This article is part of our Centers of Attention series.
As the NBA regular season nears its close, Weeks 23 and/or 24 are typically the championship round in most fantasy leagues. If you're still alive at this point, congratulations. Let's try to help you get across the finish line in first place by examining the schedule for five big men during the next two weeks.
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors: Believe it or not, the Warriors still have something left to play for this late in the season. Their recent struggles have left them in a battle with the Nuggets for the top seed in the Western Conference with the Rockets having an outside shot at making a run for it, as well. While they would likely love to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, this is still a team that isn't going to push its star players with the ultimate goal of keeping everyone healthy for their playoff run.
If you roster anyone on the Warriors, Week 22 was a bummer with them playing just two games. If you managed to survive, the good news is that they play a league-high five games in Week 23. That could lead to some huge production for Cousins. However, they do play two back-to-back sets during that stretch, so it's hard to envision Cousins playing in all five contests. Even if he just plays four, he could be a difference maker. Despite all the talk about the team struggling to find their way with him in the lineup, he's ranked 27th overall on Yahoo over the last 30 days. The Warriors follow that up with three games in Week 24, leaving Cousins with plenty of upside for when it matters the most in fantasy.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: Jokic is likely at the center of many fantasy teams in the playoffs, given his durability and 11th overall ranking in Yahoo leagues. With averages of 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.4 steals, he's set career-highs pretty much across the board. He's also an asset with his percentages, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 83.6 percent charity stripe. While his lack of blocks are a bit unappealing based on his position, that's basically just nitpicking at this point.
Things couldn't shape up much better for Jokic down the stretch. The Nuggets would love to jump the Warriors in the standings and need to keep the Rockets at bay or risk falling down to the third seed. That will help Jokic avoid rest days, which will be key with the Nuggets playing four games each in Weeks 23 and 24. Jokic has the potential to be a league-winner during that stretch.
Bobby Portis, Washington Wizards: Portis is never one to shy away from taking shots. He had a 26 percent usage rate for the Bulls last year and a 26.6 percent usage rate this season before being dealt to the Wizards. The problem was that he wasn't receiving a ton of playing time, which limited his upside. Now a member of the Wizards, he's seen more playing time at 27 minutes a game. He's even been inserted into the starting five, which has enabled him to average 14.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.4 three-pointers across his last nine games.
Not only has the added playing time helped Portis, but he's also on a much more offense-friendly team. The Bulls play at the 10th-slowest pace in the league (99.4 possessions per game) while the Wizards play at the eighth-fastest (102.6). With the Wizards set to play four games each in Weeks 23 and 24, Portis should be locked into fantasy lineups.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat: Even though Whiteside is Miami's highest-paid player, he started to see his playing time decline last season. He started all 54 games in which he played, but he averaged only 25 minutes per contest after spending an average of 33 minutes a night on the floor the previous season. His playing time has remained around the same this year at 25 minutes a game, which has still enabled him to average 12.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and two blocks a game.
After missing three games at the end of February and into March with a hip injury, Whiteside has come off of the bench in all five contests since his return. His playing time decreased even more to 19 minutes a game during that stretch, leaving him with averages of 10.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. As the Heat chase a playoff spot, he appears to be locked into that role moving forward. Miami plays four games in Week 23, so he's still probably worth a starting spot in most fantasy leagues. However, with only three games in Week 24, it might not be a crazy idea to bench him if you have other options with a more favorable schedule.
Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets: The Nets held Allen to just 20 minutes a game during his rookie year, but they've somewhat taken the training wheels off this season, allowing him to move up to 27 minutes a game. That's helped him to average 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game. Add in his stellar 59.2 percent shooting from the field and Allen checks in as the 76th-ranked player on Yahoo, overall.
Normally, you wouldn't think twice about starting Allen, especially based on his shot-blocking abilities. However, the Nets are one of only two teams in the league that will play just two times in Week 23. That's going to make him extremely difficult to start when you factor in his limited offensive upside. It might be wise to bench him, although you can probably put him back into your starting lineup with the Nets playing three games in Week 24.