Defenses to Avoid
Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers: Saturday’s defensive matchup to avoid is the Pacers, who are the best defensive team in the league in terms of opponent points allowed per 100 possessions (93.4 offensive rating). They will host the sinking Nets, who are in the midst of a nightmare season, losing superstar Brook Lopez (foot) for the season. The Nets are coming off a rare win against the Bucks on Friday, but had recently come off an embarrassing 86-103 loss to the Pacers in Brooklyn on Monday. Situations won’t become easier for the Nets in Indiana, as the Pacers are a league-best 13-1 at home, even more impressive than their 10-4 record on the road. Given the other options available on Saturday, the Nets-Pacers matchup should be avoided from a fantasy perspective, with the chances of a blowout being very realistic.
Offenses to Use
New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets: The Pelicans and Rockets are both among the league’s top seven teams in terms of points scored per 100 possessions, boasting a 107.7 (Rockets; third-best) and 105.9 (Pelicans; seventh-best) offensive rating. The two teams have yet to face each other this season, but Saturday’s battle figures to result in a high-scoring outcome, as they average a combined 106.1 points over each of their last four games. With Eric Gordon (hip) questionable to play Saturday, Tyreke Evans should have the opportunity to produce good value once again, together with the usual suspects of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Jrue Holiday. Meanwhile, the Rockets are riding on Jeremy Lin, who has played well in the absence of Patrick Beverley (hand). Lin joins James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones as valid options to pick up in daily games for Saturday’s matchups.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers
Second 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
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
Beno Udrih (at TOR): Udrih torched the Raptors on Friday for 15 points, four rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals. With Raymond Felton (hamstring) and Pablo Prigioni (toe) likely to miss the game, Udrih has a good chance of putting up efficient numbers once again. He’s highly unlikely to match Friday’s outing, but is averaging 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 three-pointers made over his last five games, numbers that are well worth his price tag. Udrih figures to be a low-risk option given the Knicks’ injury situation and the fact that he’ll be more than affordable in most daily game hosts.
Other options: Michael Carter-Williams (at PHX), Jeremy Lin (vs. NOP), Brandon Knight (vs. MIN)
James Harden (vs. NOP): I understand that by listing Harden here, I could make or break my credibility in these articles, but I’ll go with my gut feeling on this one. Harden, just two games back from an absence due to a high ankle sprain, has averaged 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks over his last two contests. We all know that Harden’s ceiling is higher than that, particularly in the steals department, where he’s averaging 1.4 per game this season. The Pelicans are among the worst in the league in defense against opposing eligible shooting guards, giving up 42.1 points (third-worst), 12.6 rebounds (worst), 11.4 assists (worst), 3.4 steals (seventh-worst), 1.3 blocks (third-worst), 5.0 three-pointers made (fourth-worst), and 9.9 free-throw attempts (worst) per game. Obviously these numbers take into account the fact that Eric Gordon (hip) logged most of the minutes guarding that position. Still, Harden should have the opportunity to put up elite numbers on Saturday. Given the fact that his price tag has fallen to a level lower than many of the other elite options due to his propensity to miss games on late notice, he could potentially provide good value for those who are willing to take the risk. Do check on his status before the game, in case he’s a late scratch because of a myriad of issues (ankle sprain, knee soreness, foot pain, flu, headache, personal), as clearly he hasn’t been as durable this season as he had been his entire career. Or, if you feel the need to spend your big bucks elsewhere, stick to a couple of other cheaper options, including Tyreke Evans, who will have the honor to match up against Harden for a big portion of minutes Saturday.
Other options: Tyreke Evans (at HOU), Wesley Matthews (vs. MIA)
J.R. Smith (vs. TOR): I penned in Smith for Friday’s matchup and against the Raptors, and much to my dismay, he didn’t live up to the hype. Still, he put up 17 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and one steal in 43 minutes of action, numbers worthy of his price tag in most formats. With Carmelo Anthony (ankle) not traveling with the team to Toronto for Saturday’s game against the Raptors, Smith will have another opportunity to put up an explosive line. He managed to find ways to contribute on Friday despite scoring just 17 points, and perhaps we’re all still waiting on a 30-point monster night from the explosive scorer, who can shoot the lights out when he catches fire.
Other options: Chandler Parsons (vs. NOP), Evan Turner (at PHX), Wilson Chandler (at MEM)
LaMarcus Aldridge (vs. MIA): Aldridge has been playing with quite a fire in the season of celebration, averaging 25.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks in the month of December. The 24-5 Blazers will face the 22-7 Heat in a Saturday night matchup that is likely going to play out hard and well-fought to the last second. They have yet to face each other this season, but the Blazers figure to use Aldridge as their primary option against the Heat, who aren’t known for their frontcourt defense. With other high-end options in unpredictable situations (Kevin Love in a possible blowout game against the Bucks, and Anthony Davis having to match up against Dwight Howard), Aldridge may be considered a safe play for the big bucks. Also consider other options if you feel the need to spend a bit less at the power forward spot.
Other options: Paul Millsap (vs. CHA), Dirk Nowitzki (at CHI), Terrence Jones (vs. NOP)
Al Jefferson (at ATL): The Hawks will play their first game without Al Horford (shoulder), who unfortunately could miss the remainder of the season with a complete tear in his pectoral muscle. Jefferson is averaging 21.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game over his last five contests, and he’ll have the chance to dominate the likes of Elton Brand, Mike Scott, Pero Antic, and Gustavo Ayon. Jefferson has struggled with consistency over recent seasons, but he has put together a recent string of solid games, making him worth an investment for Saturday’s matchup against a Horford-less Hawks’ frontcourt.
Other options: Dwight Howard (vs. NOP), Spencer Hawes (at PHX), Nikola Pekovic (at MIL)
Carmelo Anthony (ankle) did not travel with the team to Toronto and will not play Saturday.
Raymond Felton (groin) is still without a timetable to return.
Pablo Prigioni (toe) may be out for another week.
Al Horford (shoulder) sustained a full tear in his pectorals, and is out indefinitely.
Derrick Rose (knee) is out for the rest of the season.
Marc Gasol (knee) hopes to return within two weeks.
Brook Lopez (foot) is out for the rest of the season.
Andray Blatche (personal) will miss the next three games.
Danilo Gallinari (knee) is still without a timetable to return.
JaVale McGee (leg) is still without a timetable to return.
Zaza Pachulia (foot) is out for at least two more weeks.
J.J. Redick (hand) is out for at least three more weeks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (hand) hasn’t suffered any setbacks but is still a few weeks from return.
Jeff Taylor (Achilles) is out for the rest of the season.
Chase Budinger (knee) has been participating in 3-on-3 practices but is still weeks away.
Patrick Beverley (hand) is out for the next three-to-five weeks.
Omer Asik (thigh) is out without a timetable to return.
LeBron James (groin) sustained a strained groin Friday and is questionable to play.
Dwyane Wade (knee) missed Friday’s game and is a game-time decision Saturday.
Ray Allen (knee) missed Friday’s game and is a game-time decision Saturday.
Dwight Howard (back) experienced a stiff back in Thursday’s game, but will likely play.
Eric Gordon (hip) has a hip contusion and is a game-time decision on Saturday.
Joakim Noah (hip) did not practice Friday and is a game-time decision Saturday.
Luol Deng (Achilles) participated in practice Friday and is a game-time decision Saturday.
Kenneth Faried (ankle) did not play Friday and is questionable to play Saturday.
Bradley Beal (leg) hurt his leg Friday and will have an MRI Saturday to determine his status.
Kevin Seraphin (knee) has a sore right knee and is considered questionable to play.
Andrei Kirilenko (back) isn’t expected to travel with the team and is highly doubtful Saturday.
Brandan Wright (illness) is with the team in Chicago and could play Saturday.
Alex Len (ankle) is improving and could see court time soon.