This article is part of our Daily Games Cheat Sheet series.
Defenses to Avoid
New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks (but actually in London): The Bucks are not getting the credit they deserve. Over their last ten games, they are the best per-possession defense in the league by a mile (the Knicks are the worst in that category, by a couple hundred yards). They dominate the league in opponent field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Their pace is slow, they rebound effectively – or, at least, far better than the Knicks do – and they allow fewer than average assists per game. The Knicks offense right now is only more productive than the 76ers. Unless jet-lag somehow only impacts the Bucks, I think the Knicks face odds only slightly better than that goat did in Jurassic Park.
Offenses to Use
Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets: Targeting the Knicks is quickly becoming familiar territory, and it's a good strategy again Thursday. But since I talked about that matchup above (and since many daily gamers will simply skip the early 300 pm start time), I'll focus on why the Rockets are not as scary as they used to be. Strangely enough, since the Rockets returned to almost-full health, their team defense has gotten worse. Their opponent points per possession has risen, as has their pace. That means opposing fantasy players are getting more opportunities at the same time that each opportunity is becoming more promising. The Rockets are still one of the better defenses in the league, but they are no longer a team to actively avoid as a matter of basic principle, and they could have some trouble with the surging Thunder.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder
Second game of a back-to-back: Houston Rockets
DraftKings.com DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
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Jerryd Bayless, MIL (vs NY), PG, ($3,300): A bad four-game stretch around the turn of the new year sunk Bayless' salary, but his play has since recovered. His role in the rotation never changed – he typically plays between 22-26 minutes per night – he just went 7–of-29 (24%) from the field during that rough patch. In the three games since, he shot 12–of-19 (63%) and managed 22.75 fantasy points per game. He is a $4,000-plus player, and Thursday is his 25% off sale.
Other suggestions: Patrick Beverley, HOU (vs OKC), PG, ($5,300); If you want to spend a little bit more on your point guard, Brandon Knight (Mil; PG; $7,600) is a good option, but I can't give him my full-hearted endorsement.
OJ Mayo, MIL (vs NY), SG, ($4,400): In the immediate aftermath of the Jabari Parker (knee) injury, it was Jared Dudley who shined and stole the fantasy spotlight. But as Dudley has cooled, Mayo has improved. Like Bayless, Mayo is on a three-game streak, except Mayo's streak is better suited to the DraftKings format. Mayo has double-digit points, multiple rebounds, and one steal for an average of 26 fantasy points in each of these games.
Other suggestions: None; James Harden (Hou; SG; $10,500) is always a strong option, but he's in the same category as Knight.
Trevor Ariza, HOU (vs OKC), SF, ($5,600): Ariza's production, modest as it may be, had been pretty consistent recently. His ability to compile steels and threes are nice compliments to his scoring in the low teens, helping to keep his final tally at or near profitability for the last five games.
Other suggestions: LeBron James, CLE (at LAL), SF, ($10,700)
Donatas Motiejunas, HOU (vs OKC), PF, ($5,200): Motiejunas has now scored 30 fantasy points or more in four of the past five games. That alone makes him hard to pass up, even despite the probable matchup against Serge Ibaka. But there is more. Over the past month, adjusting for minutes played, Motiejunas ranks among the top 10 percent of the league for night-to-night consistency.
Other suggestions: Jason Smith, NY (at MIL), PF, ($3,700)
Tarik Black, LAL (vs CLE), C, ($3,000): 12, 17, 20, 22. In my freshman algebra course, we would approximate that with a linear growth model. In Tarik Black's box scores, those numbers are the amount of minutes he's played in his four games with the Lakers. It seems he's gaining traction quickly in Los Angeles. He's scored over 25 fantasy points in two of his last three games. And don't forget he costs only the minimum possible salary.
Other suggestions: None
Jordan Hill (knee) is expected to play Thursday.
Ronnie Price (elbow) is expected to play Thursday.
Ersan Ilyasova (concussion) is expected to play Thursday.
Kenyon Martin (chest) is expected to play Thursday.
Carmelo Anthony (knee) is hoping to play Thursday, but no final determination has yet been made.
Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) is questionable.
Mitch McGary (leg) is a game-time decision.