Defenses to Avoid
Boston Celtics at New York Knicks: This game features two teams ranking in the league's top 10 in points allowed as well as the bottom 10 in points scored, making it realistic here that both squads fail to crack the 90-point mark. Led by defensive stalwart Avery Bradley, the Celtics are particularly adept at guarding against three-pointers, a shot the Knicks attempt 25.8 times per game (third in the NBA). The Celtics, meanwhile, have struggled with turning the ball over (16.3 per game, eighth-worst in the league) in their first season under coach Brad Stevens, something that could be exploited by a veteran Knicks backcourt content to slow down the tempo of the opposing offense.
Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons: Although the Pistons were able to snag a 107-97 victory over the Heat earlier this week, Miami still boasts one of the best defenses in the league by most measures, forcing 18.6 turnovers per game (first in NBA) while holding opponents to 96.6 points per game (sixth) and 44.7 percent shooting from the field (11th). Considering both coach Erik Spoelstra's reputation as one of the game's best tacticians along with Dwyane Wade's (illness) return to the lineup, expect the Heat to make the necessary adjustments to provide better containment on Greg Monroe, who shot 8-for-10 the last time the teams met.
Indiana Pacers at Oklahoma City Thunder: It's difficult for daily league players to shy away from using premium fantasy talents at their respective positions like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka on a given night, but if there's one opposing defense that should give pause, it's the Pacers. Paul George & Co. are holding opponents to just 87.5 points per game, a mark that's a full four points less than the next-most prolific scoring defense. While the Thunder will get the benefit of home court and a presumably tired Pacers squad playing its second road game in as many days, it would be highly surprising if they uphold their own offense's 104.0 points per game average.
Offenses to Use
Orlando Magic at Houston Rockets: The Rockets (101.8 points allowed per game) and Magic (103.3) have two of the league's more apathetic defenses, making it safe to assume that neither team will have much difficulty surpassing the century mark Sunday. The Magic have a tendency to turn the ball over quite a bit, but the Rockets don't have the sort of wing defender who will put much ball pressure on Orlando's perimeter players, making those miscues less of a concern. Meanwhile, with opponents shooting 38.2 percent from the three-point line against the Magic this season, the Rockets, who attempt threes often (27.4 per game; most in NBA) and accurately (47.9 percent; third), are certain to take advantage.
Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers will welcome back Kobe Bryant (Achilles) to the lineup Sunday, but the 9-time NBA All-Defensive Team pick probably isn't going to be operating at top speed coming off a major injury, at least right away. Couple that with the fact that the Lakers rank 27th in the league in points allowed (102.8 per game) and 28th in forcing turnovers (13.2 per game), and the Raptors should be in prime position to light up the scoreboard.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Orlando Magic
Second game of a back-to-back: Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
Kyle Lowry (at LAL): With averages of 19.4 points, 7.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals over his last five games, Lowry seems to be finding his groove after a rocky first season under coach Dwane Casey. He'll likely be shadowed most of the night by Steve Blake, who is ill-equipped to handle Lowry's explosiveness off the dribble. If Lowry can use his speed to get to the rim and take advantage of the mismatch, he might be able to attempt more high-percentage shots instead of having to bank on his unreliable jumper to get his points.
Other options: Jordan Crawford (at NY), Russell Westbrook (vs. IND), Brandon Jennings (vs. MIA)
James Harden (vs. HOU): As mentioned above, the Magic haven't demonstrated much success in contesting three-pointers, which happens to be a vital component of Harden's game. Although Harden has been woeful from deep of late – lowlighted by a horrendous 0-for-10 showing from three-point range against the Suns on Wednesday – the Magic's poor perimeter defense could be just the antidote he needs. Meanwhile, the absence of Nikola Vucevic in the paint should leave plenty of penetration room for Harden, who, for all his struggles from long distance, is shooting a robust 61.1 percent in the paint, an uptick of seven percentage points from last season.
Other options: J.R. Smith (vs. BOS), Victor Oladipo (at HOU), Arron Afflalo (at HOU)
LeBron James (at DET): James is a dependable fantasy play most any day, but the presence of Wade back in the lineup undoubtedly aids his value. In his five games without his sidekick this season, James is averaging 20.6 points on 47.9 percent shooting, numbers that are both well below his season averages. James' efficiency surged back upward in Saturday's resounding victory over the Timberwolves, and assuming that Wade won't be rested Sunday (something that can't be ruled out), he should be in for a big day against the Pistons.
Other options: Paul George (at OKC), Kevin Durant (vs. IND), Jeff Green (at NY)
Terrence Jones (vs. ORL): The least heralded member of the Rockets' starting five, Jones has been clipping along at nearly a double-double pace since joining the lineup. With averages of 12.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and a 52.8 percent shooting mark from the field over his 13 starts, Jones warrants ownership in most mid-sized or deeper leagues, and is a typically a good value option in daily salary cap formats. Sunday would seem to represent a good opportunity to use Jones against a Magic squad that has been destroyed on the boards with Vucevic out the past two games. They were outrebounded by a 101-65 margin in losses to the Knicks and 76ers.
Other options: Andrea Bargnani (vs. BOS), Greg Monroe (vs. MIA), Serge Ibaka (vs. IND)
Andre Drummond (vs. MIA): Like the Magic, Florida's other team isn't a prolific rebounding squad, but that's more by their preferred choice of lineup configuration than anything else. Still, the absence of a true center to compete for boards could mean another big day for Drummond, who is averaging an incredible 17.5 boards over his last four contests. One of those games came against the Heat; an 18-rebound effort that came in just 23 minutes action before the big man fouled out. Considering the way he's been cleaning the glass of late, if he can stay on the court a little longer Sunday, Drummond could make a run at a new career high for rebounds in a game.
Other options: Dwight Howard (vs. ORL), Jonas Valanciunas (at LAL), Chris Bosh (at DET)
Omer Asik (thigh contusion) is set to miss about a week and might not play much anyway with the Rockets expressing a desire to trade him by Dec. 19.
Michael Beasley (hamstring) did not play Saturday vs. the Timberwolves.
Chauncey Billups (knee) practiced Friday and believes he's close to returning.
Will Bynum (hamstring) remains sidelined with a strained left adductor muscle.
Danny Granger (calf) was able to practice on a limited basis Friday but is not ready to play yet.
Tobias Harris (ankle) is traveling with the Magic on their road trip but uncertain to play.
Jeremy Lin (knee) recently resumed shooting around but has yet to do any cutting or running.
Steve Nash (general soreness) took part in Saturday's practice but is still viewed as doubtful for Sunday's game.
Kelly Olynyk (ankle) has been ruled out for Sunday's game, but noted his ankle was feeling a little bit better.
Rodney Stuckey (knee) left Saturday's game with the injury and did not return. He's unlikely to play Sunday against the Heat.
Nikola Vucevic (ankle) has missed two straight games due to injury and is unlikely to play Sunday.
Chris Andersen (personal) rejoined the Heat for Saturday's game and should be active and ready to go moving forward.
Kobe Bryant (Achilles) will likely see between 20 and 30 minutes in his return to the court Sunday vs. the Raptors.
Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) was diagnosed with an AC sprain and is questionable for Sunday's contest against the Lakers.
Chris Kaman (back) has been dealing with back spasms of late and may be forced to sit out Sunday's game vs. the Raptors.
Chandler Parsons (back) said his back is "more sore than it's ever been" following a round of acupuncture Saturday. He mentioned he is less than 100 percent and can't be considered a lock to play Sunday.
Dwyane Wade (illness) played Saturday but could still be rested Sunday after banging his knee in the win over the Timberwolves.