Defenses to Avoid
There aren't any particular defenses to avoid in Friday's matchups. The Jazz-Lakers game could get ugly, as both teams have struggled with offensive consistency this season, and the Lakers are dealing with a plethora of injuries in the backcourt. However, both teams aren't stellar at the defensive end, making it hard to ignore the fantasy potential some of their budget players could produce.
Offenses to Use
Houston Rockets at New York Knicks: The Rockets have been blasting teams with a high-powered offense throughout the season, fueled by a pace of 98.20 possessions per game and an efficient 107.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). Over their last six wins, including an impressive 111-98 blowout in San Antonio, the Rockets are averaging 109.5 points per contest. In their first meeting against the Knicks, the Rockets won 109-106 in a high-scoring performance featuring three players posting 20-plus points (James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons). The Knicks are the fifth-worst defensive team in terms of opponent points allowed per 100 possessions, with an unimpressive 106.0 defensive rating. Though defensive anchor Tyson Chandler had been out for much of the early season, the Knicks are ultimately still shorthanded with hobbling superstar Carmelo Anthony (ankle) and injured point guards Raymond Felton (hamstring) and Pablo Prigioni (toe). Look for the Rockets to have a good opportunity to put up solid fantasy lines Friday against the Knicks.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans
Second game of a back-to-back: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Utah Jazz
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
Jeremy Lin (vs. NYK): Lin has benefitted from the injury of Patrick Beverley (hand), now as the uncontested starting point guard for the Rockets. He is averaging 12.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 33 minutes of action over his last five games. During that span, Lin has yet to explode for a monster fantasy line. He will have the chance to do so Friday against the Knicks, who give up 28.3 points (third-worst) to opposing eligible point guards. Beno Udrih has struggled defensively over recent games, and Lin would have a favorable matchup on the Rockets' home court. Though his price tag on most sites is arguably more expensive than the way he has been producing of late, Lin could still be a strong investment for a Linsane performance Friday against his former team.
Other options: Kendall Marshall (vs. UTA) [could see sizable minutes with injuries to the Lakers' backcourt], Jeff Teague (vs. GSW), Ty Lawson (vs. MEM)
James Harden (vs. NYK): Harden has been the complete opposite of DeMarcus Cousins when it comes to my daily cheat sheet recommendations. Every time I've penned Harden in this slot, he puts up a stinker. I've always backed up my predictions with advanced stats, but apparently Harden is cursed. Though the Knicks are among the worst defensive teams against opposing eligible shooting guards, giving up 41.7 points (third-worst), 11.7 rebounds (sixth-worst), 5.5 three-pointers made (second-worst), 13.9 three-pointers attempted (third-worst), and 45.1 percent FG per game, I still can't say with confidence that Harden should go off for a crazy night. Yet, despite all the Hard-aches he's given me, here I am featuring Harden once again as the recommended shooting guard for Friday's matchups. Harden's fantasy value on nights where he's on fire can put daily teams on top, as his price tag is comfortably lower than those of other elite options on most sites. If you play daily games, you're not only investing for potential return, but also for the thrill of the game. Thus, if you decide to ride on Harden's performance Friday, I can't guarantee you return, but I can promise the authentic Texas thrill.
Other options: Gordon Hayward (at LAL) [put up 24 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and three steals against the Lakers last Friday], Jodie Meeks (vs. UTA) [will continue to have opportunity to contribute with a depleted Lakers' backcourt], Tyreke Evans (at BOS)
Trevor Ariza (vs. TOR): Friday's matchups don't feature any high-end small forwards (other than Carmelo Anthony, who is classified as a power forward on some sites), so the three should be pretty much a wash between a few serviceable mid-level options. Ariza figures to be a solid choice, as the Raptors give up 34.9 points (fourth-worst), 12.9 rebounds (fourth-worst), 6.8 assists (second-worst), 2.8 steals (seventh-worst), 1.4 blocks (sixth-worst), and 3.9 three-pointers made (fifth-worst) to opposing eligible small forwards. Despite pulling off an eight-point dud in Wednesday's game against the Mavericks, Ariza has been excellent this season with career-high averages in points, rebounds, steals, and three-pointers made. Consider him one of the medium-risk, high-potential candidates among Friday's mid-level options at the small forward spot.
Other options: James Johnson (at DEN) [extremely cheap option with high upside], Chandler Parsons (vs. NYK), Wilson Chandler (vs. MEM)
Zach Randolph (at DEN): I am usually very sketchy on Randolph when it comes to depending on him to produce well on a particular day because of his wild inconsistency. However, his recent track record suggests otherwise, as he has logged five double-doubles over his last six games, and has failed to score at least 20 points in only one of them. Randolph's price tag on most sites isn't exactly considered low, but he's still a sub-elite player who has the potential to produce fringe-elite numbers on a given night. The Nuggets give up 42.2 points (worst), 22.4 rebounds (seventh-worst), 5.7 assists (seventh-worst), and 3.3 blocks (fifth-worst) against opposing eligible power forwards, giving Randolph an opportunity to continue to demonstrate his model of consistency over recent contests. Maybe I've jinxed Randolph by placing him on the hot seat, but since Kyle McKeown (the editor of this article) is going to let this recommendation slide, I can afford to share the blame if the Grizzly can't find his mojo in the mountains.
Other options: Paul Millsap (vs. GSW) [has produced well with Al Horford (shoulder) out of the lineup], David Lee (at ATL) [could abuse the lack of depth in the Hawks' frontcourt], Brendan Wright (vs. LAC) [could be had on most sites at a value price]
Tyson Chandler (at HOU): Friday's set of matchups is probably the worst I've seen this season when it comes to potential for strong fantasy play from centers. Al Horford (shoulder) would have had his way with the Warriors' poor interior defense, but his he's out for the season and his reserves aren't worthy of recommendation status. Similarly, other teams with weak interior defenses (such as the Jazz and Lakers) will defend the likes of low-level players (such as Enes Kanter, who is the leading Kandidate for biggest bust center of the year, and Chris Kaman, who isn't a lock for big minutes). Thus, we are left with Chandler, who will have the glorious opportunity to match up against the more expensive Dwight Howard on Friday. The Rockets give up 16.9 points (ninth-worst), 10.6 rebounds (sixth-worst), 1.2 steals (third-worst), and 1.4 blocks (seventh-worst) to opposing eligible centers, and Chandler could be a medium-risk, high-reward candidate on Friday, especially if Carmelo Anthony can help get Howard into foul trouble early. The center position is a complete wash for Friday's matchups, and it probably wouldn't hurt to leave this spot for the last when creating your team, picking a center that fits the bill within your remaining cap space.
Other options: DeAndre Jordan (at DAL) [one of the more consistent options of late], Timofey Mozgov (vs. MEM) [a low-end option who has limited potential, but will likely see sizable minutes], Dwight Howard (vs. NY) [if you decide to play it bigger in Texas]
Marc Gasol (knee) could return within the next two weeks.
Al Horford (shoulder) is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Kobe Bryant (knee) is expected to miss five more weeks.
Steve Nash (general soreness) is out without a timetable to return.
Steve Blake (elbow) is expected to miss five more weeks.
Jordan Farmar (hamstring) is expected to miss four weeks.
Xavier Henry (knee) is expected to miss 7-to-10 days.
Danilo Gallinari is still without a timetable to return.
JaVale McGee (leg) is still without a timetable to return.
Andre Miller (suspension) is suspended for two games for detrimental conduct.
J.J. Redick (wrist) could return in a couple of weeks.
Pablo Prigioni (toe) may be out for another week.
Metta World Peace (knee) may be out for another few weeks.
Rajon Rondo (knee) is getting better and could return to action within a month.
Patrick Beverley (hand) is out for a couple more weeks.
Omer Asik (thigh) is still without a timetable to return.
Jason Smith (hip) isn't expected to be back soon.
Devin Harris (toe) expects to return to practice soon.
Carmelo Anthony (ankle) played Thursday and is likely to play Friday as well.
Raymond Felton (hamstring) could return Sunday but is doubtful to play Friday.
DeMarre Carroll (thumb) practiced Thursday and should return to action Friday.