This article is part of our Daily Games Cheat Sheet series.
Defenses to Avoid
Houston Rockets at New York Knicks: Dwight Howard's late-November injury taught us something important about the Rockets – they don't need the three-time Defensive Player of the Year to have an elite defense. That tells us that, even if the Rockets run up a giant lead early, their second unit can be counted on to keep making life difficult for the Knicks. Fun Knicks fact: only one of the Knicks' six highest paid players (as of the start of the season) is active for Thursday's game.
Offenses to Use
Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors: In a bizarre twist, the Hornets' defense is playing more efficiently since Al Jefferson went down. That may be a good thing for daily players looking at the Raptors, because a closer game usually makes for a more predictable rotation. The Raptors enter the game with a 16-2 record against below .500 teams, and they come in hungry for a win after losing three straight road games to Western Conference contenders (Trail Blazers, Warriors, Suns). So far this season, only the Mavericks have run a more efficient offense than the Raptors.
Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back: None
Second game of a back-to-back: Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks
DraftKings.com DAILY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS
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Patrick Beverley, HOU (at NY), PG, ($5,100): I recommend Beverley often, because he is one of DraftKings' most consistent values (he's not Jimmy Butler consistent, but he's not too far behind). There is some risk that Beverley will lose minutes if this game gets out of hand, but Thursday's point guard field is short on quality options. Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard are tempting but costly. After those three, the only option that strikes me as fairly priced is Greivis Vasquez. All four are reasonable plays, but Beverley gives me the most confidence.
Other suggestions: Greivis Vasquez, TOR (vs CHA), PG, ($4,000)
Wesley Matthews, POR (vs MIA), SG, ($6,000): Interesting semi-related note on Wesley Matthews' value: in one of our RotoWire basketball writers leagues (9 teams, 8 categories, roto), Matthews was traded for Kevin Love, heads up. The trade went down Monday. It did not generate a single email or message board post in response. What does it mean that people who (theoretically) know what they're doing just took this trade in stride? One takeaway is that popular perception underrates Matthews. Matthews' game is better suited to roto than to the DraftKings format, but six grand is a bargain. As of this writing, Matthews (knee) is at even odds to play Thursday.
Other suggestions: Gary Neal, CHA (at TOR), SG, ($3,500); Lou Williams, TOR (vs CHA), SG, ($4,600)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, CHA (at TOR), SF, ($5,400): Thursday's crop of small forwards makes me miss the days when DraftKings had dual-eligible players. Terrence Ross is a mirage – the price looks right, the production stable enough, except that he's matched up against Kidd-Gilchrist's Hornets, the toughest opponent in the league at small forward. Cleanthony Early looked like a possibility, but then the Knicks barely used him in Wednesday's loss to the Wizards. I'm trying to minimize my exposure to Rockets in case they destroy the Knicks and toy with their late-game rotation. Kidd-Gilchrist is, quite simply, the small forward I have the least objections to. Though he's sometimes inconsistent, and he was disappointing in Boston on Monday, he did post 39, 25, and 31.5 fantasy points in the three games before that. His 37.5 on Wednesday against the Pelicans was nice, too.
Other suggestions: Nicolas Batum, POR (vs MIA), SF, ($5,900)
Cody Zeller, CHA (at TOR), PF, ($5,100): The price is probably a couple hundred dollars too high for Zeller to qualify as a bargain, but with only three games on the slate, not everyone needs to be a discount. Zeller is seeing increased minutes with Al Jefferson (groin) out, and he has the ability to come close to a double-double every night – even if he'll rarely hit that mark.
Other suggestions: Quincy Acy, NY (vs HOU), PF, ($4,400)
Chris Kaman, POR (vs MIA), C, ($4,400): The day the Blazers fought so hard to avoid finally came. Before Monday, Kaman had played in 34 of their 35 games, but only once played more than 22 minutes – a 25-minute showing in late November. The Blazers rely heavily on the 32-year-old veteran, and preserving his health has been a major priority. That's why, when Robin Lopez (hand) went down, Joel Freeland leapfrogged Kaman into the starting lineup. But now that Freeland (shoulder) is also out of commission, coach Terry Stotts apparently saw no alternative to starting Kaman. In his first start, Kaman set a season high for minutes with 27, and tied his season high for rebounds with 11. He also added eight points, three assists, and three blocks, for 31.25 fantasy points. Kaman was a good daily games value when he was only playing 18-20 minutes per night – with increased minutes but a still-low price, he borders on "must-have" status.
Lance Stephenson (pelvis) is a game-time decision.
Janero Pargo (back) is a game-time decision.
Justin Hamilton (concussion) is unlikely to play.
Wesley Matthews (knee) is questionable, and his likelihood of playing is considered to be 50 percent.