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Teams Fighting For Their Playoff Lives And How To Use Them In The NBA Switch And Hedge For 4/5

Chris Spags

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There are precious few NBA regular season days left so even though there are a ton of things to complain about — like the tanking teams, erratic rotations, or fact that spending about $15,000 on five Mavericks who were not JJ Barea yesterday could have won you a slate on any site — there’s still a lot of opportunity to be had. This is the extra silly season for a lot of NBA teams and that means that you, person who has read this column for a few weeks and paid attention to basketball all year, can have all of that effort over the last few months pay off. That paragraph may be as much to motivate myself as it is to motivate you.

But we’ve got a fiveish game slate tonight (no Warriors-Pacers on DraftKings) with some notable injuries, a few matchups with big time playoff implications, and not necessarily a whole lot of obvious plays. It could get interesting tonight.

As always, my NBA Switch and Hedge pairs best with Awesemo’s rankings, ownership projections, and Slam Dunks as those pieces of content go up closer to tipoff. And now, onto the slate.

Golden State Warriors (105.5 implied points, +3.8 on their last 10 games) at Indiana Pacers (103.5 implied points, -1.2 on their last 10 games)

Weirdly, this game is omitted from the DraftKings slate but is on the FanDuel one (I feel like it’s usually the opposite) so I’ll burn through it fast for FanDuel folks. Kevin Durant’s usage has been great lately so, even though the Pacers have played some strong defense on the wing, he’ll still have a decent chance to get his shot off. I wish Klay Thompson were a little cheaper because I could see them selling out to stop Durant and Klay being able to work around an offensively overstretched Victor Oladipo who’ll have less effort for defense. Draymond Green and Quinn Cook are too expensive for their current roles so no interest there for me.

Victor Oladipo’s price sucks but he’s been on a tear lately and shown upside even with the price that high. I think there’ll likely be other places you can look that have safer upside but Oladipo has shown that he’s back filling up every category lately after receding into the background a bit over the last few weeks. Myles Turner isn’t someone you can trust in this spot but he can definitely have upside at his price if you think he’ll do enough on the court tonight. Thaddeus Young has been quiet lately while Bojan Bogdanovic has kept similar usage and had a few down games. From a data standpoint that makes Bogdanovic a little more appealing to me, particularly at his price, but Young can thrive in spots like this where his rugged defense will be needed.

Portland Trailblazers (101.25 implied points, -6.6 on their last 10 games) at Houston Rockets (111.75 implied points, +1 on their last 10 games)

 
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Damian Lillard is expected to sit to rest his ankle up a bit heading into the playoffs, meaning Shabazz Napier will be a popular pick tonight. He’ll have a shot to do some things and his price is fantastic on FanDuel but mostly adjusted to his role change on DraftKings. Napier bombed in a similar spot versus Memphis recently but Houston does force point guards to push the action as part of their defensive alignments. CJ McCollum posted a usage rate just shy of 40% the last time Lillard was out and, while that’s a gaudy number and McCollum can hit value at his price, he is likely to get all the attention from a quality defensive unit and that scares me a little. Houston has been tough versus center this year but Jusuf Nurkic has a 50 DK point game to his name versus these Rockets just a few weeks ago and has mostly played out of his mind lately. He plays better with Lillard generally but the usage increase should balance it out. Al-Farouq Aminu has had some good games versus Houston this year and his price is getting more appealing on both sites. Bad Evan Turner was on full display, bombing with a sub-10% usage rate versus Dallas. This looks like a decent bounceback spot for him, one where he’s returned almost 7x value a few months ago while also picking up a start.

James Harden has posted some of his highest usage rates in games versus Portland, over 45% in both matchups this year. He’ll be a popular play coming off of a 70 DK point game as one of few studs on the slate but it might be hard to fade him against this weakened Blazers squad. Clint Capela has had a tough time with Nurkic and Portland this year and even though it’s possible he breaks that streak tonight, there are going to be much better center plays tonight. Between his leg injuries and rest, Chris Paul has slid into the background a bit in the Rocket pecking order, posting a sub-20% usage rate for one of precious few times versus Washington. They’ve clinched home court advantage and it’s hard to imagine Paul playing balls out in the spot. Eric Gordon’s price has fallen from its hilarious highs on DraftKings and with Gordon shooting as much as he has, taking a lot of the onus off of Paul, he’s actually a little interesting versus a Blazers squad who’s given up good production at shooting guard lately.

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Washington Wizards (106.5 implied points, +3.1 on their last 10 games) at Cleveland Cavaliers (112 implied points, -0.5 on their last 10 games)

The Cavaliers have been steamrolling point guards lately, whether it’s George Hill or Jose Calderon as the nominal starter. Here’s the list of names who have drastically underperformed versus Cleveland in their last 10 games:

Kyle Lowry
Elfrid Payton
D’Angelo Russell
Goran Dragic
Kemba Walker
Rajon Rondo
Dennis Smith Jr.
Kyle Lowry

The Cavaliers will be without both Hill and Jose Calderon tonight, presumably moving defensively deficient Jordan Clarkson into the starting lineup, so it may be a better opportunity than it seems for John Wall, who’s an A in fantasy points in Awesemo’s rankings. Bradley Beal playing off of Wall has looked better than he has in weeks. His price is down at a playable point and with the increased total, he should be worth a look. Otto Porter’s usage has dipped since John Wall has returned, as one could expect, but the matchup with Cleveland has greatly benefited a lot of small forwards lately. He’s very playable on DraftKings tonight, less so on FanDuel with his price much higher. Kelly Oubre’s minutes and usage have been shockingly steady with Wall’s return and I could see him being a quality low-owned play coming off a couple of bad games.

No matter if it’s Clarkson or a JR Smith type bumped into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers with Calderon out, LeBron will be the one driving the offense. He had his biggest game of the season versus Washington in the beginning of the year and there tends to be a little juice in Washington-Cleveland matchups that may put him over the top from an effort expense level. If Clarkson were cheaper I’d be more interested in a flyer but they really haven’t deployed him effectively at all this year and it wouldn’t shock me if he somehow gets his usual run of minutes while guys like Jeff Green, Smith, Rodney Hood, and Kyle Korver play more along with LeBron as the primary ballhandler. LeBron, and maybe Kevin Love, are the safe places I’d look here but I think there will still be guys I like more than whatever the Cavs roll out to fill in Hill and Calderon’s minutes.

Brooklyn Nets (105.5 implied points, -3.6 on their last 10 games) at Milwaukee Bucks (114.5 implied points, -0.7 on their last 10 games)

D’Angelo Russell’s minutes have been spotty lately and, while I like this game for him, it’s hard to trust that he’ll get the opportunity he needs to be successful. Caris LeVert seems like he should be a better matchup for Milwaukee from a size and athleticism standpoint but he’s struggled against them this year, maybe making Russell’s playing time a little more interesting? The Nets are going to be without the injured DeMarre Carroll, which has generally pushed every Net, including Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (one of the best overall plays on the slate according to Awesemo with a B in both fantasy value and points), LeVert, Russell, and Jarrett Allen, into about 1 DK point per minute performance. They all look like fairly secure plays with some upside, assuming they can stay in the game. Lastly, Spencer Dinwiddie has had a couple of big games lately and his minutes are completely erratic. There’s no trust there but he’s priced where he could have huge upside if coach Kenny Atkinson decides he’s the best play at point again.

Eric Bledsoe’s price is up there but he’s been a solid play when the matchup is easy enough. And Brooklyn is, in fact, an easy spot for point guards. He’s got to be considered tonight. As should Khris Middleton, who’s been really good in real life lately and even hovered around a triple double last game in a tough spot versus Boston with Giannis on the floor. Speaking of Giannis, both he and John Henson own their biggest games of the year versus Brooklyn. Giannis looks fine tonight but I don’t expect either of those guys to go quite as big as others may when checking game logs. Jabari Parker has been getting more minutes lately with steady usage and his price, particularly on DraftKings, could have upside, especially if he gets some stat-padding run if the Bucks start rolling.

Los Angeles Clippers (102 implied points, -7.5 on their last 10 games) at Utah Jazz (109.5 implied points, -0.6 on their last 10 games)

The Clippers are in do-or-die mode for their playoff hopes while the Jazz are fighting for positioning. This game matters so the Clippers’ down total is worrisome for their chances at staying alive. Tobias Harris has been the Clipper really bringing it down the stretch for them. This isn’t a great matchup but with his usage, he’s going to get a chance to beat tough Jazz defense. Austin Rivers has been putting up 15 shots a game and he’s priced to have serious upside if he can get it going. DeAndre Jordan versus Rudy Gobert isn’t a spot I’d look but Montrezl Harrell has been crazy efficient in his minutes with strong usage rates. At his price, he could be a key part to keeping the Clippers in the game when the starters go out. Lou Williams owns a game just under 70 DK points versus Utah earlier this year and while I wouldn’t bank on him coming even close to that again, his recent usage and minutes are right in line with where they were that day.

Joe Ingles is in one of the best DVP spots of the day and, with him already upgraded to probable, I like him a lot on both sites. He has more upside with the cheaper price on DraftKings but he can be valuable across the board. I love Ricky Rubio and he’s been one of my favorite plays this year. The Clippers have been more defensively limiting to point guards lately so he seems like he’d be tougher to trust on FanDuel but likely still a fine play on DraftKings. Derrick Favors looks like a steady but low upside play while Rudy Gobert is in another great DVP spot that seems like he should excel in. He hasn’t thrived versus the Clippers this year but all the tools and data points are there. Donovan Mitchell’s been relatively quiet lately but his price on DraftKings is down to a point where he looks like an exceedingly safe play. He grades out as a B in production and value in Awesemo’s rankings, as do Ingles and Gobert. The Clippers play at a top five pace, all of these guys can be viable to different degrees. Even Jae Crowder is a little interesting to me. This is a genuinely great spot for a Jazz team who doesn’t get enough credit for being fun to watch and play.

Minnesota Timberwolves (109 implied points, +0.5 on their last 10 games) at Denver Nuggets (115 implied points, -2.3 on their last 10 games)

This is another do-or-die game in the Western Conference with both teams fighting for their playoff lives down the stretch. My archnemesis Jeff Teague is a gametime decision while Jimmy Butler is a game-time call who’s been reportedly unlikely to suit up as he returns from his knee injury. I don’t see how you play Butler with potential minutes limits with his price pretty high for a guy we didn’t even know might play. If Teague suits up, he’s in a killer spot. He’s been a great per-minute player lately even as he’s complained about coach Tom Thibodeau’s minutes load. If Teague sits (which we may not know before lock), Tyus Jones and Andrew Wiggins get substantial boosts with the latter posting a gaudy-by-his-standards 31% usage rate in Teague’s latest absence. Karl-Anthony Towns is in a good and not great DVP spot but you have to think he’s going to bring it versus another young elite center with his team’s playoff hopes on the line. Taj Gibson could be a sneaky play based on what I see on paper but he’s not getting enough usage lately to trust at any volume and Jamal Crawford would be super interesting without Teague and kind of interesting without Butler.

Denver is fighting for their playoff lives too and Will Barton answered the bell with one of his best games of the year last time out. I like him tonight even though I don’t see the 7x+ upside in the matchup. I like Nikola Jokic a little, though I’m surprised he hasn’t eaten Towns alive at all in the past. I worry about him getting into foul trouble with how much Towns has initiated the offense but he’s got a lot of cross-category skills as a passer (and getting rebounds of consequence rather than stat-padding ones) that Towns simply doesn’t have. Paul Millsap looks fine to me, not great. Jamal Murray is interesting; he’s played well in both matchups versus Minnesota this year. He seems to run counter to Barton unless the Nuggets are scoring extremely high but both guys will have to initiate some of the offense tonight for their side.

And there we have it, an interesting little slate in the books. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags, make sure to tune into Josh Engleman and my live-before-lock show on the Awesemo YouTube tonight (subscribe now so you can jump in when we do, and I’ll see you guys tomorrow for our last week or so of regular season NBA action.

Chris Spags is the senior director of editorial strategy at Awesemo.com and contributes to the site's NBA, NFL, and MLB coverage as a writer and host of video content. Chris's content background from sites like Guyism, Uproxx, and Barstool Sports allows him to bring a unique spin to the world of daily fantasy sports analysis. Chris writes regular columns with NBA and NFL analysis as well as his inimitable style and his 'Four Corners' videos for basketball, baseball, and football DFS are the primary short form content offering on Awesemo's YouTube channel. You can find him on almost any given night providing analysis right up to slate lock on Awesemo's flagship Live Before Lock livestreams or on Twitter @ChrisSpags. You can contact Chris by emailing [email protected].

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