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Daily Games Cheat Sheet: Thursday

Chris Winkler

Master's candidate in mass communication at the University of South Carolina. Covering NBA and college football for RotoWire.


Defenses to Avoid
Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls: Only the Milwaukee Bucks have a worse offensive rating on their home floor than the Bulls, which figures to be a good matchup for the Celtics, who are 10th overall in defensive efficiency (101.8) and even slightly better (101.3) at ninth in the league while on the road. The Bulls are absolutely dreadful inside, ranking 29th in field goal percentage (55.9 percent) in the restricted area and dead last in the paint (32.2 percent). But, thatís where you need to beat Boston, which excels at defending the perimeter, ranking top five in both deeper categories. While the Bulls have been playing slightly better lately, it just isnít a good matchup for leading scorer Luol Deng, whoís coming off an injury.

Offenses to Use
Brooklyn Nets at Oklahoma City Thunder: Brooklyn, the darling disaster of the atrocious Atlantic Division, is 29th in defensive efficiency on the year, and is sorely missing rim-protector Brook Lopez. Since losing Lopez two weeks ago, Brooklyn is 1-4 and allowing 101.8 points per game, which isnít so horrendous on the surface. But dig a little deeper and youíll see four of those five opponents are in the bottom third in the league in pace. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is fifth in pace and fifth in offensive efficiency. Even without Russell Westbrook, this is a dream matchup for the Thunder.

Teams on a Back-to-Back Set
First game of a back-to-back set: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Utah Jazz

Second game of a back-to-back set: Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers


Point Guard
Eric Bledsoe (vs. MEM): Heís been a little shaky recently, but you can chalk that up to two of the better defensive teams in the league in the Clippers and Warriors. He has a glorious matchup with Memphis, whose guards are strangely statistically below average in defensive efficiency (18th in the league at 104.5).

Other options: Michael Carter-Williams (at SAC), Reggie Jackson (vs. BKN), Isaiah Thomas (vs. PHI), Trey Burke (vs. MIL), Brandon Knight (at UTA), Luke Ridnour (at UTA), Beno Udrih (at SAS)

Shooting Guard
Arron Afflalo (at CLE): The Cavs are free falling, and Kyrie Irving is a game-time decision. Even he plays, it wonít affect Afflalo directly, but the Cavs are already just an average defensive team on the perimeter as is. Afflalo has been one of the biggest surprises all season long, but heís not showing any signs of slowing down, averaging 22.2 points per game and shooting at a red-hot 56.2 percent over his last five games.

Other options: Goran Dragic (vs. MEM), Gordon Hayward (vs. MIL), Giannis Antetokounmpo (at UTA)

Small Forward
Kevin Durant (vs. BKN): From a pure matchup standpoint, all signs point to a monster game from Durant against the Nets. Brooklyn is dead last in opponentsí three-point percentage for forwards, and everybody should be salivating with the thought of Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson or Alan Anderson covering him. Unless itís a blowout, itíd be reasonable to suspect a 30-point night from KD.

Other options: Kawhi Leonard (vs. NYK), Evan Turner (at SAC), Tobias Harris (at CLE)

Power Forward
Derrick Favors (vs. MIL): Not a whole lot of eyes will be on Utah for the Jazz and Bucks tonight, but Favors should be a pretty good play against a banged-up Milwaukee frontcourt. Take out Saturdayís game against the Clippers where Favors was mired in foul trouble, and heís posted double-figures in four straight games.

Other options: LaMarcus Aldridge (vs. CHA), Thad Young (at SAC), Mirza Teletovic (at OKC), Ersan Ilyasova (at UTA)

DeMarcus Cousins (vs. PHI): Similar to Durant, itís an absolute no-brainer in terms of the matchup. The Sixers havenít been the worst team inside, but they tend to struggle with bigger, physical centers. Cousins has 25 pounds on Sixers center Spencer Hawes, who doesnít like contact in the post. That will probably mean more minutes for Daniel Orton, who hasnít played in five of Phillyís last six games.

Other options: Al Jefferson (at SAS), Anderson Varejao (vs. ORL), Larry Sanders (at UTA)


Rajon Rondo (knee) is unlikely to return before February.
Andray Blatche (personal) is expected to rejoin the Nets for Saturdayís game.
Andrew Bynum (suspension) is currently in exile.
Festus Ezeli (knee) remains out with no definitive timeline.
Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) is unlikely to return before March.
Marc Gasol (knee) is nearing a return that could come any day now.
John Henson (ankle) hopes to return by January 7.
Zaza Pachulia (foot) could return sometime in the next week or two.
Raymond Felton (groin) is doubtful for Thursdayís game.
Pablo Prigioni (toe) is unlikely to play until January 7.
Metta World Peace (knee) is unlikely to play until the end of January.
Arnett Moultrie (ankle) has started participating in five-on-five scrimmages and could be nearing a return.
CJ McCollum (foot) is currently rehabbing in D-League.
Carl Landry (hip) probably wonít return until after the All-Star break.

Game-Time Decision
Jared Sullinger (wrist) said he intends to play Thursday.
Gerald Wallace (nose) looked fine Tuesday and should be good to go.
Andrei Kirilenko (back) will be on a minutes limit Thursday.
Tyshawn Taylor (hamstring) will test out the hamstring in shootaround.
Kyrie Irving (knee) did not participate in the morning shootaround.
Chris Andersen (soreness) practiced Wednesday and should be able to go.
Dwyane Wade (back) did not practice Wednesday.
Carmelo Anthony (ankle) will play Thursday.
Kenyon Martin (abdomen) asked out of Saturdayís game.
Nikola Vucevic (ankle) remains a game-time decision but has faced minimal swelling.
Alex Len (ankle) practiced Wednesday and said he did not feel any discomfort.

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