Defenses to Avoid
Oklahoma City Thunder at Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats are the second-worst team in the NBA in terms of points scored per 100 possessions, boasting a 96.4 offensive rating. That number is even more significant because they are among the slowest teams in the league, averaging just 94.86 possessions per game. Meanwhile, the Thunder have been on a roll lately, going 10-1 over their last 11 games and beating their opponents by an average of 15.7 points during that span. While it certainly isn't a lock that the Thunder blowout the Bobcats on Friday, the high possibility of such a result would make it hard to recommend players on the Bobcats for fantasy play in daily leagues. The Bobcats are already shorthanded without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (hand) and Jeff Taylor (Achilles), and with several games to choose from Friday, perhaps one could take a pass on Kemba Walker and company. In light of their newly introduced name and logo for the 2014-2015 season, an ironic, yet appropriate cliché could be advised: keep away from the Hornets.
Offenses to Use
Washington Wizards at Minnesota Timberwolves: In the midst of a four-game losing streak om December 14, the Wizards were desperate for some offense, struggling to find the extra scoring spark together with John Wall. On December 16, Bradley Beal, who was dealing with a leg injury, returned to the lineup. His impact was evident. The Wizards beat the Knicks on a game-winning shot by Beal, who finished the night with 21 points. The Wizards have won three straight, and their offense has been notably better with Beal in the lineup, as they have scored 107.0 points per game during that span. Beal's presence has also paved way for more efficient shooting performances from the likes of Wall, Trevor Ariza, and Nene, each who have had their struggles from the field with Beal out. The Wizards will face the Timberwolves on Friday, a team who boasts the second-fastest pace in the NBA at 100.34 possessions per game, and a dominant frontcourt duo of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Both teams should have some solid plays for Friday's contest, as a total of eleven players reached double-digits in scoring in their first meeting this season when the Wizards won 104-100.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards
Second game of a back-to-back: None
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
John Wall (at MIN): Wall has been on a tear over his last three games, averaging 20.3 points (45 percent FG), 4.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 3.0 steals per game. Although his assist numbers are below his season average, Wall put up 16 assists in the Wizards' first meeting against the Timberwolves this season. The Timberwolves are among the worst in the league in defense against opposing eligible point guards, giving up 30.4 points (worst), 6.7 rebounds (seventh-worst), 10.4 assists (eighth-worst), 3.3 three-pointers made (worst), and 45.3 percent FG (second-worst) per game. Wall will have a good opportunity to rack up contributions in multiple categories, making him a valid play on Friday.
Other options: Jordan Farmar (at UTA), Beno Udrih (vs. TOR), Goran Dragic (at GSW)
Tyreke Evans (vs. DEN): Evans will be worth a spot in daily games Friday if Eric Gordon (hip) can't suit up. Gordon is currently a game-time decision, but given his history of injury, the Pelicans would figure to at least limit his minutes even if he is available to play on Friday. Evans came up huge in Monday's win against the Kings, posting 25 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, and three steals in 36 minutes of action. Evans has proven he can produce top-tier numbers when given the minutes. Look for an update on Gordon closer to game time, but if he is forced to miss the game, Evans will be well worth his price tag for value play.
Other options: Gordon Hayward (vs. LAL), Joe Johnson (vs. MIL), O.J. Mayo (at BKN)
J.R. Smith (vs. TOR): Smith went off in his last game, putting up 20 points, six rebounds, three assists, and one steal. With Carmelo Anthony (ankle) dealing with an injury, Smith could look to take on the scoring load for the Knicks once again. He's averaging 18.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.6 three-pointers made over his last five games, and his price tag certainly hasn't caught up with his recent burst of fantasy fire. His shot could go away at any moment, but he's worth the risk, considering he'll get the opportunity if Anthony sits out.
Other options: Khris Middleton (at BKN), Josh Smith (at ORL), Wilson Chandler (at NOP)
Tobias Harris (vs. DET): It may be premature for me to recommend Harris in daily lineups, considering he has just returned from a high ankle sprain and has been in the starting lineup for just three games. However, he showed his potential last season, and Harris is averaging 16.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists over his last three contests. His price tag is still low for his intriguingly lofty ceiling, and he'll have an opportunity to build on his recent string of strong performances against the Pistons, who give up 39.2 points (seventh-worst) to opposing eligible power forwards. Deploy Harris understanding that there is a great risk involved, but look toward safer options if you feel the need for security.
Other options: Kevin Love (vs. WAS), Jordan Hill (at UTA), J.J. Hickson (at NOP)
Nikola Pekovic (vs. WAS): Pekovic has been dominating over the last three games, averaging 28.7 points (57 percent FG) and 12.0 rebounds during that span. While the Wizards have above-average defense against opposing eligible centers, Pekovic's price tag may be worth the damage he can do to fantasy squads. The Wizards recently gave up a 22-point, 11-rebound performance to Jared Sullinger, and Pekovic certainly has the potential to put up similar numbers on Friday. Consider him a viable non-budget option for fantasy play.
Other options: Andrew Bogut (vs. PHX), Chris Kaman (at UTA), Tyson Chandler (vs. TOR)
Kobe Bryant (knee) has a fracture in his left knee and will miss six weeks.
Pau Gasol (illness) did not travel with the team to Utah due to a respiratory infection.
Steve Nash (general soreness) is expected to be out for another three weeks.
Steve Blake (elbow) is expected to miss another weeks.
Brook Lopez (foot) is out for the rest of the season.
Zaza Pachulia (foot) is out for at least two more weeks.
Danilo Gallinari is still without a timetable to return.
JaVale McGee (leg) is still without a timetable to return.
Raymond Felton (groin) is still without a timetable to return.
Pablo Prigioni (toe) may be out for another week.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (hand) hasn't suffered any setbacks but is still a few weeks from return.
Jeffery Taylor (Achilles) is out for at least four weeks.
Chase Budinger (knee) has been participating in 3-on-3 practices but is still weeks away.
Metta World Peace (knee) may return to action soon but has a knee procedure scheduled for January 6.
Carl Landry (hip) is still without a timetable to return.
Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) is still without a timetable to return.
Carmelo Anthony (ankle) is a game-time decision on Friday.
Larry Sanders (thumb) returned to practice Thursday and is set to play on Friday.
Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) returned to practice Thursday and could play on Friday.
Eric Gordon (hip) has a hip contusion and is a game-time decision on Friday.
Kenneth Faried (ankle) participated in practice Thursday and could play on Friday.
Andrei Kirilenko (back) hopes to return to action soon, and could play on Friday.
Richard Jefferson (back) misses Thursday's practice and is a game-time decision on Friday.
Chris Andersen (back) is questionable to play on Friday.
Alex Len (ankle) is improving and could see court time soon.