The final week of the regular season is a veritable minefield of potential pitfalls for both season-long and DFS players.
The combination of playoff-bound teams resting players, other squads jockeying for a better seed, and numerous franchises kicking the tires on younger players with nothing to play for makes for a roller-coaster ride with a lot of variance. If someone tells you they possess all the answers for the final week, they're either delusional or they own a time machine.
But I do have some ideas that can help bring this confusing week into focus. You'll often find yourself going against your best instincts and fading players that you'd usually chalk up, while considering players you've never played before. Rest assured, there's method to the madness!
Focus on bubble teams and seeding races
If you want an iron-clad guarantee for high-quality output in the final week, you need to pay attention to the subtle nuances of playoff seeding. An obvious spot to monitor is the cluster of six teams clamoring for five spots in the West, as all six teams are within four games of each other. This means that Utah, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver and the Clippers are teams that you should feel comfortable with in the immediate short term.
The Spurs should be the first to lock down a spot as they have an easy schedule and favorable tiebreakers, and when you add the volatility of Gregg Popovich's lineup decisions they are probably the first team to remove from this list. On the opposite end, the Clippers will basically be out if they lose any game and need to beat the Spurs, Jazz and Nuggets to even have a chance.
The Nuggets will be another team to target, as they need to eliminate the Clippers on Saturday before a rematch against the Timberwolves that could ultimately determine the last playoff spot. The final squad in the mix is the team that looks to be in the dead center of the melee, the New Orleans Pelicans. You can bet that they'll rest a host of players if they clinch a spot next week, with Anthony Davis obviously being at the top of that list.
Although the East's playoff teams are decided, there are some interesting scenarios that could quickly alter the seeding landscape. The Sixers and the Cavs will face off on Friday in game that could flip the three and four seeds. If Philly wins this game, you can expect both teams to play first-unit ball until that seeding matter is settled. The Wizards, Bucks and Heat could see some movement in the final days as well, but all three of these teams might be aiming for the seventh spot, as the injury-riddled Celtics suddenly look ripe for an upset in the first round. The return of John Wall is a pleasant sight for the Wizards, but they've gone 3-7 in their last 10 games and need to step it up if they want to stay in that likely-coveted seventh spot.
The other complicating factor is that the Bucks will surrender their 2018 first-round pick to Phoenix if it lands at either No. 15 or 16 overall. While a matchup with Boston in Round 1 may be appealing, Milwaukee climbing to the No. 6 spot -- and facing either Cleveland or Philly -- would mean the Bucks keep that pick, which is protected 1-14, and 17-30. As of Friday, it's unlikely that the Bucks will finish with a better record than any Western Conference playoff team.
For Toronto, Boston, Houston and Golden State: Look to the bench
These teams no longer have any reason to fight. Their fates are sealed. In the remaining games, here are some players who could see increased roles:
Look for youth on non-playoff teams
You can target 12 teams that are looking towards next season already, and more likely than not, they are going to be looking at their younger players as the season winds down. Many of these teams have already given the reins to their newest prospects, and they are already reaping big dividends as DFS value plays. Let's take a look at a few teams that are handing the reins over to multiple youngsters as the season closes.
Arguably the league's worst team, it looks like the Grizzlies will sit most of their usual starters through season's end. MarShon Brooks, of all people, has become the featured player, and has done so well in three games that rookie Dillon Brooks has become the other Brooks. Both of players will be viable moving forward, and we should also see a bit more of Ivan Rabb atcenter, with Kobi Simmons and Ben McLemore in line for extended time.
At the moment, it looks as though Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, and Elfrid Payton and Troy Daniels may not see the floor again, and while Tyler Ulis has and will continue to make an impact, these absences also open the door for other guards like Danuel House and Shaquille Harrison. It's also possible that you'll see Davon Reed get a few extra minutes under center.
With Dirk Nowitzki out for the rest of the season and Dwight Powell nursing an injury, players like Johnathan Motley and Maxi Kleber will see extended minutes through the end of the season, and Aaron Harrison should see more time in the backcourt. I think it's likely that you'll still see plenty of Dennis Smith, Jr., however.
The Kings have been in rebuilding mode since the All-Star break. We already saw George Hill leave town, and veterans like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter have had their roles slashed. The team now belongs to De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Willie Cauley-Stein, and you'll see some late-season appearances from Buddy Hield, Nigel Hayes and Frank Mason.
Final DFS strategy thoughts
We all know that there are a lot of ways to win in NBA DFS, and the final week of the season is no exception. For the most part, the same rules still apply. In cash games, look for reliable players with a solid floor. In large tournaments, look for low ownership and high upside. If anything, these golden rules crystallize when you look at how the final week plays out. You have a few teams that won't be taking a night off as they try to make their final game happen after April 11, and you have some players getting larger opportunities on teams that are looking towards next season. Take advantage of these game scripts and you're on your way to a winning lineup.