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NBA Matchups

James and the Giant Breach

by Mike Gallagher
Updated On: April 2, 2019, 3:20 pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Team Totals: Lakers 106.3, Thunder 118.8

The Lakers now have seven players on their injury report with most of them out for the year. Kyle Kuzma (foot) is still questionable after missing Sunday in a 130-102 win against the Pelicans. Reggie Bullock (foot) is also probable with his plantar fascia issue after playing just 23 minutes. Coach Luke Walton suggested that Bullock did have a minutes limit on him for Sunday, so he could be held in check again today.

Coach Luke Walton had to convince LeBron James (groin) to shut it down, and you would think they try to tank it up to get a top-four pick in the lottery. Right now, they only have an 8.0% chance at a top-four pick, but they’re only one game back from 13.9%.

Walton said he liked how Rajon Rondoset the tone” and Alex Caruso had a “very, very solid” game in the win on Sunday. Walton addressed that he wanted to have more playmakers out there, and that he wanted to reward Caruso. Both Rondo and Caruso should be set for big minutes, and Caruso would likely see more garbage time.

Walton also stressed passing a lot in his post-game comments on Sunday, so maybe he thinks Kuzma isn’t going to suit up for a couple games. If Kuz is out, that should put Mortiz Wagner in the 30-minute range. He hasn’t hit shot this month, but the opportunity should be there. JaVale McGee has been an absolute stud, but he may have a tough time against the physicality of Steven Adams. It’s hard to believe that McGee is so expensive in DFS, but he still looks like a solid option. With Rondo and without LeBron, Kuz and Brandon Ingram, McGee sits at per-36 stats of 17.9 points, 12.7 boards and 1.6 blocks. With Caruso and without that trio again, per 36 McGee is at 21.3 points, 17.4 boards and 0.8 blocks. He'd be safe in most matchups, but possible garbage time could make it dicey to roll with Pierre.

Besides those guys, it might be a little risky. Walton may turn his second unit loose again, which could limit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson.

 

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The Thunder will have Russell Westbrook out there after his 16th technical was rescinded. Westbrook has been pretty awful in the efficiency category in his two games against the Lakers, making just 20% from the field with 3.0 treys per game. He does have the counting stats at 20.0 points, 12.5 boards, 11.5 dimes, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and 3.5 turnovers. Why so inefficient? He made just 3-of-19 in the paint and just 1-of-12 on mid-range shots, and a lot of his shots were fairly open. Plus, Lonzo Ball has guarded Westbrook more than any other Laker with 91 possessions on him. He’ll likely have KCP on him today and should be able to take care of business in that matchup.

Paul George has owned the matchup against the Lakers, averaging 32.0 points, 5.5 boards, 5.0 steals, 3.5 steals and 3.5 treys on a 50/30/69 shooting line. He is playing through some shoulder issues, but it is to his non-shooting shoulder -- not the right shoulder that he had worked out in the offseason. Assuming the Lakers do put KCP on Westy, that should mean Lance Stephenson is on PG (or a young guy like Johnathan Williams), so he should be in a huge spot today.

Steven Adams has also started to get it going again over his last three, averaging 20.3 points, 10.7 boards, 2.3 dimes, 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals in 36.0 minutes per game. He’s only faced McGee for 21 minutes (12/18/5 per 36), and the Lakers should have some awful interior defense with subpar rebounding. Jerami Grant is also back to getting big minutes, so he’s a DFS option just on playing-time volume.

Prediction: Thunder 115, Lakers 100

Atlanta Hawks (front end) at San Antonio Spurs (front end)

Team Totals: Spurs 119.5, Hawks 108.5

The Hawks might have some depth issues today, which we love in DFS. John Collins (rest) is out and Taurean Prince (foot) is doubtful. Alex Len and Deyonta Davis figure to lock down the center minutes, then it should be just seven guys to man the four spots 1-4. Justin Anderson is a heavy favorite to start and should even have a shot at some small-ball four minutes against Rudy Gay. He’s coming off his best game of the year with 24 and 12 in 31 minutes. Coach Lloyd Pierce said Anderson was “inserted into Taurean’s role” and had “an unbelievable game” on Sunday. Pierce has also talked up Anderson throughout the season even when he barely played, so he looks to trust him on both ends. Pierce was also really proud of Anderson's work on the O boards, so again he makes a strong case as an option at PF. Assuming no Prince, Anderson should be very busy as one of the better cheap plays in DFS.

Alex Len was also big time on Sunday against the Bucks with a huge three to help get the OT win. He’s always risky to use in DFS and this is a back-to-back set, but he should have close to a 26-22 split with Deyonta Davis for the center minutes. Plus, the Hawks may try to go with a double-big lineup when the Spurs go with Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge together. Davis is a very attractive guy at min price on most DFS sites.

Pierce said the Hawks are “constantly” trying to get Jaylen Adams more minutes, so he may see some time at the two today. Vince Carter is likely going to get a decent amount of minutes at the four today, and he might be resting tomorrow. He’s certainly cheap enough to play in DFS. DeAndre Bembry should also have a fairly secure role and will likely get plenty of chances for steals with his on-ball defense. Kevin Huerter has been a mild letdown lately, but there will be more shots to go around while he continues to distribute the ball to his teammates. He’s so cheap in DFS due to his struggles, but the opportunity outweighs it here. Kent Bazemore has been terrible in the last two games without Prince, but he almost has to play more today with the lack of depth. His adductor strain that put him on the injury report could be why, but he played 24 minutes on Sunday.

Trae Young is coming off an inefficient game on Sunday, making just 5-of-19 from the field. Young had been chucking in his previous four games with at least a 33.0 usage rate in 31-plus minutes in each of his previous four games before Sunday. Pierce didn’t sound discouraged at all on Young on Sunday and chalked it up to so much zone being played. Over the last six games, Young has the fastest pace among all NBA players with at least 33 minutes per game while playing in all of those six games (D’Angelo Russell second, by the way). 

 

The Spurs on a back-to-back in April is usually a situation to avoid in fantasy. However, we all know coach Gregg Popovich loves to withhold info from potential opponents in the postseason. The Spurs get the Nuggets in Denver’s altitude on Wednesday, so that is a much more likely rest scenario -- it is not a national TV game either. The Spurs are also fairly healthy with the exception of Dejounte Murray (can’t wait to draft him next year).

A matchup against a thin Hawks team should lead to some big stats for some Spurs. Coach Lloyd Pierce talked about zone defense a lot on Sunday, saying it’s a good way to save energy when players have to up their minutes. That should lead to more 3-pointers and some inside buckets for LaMarcus Aldridge. DeMar DeRozan has played 35-plus minutes in four straight and should see huge volume with plenty of chances for kick-out dimes when the defense collapses on him on his drives. LaMarcus Aldridge feasted with 32 points in the first game against the Hawks with Alex Len guarding him on 57 possessions for 18 of those points. In a smaller sample last year, LMA scored eight points on just 17 possessions vs. Len last year. If you do want to stack up cheap Hawks, going with LMA and/or DeRozan isn’t a bad idea.

Derrick White also had one of his best games of the year against the Hawks with 18 points, six boards, nine dimes and a career-high six blocks (!). This could be a get-right game for him while Bryn Forbes should get a lot of open looks, too. Marco Belinelli revenge game?

Prediction: Hawks 112, Spurs 120

 

Houston Rockets (front end) at Sacramento Kings

Team Totals: Rockets 115.5, Kings 110.5

These two teams just played on Saturday and James Harden exploded for a 50-point triple-double After that performance, he was asked about playing up to the Kings pace-up style, and said that the Rockets are built for the up-tempo style. Harden had a 50.0 usage rate in that game, and he’s at an absurd 44.6 usage rate over his last six. He averaged 36.5 minutes, 42.8 points, 7.3 boards, 6.0 dimes, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks and 6.2 treys over those six games. In that matchup on Saturday, he absolutely ripped apart the top two defenders against him. Harden scored 16 points on 29 possessions vs. De’Aaron Fox and 19 in 14 possessions vs. Buddy Hield. Envision him as the Russell Westbrook meme of him looking at KD’s MVP trophy. In this plus matchup, it could be a huge night.

Nuggets coach Mike Malone said last week that the Rockets are going for the No. 2 seed right now, so most of the other guys are in play for normal minutes. Although, a late start in a back-to-back set does make Chris Paul a huge risk. Clint Capela has put in work against Willie Cauley-Stein with per-36 stats of 20.8 points, 13.0 boards and 3.5 blocks in 42 minutes this year, and 22.4, 15.9 and 2.2 per 36 last year over 50 minutes.  Besides those two studs, there are a lot of variables in play, but at least P.J. Tucker should get huge minutes. Eric Gordon still carries risk in the B2B.

 

Marvin Bagley is back for this one after missing Sunday due to an illness. He wasn’t on the injury report yesterday and all signs have him set to go. Even if he doesn’t start, Bagley should be busy as he looks to build off the 20-point, 12-board game against these Rockets on Saturday. He’ll likely have P.J. Tucker on him and expect the Kings to pick up the pace after a somewhat slow game for them on Saturday. This game may also be one of the closest games of the night with the Kings having +1.5 net rating at home. Still, this is the first time we’ll see both Nemanja Bjelica and Bagley out there together healthy since Mar. 26. That makes it tough to trust Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Yogi Ferrell is also questionable, so we could see some Alec Burks at the backup one.

This game does have some stack potential, so going with Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes could work out. Willie Cauley-Stein was brutal in the last game and he should struggle vs. Capela again.

Prediction: Rockets 119, Kings 110

 

Denver Nuggets (front end) at Golden State Warriors

Team Totals: Nuggets 105.5, Warriors 114

As mentioned above, the Nuggets have a game against the Spurs at home on Wednesday. However, there’s no doubt this is the game they want to win the most. If the Warriors do win this one, that’ll give them a two-game cushion for the top seed, and it would give them the tiebreaker, as well. Essentially, a Warriors win today locks up the top seed while the Nuggets could only have a 1.5-game lead with a loss and a Rockets win today. Jamal Murray is probable after an ankle tweak on Sunday, but he’ll play through injuries like almost nobody else. While he has played through a lot of injuries, his stats have taken dips at times.

The Warriors have crushed the Nugs when Jokic is on the floor this year. In 84 minutes, Jokic has a -31.8 net rating due to the 129.0 defensive rating. Although, he has gone against DeMarcus Cousins for just 16 minutes and 22 minutes against Boogie last year. Small sample, but Jokic only had an 8.8 usage rate vs. Boogie’s Pels last year and it’s just 22.0 in the 16 this season. The Warriors have really put pressure on him on defense. It’s a lot like when the Warriors run Enes Kanter off the floor because they’re going to run so much action on him to try to get him to switch. He’s not a straight fade, but the Nuggets likely need to score a whole lot today to hang around.

Gary Harris is likely going to see a huge amount of minutes on Klay Thompson (more on that below) and his playing time is up, too. His season-high 28 points came against these Dubs, and perhaps he sees more shots if Jamal Murray is limited. If you wanted to invest in a blowout or Jamal being limited, Monte Morris would definitely be an option. He plays garbage time and he’s in the rotation, so there are a lot of ways things could go his way. Will Barton and Paul Millsap have both struggled in this matchup, as well.

 

It’s a motivated Warriors team today, which is usually bad news for their opponents. A win today will almost certainly get them games off in the next week, so expect them to come out with some strong play. Plus, they’re rounding into form when their best player is on the court. In the last six games with Stephen Curry on the floor, the Warriors have a +29.2 net rating. The Hamptons Five lineup sits at a +67.9 net rating in just a 22-minute sample over this span and their starters are at +18.1 in 49 minutes. Steph also has some solid averages against the Nuggets, averaging 26.0 points, 5.7 boards, 4.7 dimes and 6.0 treys. There could be one of those nuclear Steph spots.

Steph isn’t the top-scoring Warrior against the Nuggets this year, though. That would be Klay Thompson, who averaged 28.3 points, 4.3 boards, 1.7 dimes, 2.0 steals and 5.0 treys in 32 minutes. Thompson was ultra-efficient with a 71.1 TS% and has seen a usage boost at 28.7 in those three games. Although, Gary Harris has been by far the best Klay defender for the Nuggets, holding him to just 17 points on 73 possessions this season. Harris’ minutes are way up and he’s likely going to be exclusively on Klay. Since the break, nobody has scored 12-plus points per game when Harris is on them. Plus, only Jrue Holiday has more than 1.0 treys per game on Harris since the break. All season, Harris has been a terrific defender on threes. In fact, only two players have hit more than 1.0 treys per game against Gary Harris' defense this season (Joe Ingles at 1.3, Shake Milton at 2.0!). I’d be a little careful on Klay.

Kevin Durant has been incredibly efficient in the last four games with a 73.5 TS%, but he does only have a 19.7 usage rate. There’s been more talk of him passing from coach Steve Kerr and KD talked about whether he passes or scores more on a given night. “The spirit tells me what I need to do,” KD said. “I don’t go [on the court] planning on doing anything.” #Boylenisms? Anyway, KD was seeing a ton of Torrey Craig with Craig playing a team-high 97 possessions against him with just 28 points. There should be a whole lot of Will Barton on him, so KD is in a better matchup than his stats may suggest based on previous games (24.3 points, 6.3 boards, 6.3 dimes per game vs. DEN).

DeMarcus Cousins was a stat-stuffing stud in his one game against the Nuggets, scoring 13 points, 6.0 boards, 6.0 dimes, 3.0 steals and 6.0 blocks for a 4x6 line. As mentioned above, the slower Jokic could be a great matchup for him. He saw 32 minutes against the Grizzlies last week and 26 before fouling out against the Wolves before fouling out. He was also ejected on Sunday, so he should be fresh for some big minutes today.

Andre Iguodala is questionable for this one, so he has a good shot to play in this big matchup. Draymond Green should also see bigger minutes and isn’t the worst play either.

Prediction: Warriors 123, Nuggets 106
 

Mike Gallagher

Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with NBC Sports Edge. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.