Defenses to Avoid
Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder still rate as one of the top offenses in the league, but the absence of Russell Westbrook appears to have taken some juice out of the attack in recent losses to the Nets and Blazers. A 48-point explosion by Kevin Durant on Saturday vs. the Timberwolves improved their outlook to a degree, but it's not clear if the Thunder has enough talent in its supporting cast to keep the offense humming on nights when Durant isn't quite as otherworldly. Considering that the Timberwolves (and the Blazers and Nets, as well) rank in the league's bottom-third in points allowed per game, it's worth wondering what kind of problems top-tier defensive teams might cause for the Thunder's uninspiring guards. With that in mind, the Celtics, who allow just 96.7 points per game (fourth in NBA) and hold opponents to 32.5 percent shooting from the three-point line (second), could provide a good litmus test for the post-Westbrook Thunder. As for their own defense, Westbrook's absence largely hasn't changed things on that front for the Thunder. They have held the opposition to 95.0 points per game and below 40 percent shooting on three of those last five games, and the Celtics' feeble offense shouldn't fare much better than that.
Offenses to Use
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers: The Nuggets aren't quite the run-and-gun team of years past, but an elite offense isn't a prerequisite for success against an apathetic Lakers defense. Coach Mike D'Antoni's tight rotation and style of play almost always assures that defense is an afterthought, but the Lakers might offer even less ball pressure than usual with career backups Kendall Marshall and Jodie Meeks forced to assume large minute loads due to extensive injuries at the guard spot. The Nuggets, meanwhile, don't offer much pressure of their own, ranking 25th in the league in turnovers forced, and have been miserable on the road of late, allowing 112, 105, and 120 points in their last three games away from Denver, all losses.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: None
Second game of a back-back: Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder
DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
Kendall Marshall (vs. DEN) – The latest player to take his turn on the Lakers' point guard carousel, Marshall raised some eyebrows with a breakthrough performance against the Jazz on Friday, logging 20 points on 8-for-12 (2-for-3 3FG) shooting while contributing 15 assists. Though the Jazz are nobody's idea of a formidable opponent, the minutes Marshall has received the last two contests (41 vs. the Jazz, 28 vs. the Bucks) undoubtedly help him in his quest to pile up counting stats. His 61.5 percent shooting percentage will only fall precipitously from here, but with everybody above him on the depth chart out of commission, Marshall should put up serviceable numbers almost by default.
Other options: Mario Chalmers (vs. TOR), Jarrett Jack (vs. IND, contingent on Kyrie Irving's status for Sunday), Raymond Felton (at DAL)
Terrence Ross (at MIA) – Ross has been a major component of the Raptors' winning ways of late, reaching double-figure scoring in six of the last eight games, including a pair of 23-point efforts. The athleticism for Ross has never been a question after he won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie last season, but it seems he's learning to harness it more effectively while continuing to hone his all-around game. His recent scoring surge has been accompanied by greater efficiency from the field (47.2%), particularly from three-point land, where he is an impressive 24-of-46 (52.1%) during that stretch. Ross has also supplemented his offense by picking up two or more steals in his last three games.
Other options: Nick Young (vs. DEN), Lance Stephenson (at CLE)
Iman Shumpert (at DAL) – Shumpert is another young wing player who has blossomed in recent games, though his sudden ascendance has been more dramatic than Ross'. While he hasn't experienced a huge bump in minutes over his last two games, Shumpert has managed to deliver 27- and 26-point performances in games against the Spurs and Rockets, respectively. The biggest source of his success seems to be a ridiculous 12-of-14 showing from three during those contests, a number that will almost certainly retreat closer to his 35.8-percent career mark from deep. Still, that shouldn't stop the confident Shumpert from at least calling his own number against the Mavericks while he remains hot. Even if his percentages crash back to earth in the games to come, he should at least provide his typically respectable production in the rebounds, assists and steals categories.
Other options: Shawn Marion (vs. NY), Wilson Chandler (at LAL)
James Johnson (at DET) – Johnson has always had impressive per-36 blocks and steals averages, and now that he's starting to get regular run in the Grizzlies' rotation, that production has translated into legitimately helpful counting stats. Over his last six contests, the 26-year-old has compiled 3.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. He's even been marginally helpful in the point and rebound categories typically desired from power forwards, contributing a double-double in a Jan. 30 loss to the Bulls. With his minutes seemingly secure in the 15-to-25 minute range of late, Johnson makes for a cheap solution in daily formats.
Other options: Trevor Booker (vs. GSW, 32 rebounds over last two games), Jared Sullinger (at OKC)
Brandan Wright (vs. NY) – Wright is another specialist type who has historically aided fantasy owners mostly in the form of his field goal percentage, which sits at a lofty 58.2 percent for his career. Since returning to action in mid-December following shoulder surgery, Wright has been efficient like never before, shooting an unconscionable 75.0 percent from the field this season, aiding him to an 11.0 point-per-game average. Those numbers are probably in no way sustainable, but with Tyson Chandler's minutes down and Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani not exactly providing much in the way of defensive relief, Wright could have a decent chance to maintain his ultra-efficient ways for at least another day. He leaves a little to be desired as a rebounder, but if you can offset that deficiency with points in other categories in daily lineups, Wright could be a good value play.
Other options: Chris Bosh (vs. TOR), Jonas Valanciunas (at MIA), Kris Humphries (at OKC)
Festus Ezeli (knee) has been increasing his activity in pre-practice workouts but is not considered close to playing yet.
Devin Harris (toe) hopes to begin practicing by Jan. 14.
Xavier Henry (knee) is still set to miss a few more days before he'll be re-evaluated.
Kenyon Martin (ankle) sat out Friday's game and is uncertain to play Sunday.
Rajon Rondo (knee) said he's getting closer to a return, but still needs to build up some endurance.
Shane Battier (quad) sat out Saturday's game vs. the Magic and is uncertain to play Sunday.
Raymond Felton (hamstring) is aiming to return to action Sunday against the Mavericks after a five-game absence.
Tyler Hansbrough (ankle) was ruled out Friday but is considered questionable for Sunday's game vs. the Heat.
Kyrie Irving (knee) was ruled out for Saturday's game but could still be available Sunday vs. the Pacers.
Andre Miller (suspension) is no longer subject to punishment, but could still be out of the lineup Sunday.
Rodney Stuckey (shoulder) is unlikely to play in Sunday's game.