Defenses to Avoid
Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets: On a Thursday night with four relatively offensive-minded teams, the Clippers have the best chance of slowing down their opponents from a fantasy perspective. The Clippers are the ninth best team in the league in terms of fewest points allowed per 100 possessions (100.5 defensive rating), and the Nets are in the middle of the pack offensively in terms of points scored per 100 possessions (100.5 offensive rating). Despite the impressive return to action from Deron Williams (ankle) on Tuesday, it would be wise to be cautious trusting the Net in his second game back against a team like the Clippers. Other than Brook Lopez, the Nets don't have other safe options Thursday, and daily owners should search elsewhere for fantasy play.
Offenses to Use
Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers and Rockets are the two best offensive teams in the league with 109.5 and 107.8 offensive ratings respectively. What distinguishes the two from one another is that the Rockets have been on a mini-slump over their last four games, going just 2-2 during that span and averaging just 98.5 points per game, while the Trail Blazers are averaging 113.0 points over their last four games. The Rockets are likely going to have Jeremy Lin (knee) back in the lineup, but it's hard to predict how their chemistry will be with Lin following a two-week absence. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are loaded with options across their roster and should take the Rockets on in their home court with much fantasy appeal.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets
Second game of a back-to-back: Los Angeles Clippers
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
Damian Lillard (vs. HOU): The Rockets boast poor defense against opposing eligible point guards, allowing 27.6 points (seventh-worst), 10.6 assists (tenth-worst), 3.0 steals (second-worst), and 3.0 three-pointers made (fourth-worst) per game. Lillard figures to capitalize from the Rockets' lack of three-point defense in particular, as he has been spectacular over the month of December, with 3.2 three-pointers made on 48 percent shooting from behind the arc. He is averaging 22.8 points in December and should continue to play well against the duo of Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley.
Deron Williams (vs. LAC): It might be worth using Williams since he's seen his salary drop on several sites due to his prolonged absence due to injury. He's a cheaper option with almost as much upside as Chris Paul or Lillard.
Jamal Crawford (at BKN): Crawford should have a solid game off the bench for the Clippers against the Nets' weak perimeter defense. The Nets give up 42.3 points (second-worst), 5.4 three-pointers made (worst), and 46 percent FG (second-worst) against opposing eligible shooting guards. Crawford will be able to take advantage against Joe Johnson and a newly-returned Deron Williams, making him a strong play on Thursday.
Jeremy Lin (at POR): Following the trend of trying to find relative value plays on a short slate, Lin's salary has dipped a little on some sites due to his injury. As such, he offers the potential to put up a game-winning line at a reduced price.
Other options: Wesley Matthews, Joe Johnson
Nicolas Batum (vs. HOU): Batum has been spectacular over his last five games, averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 2.2 three-pointers made during that span. While the Rockets aren't necessarily a weak defensive team at the small forward position, Chandler Parsons has been dealing with back issues, and Batum should be able to capitalize on the matchup with his explosive ability and versatility. With the game likely to become an offensive show, Batum should be able to rack up solid numbers in all offensive categories, as he is capable of adjusting to the flow of the game. Consider him a safe play on Thursday.
Other options: Chandler Parsons, Paul Pierce (pure flier based on potential upside against weak Clippers bench)
Terrence Jones (at POR): Jones holds tremendous fantasy value at a relative bargain for what he's worth. Although he has been a little streaky over the early part of the season, Jones has solidified himself as a fantasy-worthy option as a starter for the Rockets. He is averaging 16.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 4.0 blocks, and 1.5 three-pointers made over his last two games, and he should be able to put up comparable numbers Thursday in a high-paced game against the Trail Blazers.
Brook Lopez (vs. LAC): Lopez has been on a tear over his last three games, averaging 26.7 points (68 percent FG, 87 percent FT) to go with 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks during that span. The Nets will need a dominant offensive option against the Clippers, and Lopez will be able to take DeAndre Jordan out of the post, as his range is phenomenal for a center. The Clippers won't have an answer defensively against Lopez, and he should be considered a strong play on Thursday.
Other options: Robin Lopez (if for no other reason than he's a cheaper throw in at the center positon), DeAndre Jordan (probably the most reasonably priced and reliable option)
J.J. Redick (wrist) is out for six-to-eight weeks.
Matt Barnes (eye) is recovering from retinal surgery and should return in a week.
Jason Terry (knee) hasn't played in three weeks and has no timetable for return.
Andrei Kirilenko (back) has been dealing with back issues and hasn't played in a month.
Jeremy Lin (knee) should return to action without limitations Thursday.