockets (three games)
Covington has settled in nicely with the Rockets following his trade-deadline arrival and is offering his usual brand of versatile production. The veteran has scored in double digits in eight of his first 11 games in Houston, averaging 13.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 2.5 blocks and 1.1 steals during that stretch. That type of multi-category production — the blocks, in particular — makes him a coveted asset, particularly if you’re in need of help in the defensive categories.
Sit: Glenn Robinson, Philadelphia 76ers (two games)
Robinson is logging more minutes of late, and he’s had a couple of breakout performances recently as the 76ers continue to deal with multiple absences from their biggest impact players. Those factors could make Robinson a consideration for some this coming week, but both his two-game schedule and inconsistency still render him unappealing enough to warrant a benching. The veteran wing has only three double-digit scoring tallies in his 11 games in Philadelphia, and although he’s done a reasonably good job filling out the stat sheet, he’s too much of a risk with only two opportunities this coming week, even if Ben Simmons (back) and Joel Embiid (shoulder) remain out.
Sit: Otto Porter, Chicago Bulls (four games)
I typically don’t recommend sitting guys on four-game weeks, but Porter is worthy of an exception to the rule. The veteran wing recently returned from an extended absence due to a foot injury and is still having his minutes capped heading into a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Nets. Porter’s production has been good thus far — he’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 block over a three-game sample — but with no indication of when/if he’ll resume a normal workload, and the non-contending Bulls lacking any real incentive to push him, he’s best left on the bench for another week.
Start: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets (four games)
Allen continues to battle consistency issues, but he has plenty of upside on a four-game week. The Nets will be playing under interim coach Jacque Vaughn the rest of the way after the team parted ways with Kenny Atkinson on Saturday morning, and while Allen will come off the bench Sunday against Chicago, he and DeAndre Jordan figure to continue splitting minutes close to evenly. He heads into a Sunday afternoon battle against the Bulls having put together some solid performances recently. Over his last eight games, Allen is averaging 10.1 points (on 73.3% shooting), 9.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists across 23.3 minutes.
Start: Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards (three games)
Bryant is heading into the new week playing well and holding down the starting job. After a 10-point, seven-rebound, one-block outing Friday night, Bryant is averaging 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 block across 20.7 minutes over his last 12 games, a span that traces back to Jan. 26 since Bryant missed some time due to a foot injury. Washington has been careful with Bryant’s role since the injury, but he saw 24 minutes Friday night — his most since Feb. 3.
ALSO CONSIDER: Dewayne Dedmon, ATL (three games)
Sit: Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors (two games)
Ibaka just got past a knee injury that sidelined him for three games, and while he returned with a double-double in Thursday’s win over Golden State, he should be left on the bench on a two-game week. Marc Gasol also appears to be nearing a return from a lengthy injury absence, so if that comes this week, Ibaka could see his minutes sink back toward the mid-20s on most nights.
Sit: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (three games)
There have been stretches this season when rostering Howard has been advisable, as the veteran big man has produced 22 double-digit scoring efforts, including eight double-doubles. However, those numbers have been much more at a premium of late, with Howard averaging just 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds across 17 minutes over his last eight games. That sample includes five single-digit scoring performances and a downturn in rebounding production, perhaps a sign the 34-year-old is also starting to wear down a bit now that he’s played 61 games (compared to just nine last season with the Wizards).
With Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee healthy — and Markieff Morris in the mix as a small-ball center option — Howard’s upside is quite limited.
Note: The Suns’ Aron Baynes and the Kings’ Richaun Holmes have only two games each this week, keeping them out of my primary recommendations. However, given the potential upside of each, I’d consider them over some three-game centers.