Chicago Bulls at Indiana Pacers
Team Totals: Bulls 100.5, Pacers 109
The Bulls fired Fred Hoiberg on Monday and now it’ll be Jim Boylen running the show for the season. Yesterday, he talked about areas the Bulls need to improve, saying defensive rebounding, transition defense, and then offensive execution were the three biggest issues. The Bulls didn’t have Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis for the vast majority of the season with Markkanen making his season debut on Saturday, and most of their lineups have pretty decent defensive rebounding percentages. The Bulls have a team-worst 70.3 DRB% when Wendell Carter Jr. is off the floor, which likely means Boylen will want to extend him a little more. Plus, firing a coach in season is usually an indication that young guys should play more. Wendell's usage rate may take a hit, but it should be more than offset by an increase in minutes.
Boylen also announced Markkanen will get the start and move Jabari Parker to the bench. The Bulls did pull out a lineup with Parker, Markkanen and WCJ on Saturday. It got destroyed in seven minutes with a -66.7 net rating (60.0 O, 126.7 D). That’s part of the reason Justin Holiday played a season-low 26 minutes on Saturday. The Bulls original plan this summer was to play Jabari Parker next to Markkanen at the forward spots, but the Bulls didn’t pull out a Bobby Portis, Parker, and a center (Robin Lopez, WCJ, Felicio) lineup before Portis went down, but of course Markkanen is a different style player than Portis. The Bulls did also pull out a Markkanen at the five lineup on Saturday for four minutes, so there could still be 24-plus minutes for Parker. Markkanen also played 124 minutes without another center last year (counting Noah Vonleh, Lopez, Felicio, Portis). But obviously for Parker it’s bad news he’s moving to the bench, and he should certainly trend down.
Last year, Zach LaVine had a higher usage rate with Markkanen on the floor compared to without him. The Pacers put Oladipo on LaVine for the vast majority of the possessions in the first game and Dipo held LaVine in check for nine points on 28.6 FG%. With Dipo out, it should be Tyreke on LaVine, so it’s a better matchup. Although, LaVine needs to go to the line a lot for his big games and the Pacers allow the fewest free throws per game to guards among Eastern Conference teams. While Evans has been had on offense, nobody has lit him up for 10-plus points since Victor Oladipo went down on Nov. 17. Ryan Arcidiacono has flopped in his last two games after back-to-back 22-point games on Nov. 26 and 28. He really can’t be trusted in DFS, especially with Markkanen in the mix.
The Bulls get swatted a lot with a league-high 6.8 blocks allowed per game, and Myles Turner himself blocked six shots in 27 minutes against the Bulls on Nov. 2 (18 points, three boards, three dimes). Turner is also on his hottest stretch for consistent minutes with 29-plus in three straight for the first time this season. Domantas Sabonis has been dealing with a sore back and he doesn’t look as explosive compared to a month ago. Turner may have his minutes extended, and there should be some Turner-Sabonis minutes, too. The Pacers have also used the double-C combo in each of the games since Dipo went down at 6.6 minutes per game (excluding the game Myles didn’t play, of course). It’s also been good with a +9.4 net rating, and you’d think it makes sense against Markkanen and WCJ. Since that Myles DNP, Sabonis hasn’t been over 30 minutes in any of his last four, so again it may be due to his back. He also had a career-high seven turnovers on Saturday.
Victor Oladipo remains out indefinitely, so it’ll be Tyreke Evans in the first unit again. Evans has been a colossal letdown in the seven games without Dipo, averaging 9.3 points, 2.9 boards, 3.4 dimes, 2.6 turnovers, 2.0 steals and 1.6 treys on a 31/36/80 shooting line. He’s somehow made just 1-of-15 on two-point shots beyond three feet, and he’s been woeful at the rim at just 39.3% (here’s a link to his shot chart). He’s still been getting to the rim for 38% of his shot total and he’s somehow made just 17.6% of his shots off drives, so this could clearly be a bounce-back spot against the woeful Bulls wing defense. As we've said all season, Bulls defense will cure a lot of scoring ailments.
Recently, Darren Collison has also been among the league leaders in touch time at 6.4 minutes per game over his last four in just 29.7 minutes per game. The only player with more touch time under 30 minutes per game in that four-game span on Trae Young. In those four, Collison averaged 9.8 points, 3.8 boards, 9.5 dimes, 3.8 steals (!) and 0.8 treys on just 37.1% from the field. Like Evans, this is a smash spot against the Bulls with Collison running the offense and Aaron Holiday losing some of his momentum. Bojan Bogdanovic should also have a chance to bounce back from his eight-point dud in the last game against the Bulls, and he’s coming off a season-high 27 points on Saturday.
Prediction: Pacers 107, Bulls 97
Orlando Magic (front end) at Miami Heat
Team Totals: Magic 102, Heat 105
Nikola Vucevic didn’t fare too well against Hassan Whiteside this season. He put up just 12 and eight in the opener, and last year he was on the floor for 31 minutes against Whiteside with 19 points, 12 boards, one assist, two steals and two blocks in the only game against him. While he’s hot and rested, it’s going to be a tougher spot for Vooch.
Aaron Gordon exploded against the Heat in the last game with 26 points and 16 boards, but he’ll get a tougher matchup this time after torching Derrick Jones Jr. for eight points on the 10 possessions he guarded AG (lit up most matchups except Bam Adebayo). Last year, Gordon failed to score in any of the 26 possessions James Johnson guarded him, so this may not be an AG spot after the big season debut. Although, Johnson is now questionable for today with an illness, so that would be good news for Gordon and put him back on the board as a play. Jonathan Isaac will also back up Gordon, and he did play 12.5 minutes next to Gordon on Friday night in Gordon’s return from a back injury. Isaac will have a shot at plenty of blocks and steals in this matchup, but don’t expect much offense.
Terrence Ross had a really nice five-game road trip with a 64.4 TS% and 24.1 usage rate, averaging 18.6 points, 3.0 boards, 1.2 dimes, 1.4 steals and 2.8 treys. In the last four non-garbage time games, he’s played a team-high 10.0 minutes per fourth quarter with 6.3 points in those frames. Coach Steve Clifford said Ross is playing well and he said he knows Ross doesn’t need much room to make shots. He’ll continue to be a bench guy, but expect Ross to close in what should be a close game tonight.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has used Hassan Whiteside against Nikola Vucevic a bunch. In the last two years, Whiteside was on the floor against Vooch for 54 of 59 minutes. Spo also called Whiteside “powerful” against the Jazz, and Spo also praised Whiteside after the game (good Miami Herald story here). Whiteside could have another strong game with a longer leash after his performance to earn a win on Sunday.
The Heat could be short-handed today with Rodney McGruder (ankle) and James Johnson (illness) questionable. Goran Dragic (knee) is still out, but the Heat should get Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Derrick Jones Jr. back. Tyler’s return should impact the minutes for Wayne Ellington and possibly Justise Winslow, but Winslow and Jones Jr. would have to fill in minutes if McGruder and/or James Johnson are out. While Bam’s minutes are up over his last four, he’s basically been a backup center with only three of 92 minutes next to Whiteside in that span. Bam did guard Gordon at times last year, but Olynyk would likely be the biggest beneficiary if James Johnson can’t go.
Josh Richardson has the greenest of lights with his 13th-ranked 110 attempts from the field in the last six games. He’s been driving like Vin Diesel over that span with 15.8 drives per game for sixth best in the league, but he’s still struggled with his shot at 33.3% on drives. Richardson is likely going to see Jonathon Simmons to start and he was pretty busy against him in the first game (10 points, 29 possessions), so this could still be a J-Rich day. Maybe he gets some efficiency to go with the high usage. Dwyane Wade has also seen high usage in each of his last four, so he could be a decent option.
Prediction: Heat 108, Magic 101
Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks (front end)
Team Totals: Mavericks 109, Blazers 108
There could be some points in this one with the Blazers starters giving up a lot of points (118.3 D rating) and scoring a lot (118.9 O). The Blazers will get Evan Turner back, but it was very interesting that they played Moe Harkless a season-high 34 minutes without Turner on Sunday. Harkless had eight points, seven boards, three dimes, one steal, three blocks, two treys in that loss to SA. Harkless did not clear more than 20 minutes in any game this season and his 34 on Sunday was at least double his total in his first five games back from a knee injury. With Turner back, you would think the Blazers go back to closing with Turner over Harkless.
Damian Lillard gave Dennis Smith Jr. buckets last year. In 82 possessions last year, Dame scored 31 points with eight dimes and four turnovers on 100.0 eFG%. Lillard has also continued to crush on the road with 29.0 points and 6.6 dimes. He also has the ball in his hands more on the road at 7.4 minutes away and 6.6 at Moda Center, and lately he’s leading the league in touch time over his last four at 7.9 minutes. Dame has also been better when he has a night off compared to back-to-back sets. It feels like a Dame Dolla goes platinum night.
C.J. McCollum is back to scoring over his last two with 24 in San Antonio on Sunday and a season-high 33 against the Nuggets on Friday. There’s no clear change to his style of play with somewhat similar drive and touch times, but McCollum has just been crushing on two-point shots in the last two. He’s always been a terrific scorer inside the arc, but the two-game hot stretch may come to an end. Jusuf Nurkic saw DeAndre Jordan more than almost anyone last year with only Rudy Gobert logging more defensive possessions against Nurk. He didn’t put up great offensive numbers per 36 with 17.5 points on 44.2% from the field while only going to the line 1.5 times, adding 17.2 boards, 2.2 dimes, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Al-Farouq Aminu suddenly can’t miss over his last two with 40 combined points on a 96.6 TS%. That’s obviously not going to continue, so don’t chase a revenge game, especially now that the Blazers could have Harkless at the four on the table.
The Mavs have been one of the trolling teams on the injury report because they’re basically listing everyone as questionable. They’ve continuously marked guys as questionable following a return to action, so it’s tough to discern how injured guys really are. They are listing J.J. Barea, Luka Doncic, Max Kleber, Salah Mejri, Dwight Powell and Dennis Smith Jr. all questionable for this one. Yep. Not probable or doubtful. All questionable. Yuck. Coach Rick Carlisle did sound optimistic Doncic would be back after missing Sunday due to a hip issue, and DSJ should be back as he recovers from a nagging wrist issue and losing a tooth on Sunday. DSJ had a quote about his mouth injury after the game. “Good, it’s good, I got my tooth knocked out, but I came back in looking pretty as a girl so I’m alright,” he said. DSJ was really starting to hit shots before his wrist injury, but he’s cold again. While he got lit up on D against Dame, DSJ had success against the Blazers last year, but he’s still a little risky for cash.
Carlisle hinted that Maxi Kleber (knee) is the most likely to miss time, which could get Dorian Finney-Smith more minutes off the bench. It’s still tough to trust him with such a low usage, or Harrison Barnes in a subpar matchup with Luka Doncic likely back (scored just 14.7 points on 33.3 FG% vs. POR last year in three games). Obviously if Luka or DSJ are out, feel free to fire up Harry B. J.J. Barea would also be the man handling the rock with either young gun out. DeAndre Jordan also didn’t fare well offensively in that high-sample role against Nurk last year, posting per 36 stats of 8.4 points, 19.0 boards, 1.1 dimes, 1.5 blocks and 1.8 turnovers.
Prediction: Blazers 110, Mavericks 108
Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns
Team Totals: Kings 114.3, Suns 108.8
The Suns are now without their top-two scorers with Devin Booker (hamstring) and T.J. Warren (ankle) out again. Booker pulled his hammy with 2:22 left in the second quarter on Sunday, so we got a look at the rotation in the second half. There was garbage time with the Suns being down 77-110 with 7:28 left in the fourth, and coach Igor Kokoskov pulled his normal rotation guys at different times. Trevor Ariza played the entire third quarter while Josh Jackson played 8.8 minutes, so those two are going to see heavy burn. Jackson also leads the team in usage rate over the last two at 25.2, but he’s been terrible with efficiency all year at 45.6 TS%. With the Kings pace, Jackson and Ariza look like easy plays with Jackson offering slate-breaking upside for how he can fill up a stat sheet.
Elie Okobo should get a big chance to produce in a start tonight. Okobo has played 127 minutes without Booker and Warren, posting per 36 stats of 14.7 points, 3.4 boards, 5.7 dimes and 2.3 treys on a 48.5 TS% with a 21.0 usage rate -- it’s just 10.1 USG% with Warren and Booker. The Suns let Isaiah Canaan go as a "business decision" because they wanted to free Okobo, so look for him to get a big chance in front of the home folks. Going back to Jackson for a bit, he has also put up decent numbers next to Okobo with Book and Warren off. In 90 minutes, he put up per-36 stats of 16.0 points, 6.8 boards, 5.2 dimes, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks and 0.4 treys. Deandre Ayton does get a slight usage boost without Booker on the floor, but his efficiency has come down. His DFS price is way down right now, so he certainly makes sense in a favorable matchup. If you want to bet against Ayton and the Suns, Richaun Holmes could clean up in garbage time and has been hot lately, too. The Suns could play Troy Daniels more and the same goes for Jamal Crawford, so either could be dart-throw options in a high-scoring game.
The Kings should be set for a high-scoring night. Not only do they lead the NBA in seconds per offensive possession at 12.9, they’re also going against the Suns, who allow the fastest possessions at 13.7 seconds per. The Suns are also 28th in defensive rating, and Okobo really hasn’t been tested yet. Okobo really struggles in communications and pick-and-roll sets, so De’Aaron Fox could be in for a monster night. Per game, Okobo’s most possessions this season have come against Bryn Forbes, D.J. Augustin, Terry Rozier, Shabazz Napier and Fred VanVleet. Fox is going to put pressure on him like he’s never seen.
Marvin Bagley III (back) suffered a scary back injury over the weekend, he did not play on Sunday, he didn’t practice on Monday, and he's out tonight. With him out, it was Justin Jackson stepping up the most, and coach Dave Joerger said Jackson had his best game of the season on Saturday, scoring eight points with three rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers. If Bagley is out, Jackson could see minutes in the upper 20s again, assuming Troy Williams doesn't get hot.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is hot with 20-plus points in three straight. He also gets a revenge game and he’ll likely get a ton of shots. Last year, his 13.8 field goal attempts per game against the Suns are more than any team he faced last year. Let the hate flow through you. Buddy Hield should also get a good matchup, but Bogdan should out-usage him, especially with Bogdan getting to the line a little more. Deandre Ayton has also been bleeding fantasy points to centers, so WCS should have a great night. Plus, Nemanja Bjelica will have a longer leash with Bagley is out.
Prediction: Kings116, Suns108
San Antonio Spurs (front end) at Utah Jazz
Team Totals: Jazz 112, Spurs 104
The Spurs are getting roasted on D lately. In the last five games, they’ve allowed a ridiculous 124.8 D rating, including 133.5 in the 150 minutes LaMarcus Aldridge has been on the floor. They’re sitting at 29th in the NBA in defensive rating (Cavs). Aldridge somewhat surprisingly fared well against Rudy Gobert last year with 39 points on the 81 possessions Gobert guarded him and he guarded Gobert surprisingly well last season, too. The Jazz have struggled on defense lately, but they’ve also been on the road for six of their last seven games. It’s still risky using LMA in this spot.
DeMar DeRozan’s last trip to Utah was a profitable one for those who used him with 37 points in 38 minutes. He also had a big game on Sunday with 36 points in a win over the Blazers, but DeRozan struggled for most of November with dips in scoring, dimes, steals, treys, FTAs and FG% compared to October. Derrick White arrival? Coach Gregg Popovich called White “great” on Sunday night on both ends of the floor, and Pop mentioned him first when talking about role players who needed to step up behind LMA, DeRozan and Rudy Gay. Maybe he’s finally out of the doghouse and he looked much more explosive on Sunday. Hopefully, he’s over this plantar fascia thing.
Is Donovan Mitchell back? Since returning from his rib injury, Mitchell has a league-high 21.3 drives per game for 13.7 points. He’s also played 10.5 minutes away from Ricky Rubio in the last two games with the Jazz going with Kyle Korver over Dante Exum to make Mitchell the lone ball-handler in those instances. The extra space in the offense should help, but there’s some risk in using Mitchell because Pop likely will trap and/or double him. Still, the Spurs can’t stop perimeter guys right now, which gives Donny Mitch big upside at home.
Jae Crowder is on a heater with two strong games, averaging 21.5 points per game. The Jazz starting lineup with Crowder in and Favors out has been terrific all year with a +14.0 net rating in 192 minutes, so expect him to get heavy minutes today. Rudy Gobert’s usage rate is up and he’s cleaning up on the glass, so he could be a tourney play.
Prediction: Jazz 108, Spurs 99