With the All-Star break beginning on Thursday, teams are limited to no more than three games for the upcoming scoring period, so things are pretty straightforward right now: Play your best players if you can, and don't kill yourself worrying about matchups too much.
That isn't to say that you shouldn't put any thought into the truncated Week 9 (Feb. 20-26), especially if you're in a weekly league, where this four-day stretch counts just as much as any other week for the final outcome. In fact, this could be an opportunity to take advantage of the schedule quirk and put yourself in a better position.
The smallest advantage can give you a big boost this week, and with that in mind right now Nuggets forward Corey Brewer is giving those few owners who have him on the roster a gigantic lift right now. He is only owned in 25 percent of CBSSports.com leagues right now, but with the way he's been playing of late, he's earned the Start of the Week title for Week 9.
For the season's first month and a half, the Nuggets had been one of the league's deepest teams, and as a result Brewer was buried on the depth chart; he averaged just 17.9 minutes per game for the month of January. With the injury to Danilo Gallinari at the beginning of February came an increased role for Brewer, one he has taken full advantage of.
Personal issues have limited him to just six appearances in the Nuggets' 10 games this month, but he has seen his playing time increase to 27.2 minutes per game when he has played. Brewer has even earned a place in the starting lineup, topping 30 minutes in each of the team's last four games while averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in that same time frame. Add on the two steals per game that the defensive specialist contributes, and you've got yourself a fine Fantasy contributor who happens to play three times in Week 9, against the Timberwolves, Clippers and Spurs.
None of those three teams present an especially difficult defensive matchup for Brewer, so expect him to continue his recent strong play as long as the Nuggets continue to require him to carry a heavier load.
Tony Allen, Grizzlies (@HOU, PHI): Another defensive specialist who has been making his impact felt makes it this week, as Allen has found his groove recently for the Grizzlies, averaging 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game for the month of February. He has dealt with injury issues that have limited him to just seven games in the month, however he has posted double-figure scoring numbers in six of those games and continues to carry a heavier load in the offense in his second season in Memphis. He has clearly found a comfort level here, and while he only plays twice in the week, Fantasy owners should feel confident riding him while he's hot.
Marco Belinelli, Hornets (@OKC, @IND, @CLE): Normally you want to avoid guys who are playing on a back-to-back-to-back, given the stress and burden of having to play three times in as many nights, especially on the road. When it comes to a streaky shooting specialist like Belinelli, however, you want to catch them when they're hot and in rhythm. Belinelli has made seven of his last 10 from three-point range so this is a perfect time for Belinelli to stay hot. Belinelli has taken on a bigger role in New Orleans lately, scoring at least 10 points in eight of nine games in the month of February. When Belinelli is going he can fill it up, so look his way for scoring and three-point shooting.
Sleeper Alert: Jordan Crawford, Wizards (@PHO, SAC): Predicting which member of the dysfunctional Wizards will play well on a given night or week is next to impossible; when a team doesn't seem to have a plan themselves, how can an observer try to plan around them? Still, Crawford has been playing better basketball of late, and part of the team not having a plan is freelancing scorers like Crawford can sometimes find their shot and go on nice runs. He's on a decent one, scoring 54 points over his last three games, and while he still takes too many bad shots (4 of 16 from three-point range in three games), Crawford appears to have found something that works in recent games, so Fantasy owners should like his chances to continue against the Suns' and Kings' paper-bag defenses.
Jrue Holiday, Sixers (@MEM, @HOU): The 76ers remain one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and that depth is part of the reason why Holiday has had his share of struggles this season. On another team where he might have more freedom, Holiday has the skills to be an elite point guard. In Philadelphia, he shares ball-handling and play-making duties with a number of other players, limiting his impact. He made up for this at the start of the season by increasing his scoring load, however now his shot has stopped falling and he is not doing much to make up for it. In February, his scoring has fallen to 11.6 points per game on just 37.6 percent shooting, and he is averaging just 4.7 assists per game. Holiday is so young that you have to expect him to bounce back soon, but his recent play makes him a questionable start.
Raymond Felton, Trail Blazers (@LAL, SA): Things are starting to get really ugly for Felton in Portland. He came out this week and questioned the team's commitment to him as the point guard moving forward, saying, "I know I'm struggling, but it's hard to perform the way you know how when you know they don't have confidence in you." Have Fantasy owners ever heard less inspiring words from a potential starting option? Felton has been absolutely miserable this season, shooting 36.0 percent from the field and .206 from three-point range, and has started losing key minutes late in games. Here's a good tip to go by: If the team that traded for a player doesn't have confidence in him, neither should you.
Bust Alert: Brandon Jennings, Bucks (ORL, @CHI): The last thing a struggling player wants to see has to be the forbidding sights of elite defensive teams coming up on the schedule. With this in mind, Brandon Jennings can't be happy to be staring down Orlando and Chicago as the only two games left on the schedule before the All-Star break. For the first month of the season, Jennings appeared to have figured out a crucial part of his development, shooting the ball at better rates than ever before while maintaining his solid play-making abilities across the board. Whether it's regression to the mean or just a bad stretch, Jennings has totally crashed in the month of February, connecting on just 31.6 percent of his shots while taking almost 16 per game. Jennings has never been a good shooter, and he's almost assuredly going to play better than he has been, just don't count on it happening this week.
Carlos Delfino, Bucks (ORL, @CHI): Delfino is largely in the same boat as Belinelli, as a shooter who has gotten hot and should be ridden while he's connecting. Over the last six games he has played, Delfino is shooting 58 percent from three-point range and averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The Bucks are another team that has been hit hard by injuries, and Delfino has stepped in to fill the scoring void left by those injuries as well as Jennings' aforementioned struggles. While he faces the same tough matchups as Jennings, he's got the hotter hand of the two and should be able to play well despite the matchups.
Gustavo Ayon, Hornets (@OKC, @IND, @CLE): As the Hornets slog their way through a lost season in the wake of the Chris Paul trade, this 27-year old rookie has been a rare bright spot. Recently thrust into a starting role, Ayon has begun to adjust nicely, topping double figures in three-straight starts while averaging 11.7 rebounds per contest in that same time span. Ayon has been a model of efficiency, shooting 59.4 percent from the field while averaging almost a block and a steal per game in just 16.7 minutes. For a cheap option in a condensed week, Ayon should give solid production, especially for owners in Rotisserie formats.
Sleeper Alert: Kenneth Faried, Nuggets (MIN, @LAC, SA): The NCAA's Division I record holder for career rebounds has been worked in slowly by the Nuggets, however the same injuries that have pushed Brewer into the starting lineup have also given Faried an opportunity as well. The rookie out of Morehead State is averaging 18.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes on the season, and now that he's starting to get somewhat consistent minutes is starting to show that isn't a small-sample size fluke. Faried has started two of the last three games for the Nuggets and is averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in that time span. Faried should continue to earn solid minutes, and he could be a fine emergency option as the Nuggets are one of just eight teams with three games on the schedule.
Luis Scola, Rockets (MEM, PHI): There were some fears before the season that Scola, who has emerged as a solid nightly double-double thread over the last few years, would take a hit to his production in a new system, especially as he hits the wrong side of 30. Scola has held up decently as a Fantasy option, however his numbers are down across the board and he's been rebounding more like a small forward than anything this season. He has been neutralized especially by physical front courts, and the two he faces this week like to bang down low. While he's yet to face the Sixers, in two games against the Grizzlies, Scola has been limited to 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Amir Johnson, Raptors (DET): Johnson has been a decent stand in for the injured Andrea Bargnani this season, especially in recent weeks. He hasn't been able to pick up the slack on offense, obviously, however he has done a good job defensively and on the boards to make him a low-end Fantasy option as an injury fill in against weaker opponents. Detroit certainly counts as a weaker opponent; unfortunately, it's the only one that Toronto faces this week, as they are one of two teams with just one game on the schedule. Johnson has been useful, but he isn't likely to do enough in this one game to make him worth starting.
Bust Alert: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (NJ, ATL, @MIA): Fantasy owners have to be salivating at the thought of Anthony returning to a Knicks team that finally has a legitimate point guard. Despite concerns about how Anthony will fit in with the Jeremy Lin phenomenon, the more pressing concern should be rust, as he has missed seven-straight games with a nagging groin injury. He is expected to return by Monday, but that date has already been pushed back a few times so there's certainly no guarantee. Add in the fact that the Knicks expect to be integrating two other players -- Baron Davis and J.R. Smith -- into the offense, and there are certainly question marks here about how well Anthony will jell in the new offense.
Chris Wilcox, Celtics (@DAL, @OKC): Wilcox has been a non-factor for much of his first year in Boston, however he's starting to come around in recent games, averaging 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last three as the Celtics have started to rely on him more as injuries have created a hole. The 29-year old has bounced around the NBA for much of his career, but he may have found a short-term home as the third big man for the Celtics. He is shooting 63.2 percent on the year and has earned himself a spot with about 25-30 minutes per game available. At the weak center position, that may be enough to make Wilcox worthy of a low-end spot in a weird week.
Sleeper Alert: Semih Erden, Cavaliers (DET, NO): This was complicated on Friday night when Erden suffered a left wrist injury against the Heat and left the game, however by all accounts it's just a bruise and he shouldn't be hampered at all. Good news for the Cavs, who currently have no other healthy centers; Anderson Varejao broke his wrist last week and Ryan Hollins has a sore knee. Erden is now the starting center for the Cavs and showed some significant promise with an 18-point, eight-rebound game against the Pacers on Wednesday. Obviously, he won't do that on a nightly basis, and he's never reached those types of numbers before, but at least he has an opportunity to start and show what he's got. Fantasy owners will want to let him show some consistency, but he's certainly someone with the ability to put up some good numbers with this opportunity.
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers (@GS, DEN): While Jordan did have his best shot blocking game of the season against the Warriors on opening night (eight), his role on the team has changed pretty dramatically since then. With the addition of Kenyon Martin, Jordan has yet to even reach 25 minutes in a game as the team tries to limit his minutes and maximize his production. Jordan is exactly the sort of limited, borderline starting candidate that you consider benching if his minutes go down or he faces less-than promising matchups. In this case, the matchups are fine, but with only two games on the schedule and his new limited role, Jordan may disappoint this week.
Bust Alert: Brook Lopez, Nets (@NY, ORL): I know you're all just itching to get Lopez back into the lineup now that he's recovered from foot surgery. You probably spent a high draft pick on him before finding out about the injury and you're hoping he can return and give your team a big boost heading down the stretch. And he probably can. Just don't count on it this week. Lopez hasn't played in a game since the first game of the preseason and is probably going to be playing pretty gingerly on the surgically repaired foot, at least until he gets more comfortable. Monday represents the third game of a back-to-back-to-back of which Lopez will participate in the final two games, so coming back straight into two games in two nights is going to test his conditioning. You're probably better off doing what the Nets should have done and just waiting until after the All-Star break to activate the big man.