Go ahead, rip the Eastern Conference. Is it as strong as the West, where the Lakers, Spurs and 10 total teams are above the .500 mark? No, I can't make that case. But you are aware there was a big Eastern Conference game on Wednesday involving the top teams, by record, in the Association, right?
With apologies to the amazing LeBron James and his defending-conference-champion Cavaliers, those underrated Orlando Magic and even the scrappy, playoff-bound 76ers that I root for, the Celtics and Pistons certainly seem to be on a collision course for the right to go to the NBA Finals. Good, that's the way it should be. Pit the best against the best. The East can win the title, you know.
I've never played in a fantasy basketball league that differentiates East players from West, so it's not really an issue of which conference has better players. In baseball, by contrast, we've debated AL versus NL, and come to the conclusion that no matter how successful the AL is in World Series and All-Star games, the NL has the stronger players. I can't make the case for the East having better players, although that LeBron guy is pretty good.
However, some of the East teams are so bad, there are players to watch there. It stands to reason that if you have fewer top-shelf teams, and great players, then there will be a better opportunity for others. Let's take a gander at the five worst teams in the East and some players who could get an opportunity to shine soon, and thus be worthy of watching in fantasy hoops.
Miami Heat: Toronto drubbed the Heat in South Florida on Wednesday night, and Dwyane Wade had one of his poorer games of late. But look at what the bench did. Marcus Banks, who came over in the Shaquille O'Neal-Shawn Marion deal, played 29 minutes in the blowout loss and scored 21 points. I thought Banks would get more playing time in Miami, but before Wednesday his minutes had been kept down; he had more than 25 minutes in only one contest. Why not play this guy over Jason Williams if you're going nowhere fast? Banks has hit a 3-pointer in each of his last eight games (15 in total), and while he might not match the assists Williams gets, Banks could be a better player. I'm not really watching anyone else on the Heat now that Dorell Wright is done after having knee surgery.
New York Knicks: While in my car Wednesday, I listened to a terrific rant by Michael Kay on ESPN Radio 1050 in New York about the Knicks, and how the situation involving Isiah Thomas is embarrassing. That's no surprise, but Kay had an interesting take. The Knicks are dreadful, but why won't Thomas give the young players a chance to play, especially if he's sticking around? I don't know! Then on Wednesday 20-year-old small forward Wilson Chandler suddenly did get a legit chance, 36 minutes to be exact. He scored 11 points, and three of the five rebounds he grabbed were on the offensive end. He's no fantasy star yet, but shouldn't the Knicks find out? Chandler was a good shot-blocker at DePaul, an aggressive rebounder who hit some threes. Let him play! And why isn't Randolph Morris playing? Don't we know what Quentin Richardson and Eddy Curry, among others, are all about? Morris got only 12 minutes against the Cavs but hauled in seven rebounds during that time. If Thomas suddenly changes the rotation, be ready to pounce, fantasy owners.
Charlotte Bobcats: I'm a bit late to the Jared Dudley party, since he's been getting major minutes with Gerald Wallace out, but here's a guy owned in 1.4 percent of ESPN leagues who has a pair of double-doubles in the past week. And big ones. He grabbed 18 rebounds in the win over Golden State on Wednesday and played 41 minutes. Even when Wallace comes back, Dudley has earned playing time. He hits his field-goal attempts, has hit a 3-pointer in four straight games and hasn't missed a free throw in more than a month, draining 23 straight shots. The Bobcats had a really short bench on Wednesday, with no other bench players worth a look in fantasy.
Milwaukee Bucks: Mo Williams is the point guard, but he missed Wednesday's game with an abdominal strain, opening the door for Royal Ivey to start in his place. Ivey contributed seven assists in 27 minutes. He's not going to steal the job from Williams, but with a month-plus left in the season there doesn't seem to be much reason for the Bucks to push Williams if he's not ready to play. This happens every season, with lottery teams sitting their veterans. Who knows, Williams might not miss any more time, but if he does, Ivey has already proven from his December starts that he can handle the position and put up good fantasy stats. Speaking of the Bucks, remember when Bobby Simmons was a good fantasy option?
Indiana Pacers: Man, every bad Eastern team was in action on Wednesday night! The Pacers got shellacked in Houston, and honestly they don't have anyone on the bench I think deserves a ton more playing time. Travis Diener is already starting with Jamaal Tinsley apparently done (feel free to let him go, if you haven't already), and the best reserves have received their chances, and look limited. Ronald Murray, for example, has proven he can be a capable bench scorer, but there's no need to get excited in fantasy. Once upon a time I thought Ike Diogu could be a legit shot-blocker in the league, but no more. Kareem Rush is good for threes, and his explosion at Toronto last week (23 points and nine boards) got him onto the ESPN most added list, but since then he has 17 points and five rebounds in two games.
The East gets a bit of a bad rap, since five of their teams are decent. The Raptors would be the No. 10 seed in the West, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthy of discussion. I think the Bulls are going to catch the Nets for the No. 8 spot, incidentally.