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NBA Matchups

Upper Management

by Mike Gallagher
Updated On: March 19, 2019, 2:58 pm ET

Before we dive in, let’s just point out how many guys will be ruled out either at shootaround, at the pre-game pressers 90 minutes before tip, as late scratch right before tip, or hey maybe even a scratch right after tip even after the starting lineups are announced. More and more teams are either going to sit their players to either rest them prior to a postseason run, or sit them out in order to play their younger guys. That makes it easier to target games that are closer to tip because there will be more information available and it’ll be less likely that star players are scratched. On the flip side of that, DFS punt plays in the later games could get a small bonus because of key players possibly getting a game off. For instance, last Tuesday Danilo Gallinari (ankle) wasn’t ruled out until after lock for DFS, so extra value opened up for some of the other Clippers. Keep all this in mind when making lineups.


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Philadelphia 76ers (front end) at Charlotte Hornets

Team Totals: 76ers 112.5, Hornets 111.5


Joel Embiid (knee, load management) is not going to play in this game, so that puts Embiid’s 32.3 usage up for grabs. The Process also was a monster in his three previous games vs. CHA with 34.0 points per game. Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have been flying at a 111.4 pace in their minutes together without Embiid. However, none of those three have really thrived in those 194 minutes. Per 36, Tobias (19/8/2), Ben (16/10/8) and Jimmy (18/6/5) all aren’t too attractive, but this Hornets defense has really struggled. In the last 10, they’ve allowed a 24th-ranked defensive rating. It will likely be Nicolas Batum on Ben, Marvin Williams on Tobias and Miles Bridges on Jimmy, so that could set Butler up for the most favorable matchup. All three are options.

Of course, there’s Boban Marjanovic. The Hornets are not very good on their interior D, and Boban has played almost all of the backup C minutes with Embiid ahead of him. Mike Scott has actually scored the most points per minute next to Ben, Tobias and Jimmy while Embiid is out, and he should see some time at both big spots, so he could be an option for the Boban faders. It couldn’t be me.

Kemba has owned the 76ers in three games this year, averaging 42.3 points (!), 6.7 boards, 6.3 dimes, 2.0 steals and 4.0 treys. He’s in Jay Z’s 40/40 club in this matchup with a 40.1 usage rate at 40.2 minutes per game, which helped him get to a career-high 60 points on Nov. 17. The other two games were on the road in Philly, but this 60-piece gem was in Charlotte just like tonight. Jimmy Butler only played in one game against Walker, and that was the one game Walker scored 40 of his 60 points against Butler’s defense on just 57 possessions. After that game, Butler had talked about how Walker put 60 on him, so fully expect for Walker to see a heavy dose of Jimbo again.

Besides Kemba, no other Hornet has really thrived in this matchup. Marvin Williams has been terrible since returning from an illness at just two points per game. Maybe Frank Kaminsky can start to cut into his minutes a little more while possibly playing some more center, especially if the Hornets fall behind. Of course, Frank couldn’t guard Boban, so it should be Bismack Biyombo in the first unit.


Prediction: 76ers 112, Hornets 107

Houston Rockets (front end) at Atlanta Hawks

Team Totals: Rockets 119.5, Hawks 112


The back-to-back factor for the Rockets will be something to watch. Last week, coach Mike D’Antoni said that he wanted to play Danuel House more with giving guys time off. That could mean James Harden, Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker or even Clint Capela get a game off. They will get a matchup against the Grizzlies tomorrow, so it does make more sense to rest against an Eastern Conference team. Be careful on using any of those while House could be a DFS punt play.

Assuming he’s a go, James Harden could be in for a big night. Since the break, the Hawks are allowing the most attempts at the line at 29.2 per game while also allowing the third-most treys in that time as well. Harden had his 30-point streak snapped in the previous game against the Hawks when he scored just 28 points on Feb. 25 with Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Bembry doing a solid job on defense. Chris Paul is the most likely player to sit, and we all know that Harden smashes when CP3 isn't out there.

Considering the matchup against the Rockets, the Hawks will likely try to go small when they can. That could mean more John Collins at the five to allow Bembry and Bazemore to play more to push Taurean Prince over to the four more. All of those wings could see more time and become value plays. Trae Young is rolling and is always an option these days.


Prediction: Rockets 120, Hawks 115


Los Angeles Lakers at Milwaukee Bucks (front end)

Team Totals: Lakers 111.8, Bucks 122.8


The Lakers announced this morning that LeBron James (groin) is not going to play. It’s being listed as a sore groin and not “load management” or “Mario got a fire flower” following Mario Hezonja’s game-saving block at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon. Quickly on LeBron going forward, there has to be a chance he is not going to play in multiple games following this issue, and he is certainly a shutdown candidate. The Lakers are also not going to have Lance Stephenson (toe) and Josh Hart (knee) is also questionable.

We saw the Lakers play without LeBron James on Friday at Detroit, and Mike Muscala is going to get another start tonight. He was pretty much useless in 15 minutes with defense on Blake Griffin, and it’s somewhat surprising that coach Luke Walton doesn’t want to go with Mortiz Wagner. He may also want to keep his South Bay guys together with Wagner, Johnathan Williams and Alex Caruso together. As mentioned before, Walton has talked more about the Lakers going with young players once they’re out of it, and that will likely happen before the weekend.

Alex Caruso should be looking at big minutes again with 26.3 minutes per game over the last three. He continues to see minutes next to Rajon Rondo, who played under 30 minutes on Sunday after playing 30-plus in six straight prior to Sunday. Wagner and Williams are still punt options, especially with a garbage-time boost.

LeBron wasn’t the only one ruled out this morning with Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) sitting this one out. Sterling Brown, Pau Gasol and Donte DiVincenzo are also not going to play in this one.

The Bucks are likely without Malcolm Brogdon for the rest of the regular season and likely part of the playoffs with a partial tear of his plantar fascia. We saw the Bucks without Brogdon on Sunday with two players looking like the main beneficiaries: Nikola Mirotic and Pat Connaughton. Those two came in fourth (Pat at 24.6) and fifth (Niko 23.9) on Sunday with Mirotic getting the start. Plus, in the second half of Friday’s game when Brogdon suffered the injury in the first half, Mirotic saw 16.7 minutes in the second half as the starter in the third while Pat was sixth in minutes at 12.2. Looking at a bigger sample since the break, Mirotic has played more minutes next to the other Bucks starters (40) with Pat at a distant second (14) and Ersan Ilyasova (10) coming in at third. The Bucks are also on a back-to-back set tomorrow, so they may try to dial back some of their other starters if this game is a blowout. Although, beware of rest on Wednesday at Cleveland.

The Lakers defense has been bad, and over the last nine they have a 115.3 defensive rating. The Lakers defense has only been slightly worse with LeBron off the floor, but their offense has been brutal at a 93.8 O rating (113.2). In other words, be careful of garbage time here.

Still, this should make the starters super attractive. The trio of Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton have played without Giannis for 364 minutes this season. Bledsoe has the most attractive per-36 stats without GA: 27.9 points, 7.7 boards, 8.5 dimes, 2.4 steals and 3.0 treys. Middleton is solid: 23.4 points, 8.5 boards, 4.6 dimes, 1.4 steals and 2.7 treys. Bledsoe also torched the Lakers the night of his extension with 31 points on Mar. 1. Brook only gets a slight boost (15.3 points per 36) and Mirotic without GA and with the three stud starters scored 23.6 points per 36 over a 58-minute sample.

Bled, Pat, Niko, Middleton, Brook and even Ersan Ilyasova should have your attention. They could hit value even before the fourth quarter, and the Bucks may drop 130 again like the last time they dropped 131 on Mar. 1.


Prediction: Bucks 126, Lakers 111

Golden State (back end) at Minnesota Timberwolves

Team Totals: Warriors 118, Wolves 111.5


If you thought the Lakers defense was bad over the last nine, the Wolves have been sheep in Wolves clothing over the last nine with a dead-last 121.8 defensive rating in that span. Over those nine, the Wolves gave up a 113.0 defensive rating in eight of those with the Knicks being the lone exception, and they gave up a whopping 131+ D rating in three of those… and they get the Warriors today.

DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) will miss his second straight game while Shaun Livingston is questionable and Andre Iguodala is probable. This is a back-to-back set for the Warriors, but they have been pretty transparent on who they rest. Plus, the Warriors do want home-court advantage, which should keep their guys in the lineup. Without Boogie, it should be open season on using Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, assuming they’re a go. Curry scored 33.0 points per game in the previous two vs. MIN while KD put up 27.5 and Klay had 24.0. Curry also has a 30.2 usage rate on the road with KD at 29.5, and of course Boogie’s 26.9 usage rate is available. Plus, in the back-to-back set, the Warriors may not want to play Andrew Bogut. Maybe we see more Kevon Looney.

The Wolves still don’t have Derrick Rose (elbow), Jeff Teague (foot) and Robert Covington (knee) with all three possibly being done for the season. Tyus Jones is set for big minutes despite some offensive trouble lately while Josh Okogie is coming off a 35-minute Sunday. Those two along with Karl-Anthony Towns should see a lot of playing time again while hopefully Andrew Wiggins can find is shot.


Prediction: Warriors 121, Wolves 109

Brooklyn Nets at Sacramento Kings

Team Totals: Nets 114, Kings 118


This game should be one of the faster ones on the slate, and it helps that this game arguably has the least amount of rest risk with no B2Bs and both teams fighting for their playoff lives. Since the break, the Kings are running the fastest offense in the NBA at 13.0 seconds per possession, including a blazing-fast 9.7 seconds off defensive rebounds. The Nets were slower earlier this year, but they’re in the top 10 for fastest offensive possessions since the break at 13.7 seconds. The Kings offense has also been much better when they have at least one day off with at least a 109.6 offensive rating on any rest compared to just 101.5 when they’re on a back-to-back set.

The Nets are still not going to have Allen Crabbe (knee), so that should put Caris LeVert in the starting lineup again. One interesting note from coach Kenny Atkinson is that he thinks D’Angelo Russell may have hit a wall recently. After Sunday, Atkinson said that he wanted Russell to share the ball more, which helped Russell get to 10 dimes with 25 shots from the field for 32 points.

After Sunday’s loss, Atkinson called the Nets very “process oriented” and sounded pleased with how his team performed despite Lou Williams beating the buzzer. That should mean the Nets go with plenty of DeMarre Carroll, Jarrett Allen, LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Russell. In this up-tempo game, anyone could be an option.

Harry Giles is playing some good ball these days with 14.0 points, 5.0 boards, 3.5 dimes and 1.5 blocks over his last two. His playing time hasn’t taken a hit since the return of Marvin Bagley, who has played just 20.0 minutes per game over his last three games. Perhaps his playing time climbs closer to 24 minutes tonight, though. He played 21 minutes on Sunday, but Bagley did not play the final 5:04 because the Kings were up 120-91 at that time. Against a weak Nets interior D, this could be a breakout game. Giles and Willie Cauley-Stein could also be options for DFS, but using Nemanja Bjelica could be risky after getting just 18 minutes on Sunday. He was out of the rotation on the day Marvin hurt his knee.

The Nets are very good at defending treys on the year, and they haven’t really trended down at only a second-ranked 31.4 3P% since the break (Magic 30.0), so it might not be the best spot for Buddy Hield. Plus, Bogdan Bogdanovic could be a tough target with Marvin Bagley seeing more time to push Harrison Barnes over to the three more often. De’Aaron Fox should still see huge minutes as the engine of the offense, especially if the Nets defend Hield well on the outside.


Prediction: Nets 115, Kings 114


Indiana Pacers (back end) at LA Clippers

Team Totals: Pacers 107, Clippers 112


The Pacers continue to play some close games with their last four having a margin of victory of just 4.3 points. The Clippers continue to struggle on the defensive side of the ball, so Myles Turner could be an impact player inside, coming off a big 28-point Monday night. Although, the back-to-back factor and the late start here makes it something to avoid for DFS cash games. The Pacers will have a very tough time holding the No. 4 seed with the Celtics just one game behind them with Indy having a brutal schedule right now: at Clippers, at Warriors, vs. Denver, at OKC and at Boston. I’d fade this game.

The Pacers have a top-three defense this year, but they haven’t been great on the road with a ninth-ranked 109.3 defensive rating, and they’re only 22nd on the road over the team’s last 10 games

After Sunday’s crazy win over the Nets with Lou Williams hitting a buzzer-beating trey, coach Doc Rivers called Lou “amazing” and “not scared” in a huge win. Somewhat interestingly, Doc also talked up Danilo Gallinari at times. Again, the late start for two playoff teams makes this a very tough target.


Prediction: Clippers 108, Pacers 102

Mike Gallagher

Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with NBC Sports Edge. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.