We’re back with another tasty slate today. Of course, everyone is going to be drawn to the Rockets and Bucks game and for good reason, but there are a lot of really attractive games to check out. Fade the Rockets-Bucks game at your own risk, but mixing in another game to build around James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo could be an option.
Washington Wizards (116.5) vs. Brooklyn Nets (118.8)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Wizards 4th, Nets 11th
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Wizards 6th, Nets 14th
Wizards expected starters: Shabazz Napier, Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant
Nets expected starters: Chris Chiozza, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, Jarrett Allen (note: bit of a hot take here on Kurucs, just the Nets looked horrible with Lance Thomas)
Injury news: Jamal Crawford (conditioning) is questionable after not playing in the scrimmages or the opener.
Wizards rotation notes: Six minutes of Ish with Napier on Friday, 14 minutes of Troy with Jerome on Friday, no two-center overlap, Troy foul trouble in the opener.
Nets rotation notes: Donta Hall got his first Orlando action with the Nets trailing big late on Friday, Kurucs subbed in for Thomas to put Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in as the PF3, TLC’s 24 was all about garbage time with 17 points in the fourth (12 minutes), Vaughn gave LeVert, Harris and Allen 16-plus minutes in the first half on Friday.
Jerome Robinson was the offensive star in the first half and coach Scott Brooks did praise him a bit after the game. He really liked his pace and how he handled the ball, which the Wizards need right now. “I thought he had some bad shot selection in the scrimmage, and he cleaned that up,” Brooks said. The Nets defense has been in disarray for the whole season, didn’t look great in the scrimmages, and the Magic torched them with a 123.1 O rating on Friday. They are horrible at defending drives, so a slasher like Ish Smith finds himself in a prime spot to really do damage. Plus, coach Scott Brooks hasn’t exactly locked in Napier as a starter, so Smith could really have a wide range of outcomes in a possible high-scoring game. Perhaps no player has disappointed more than Troy Brown. He couldn’t get into the flow on offense and it wasn’t like he had Bridges on him in the opener (mostly Booker). He still was getting the ball in halfcourt like he was in the scrimmages, so he’s worth using again. Thomas Bryant was elevated to 34 minutes and he gets Jarrett Allen, so he’s an easy call here as an option.
The Nets were a disaster and coach Jacque Vaughn obviously isn’t tied to much. The only thing he’s really said consistently is that LeVert, Harris and Allen will all see heavy minutes, and Allen does get a much better matchup here. LeVert also busted on Friday, but again the Wizards defense *Bart Scott voice* can’t stop a nose bleed when it comes to perimeter scorers. They allowed more points off drives than any other team in the Eastern Conference, and they’re adding a lot of inexperienced defenders who won’t be able to guard him. Jamal Crawford does present a bit of an obstacle for Tyler Johnson or Garrett Temple if you wanted to go off the board a bit. Crawford is going to be impossible to play unless Vaughn actually says he’s going to play him 20-plus minutes. This game is still very attractive.
Matchup Helps: Ish Smith, Troy Brown, Jerome Robinson, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura
Matchup Hurts: Nobody
Portland Trail Blazers (112.8) vs. Boston Celtics (115.8)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Blazers 19th, Celtics 18th
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Blazers 3rd, Celtics 18th
Trail Blazers expected starters: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic
Celtics expected starters: Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis
Injury news: Jaylen Adams (back) is questionable.
Trail Blazers rotation notes (OT game Friday): Dame obviously put to bed any injury concerns with 45 minutes in the OT win, Stotts went extremely tight on rotation with his starters getting huge minutes, Dame and C.J. played together a whopping 38 minutes, Hassan Whiteside had just 3.4 minutes of overlap with Nurkic.
Celtics rotation notes: Kemba’s minutes will increase “incrementally” after 19 on Friday, Wanamaker had just 2.2 minutes of overlap with Kemba with Marcus Smart playing next to Kemba for eight minutes.
Brad Stevens has actually owned Dame in his career, failing to put up a 60 TS% in any matchup against him. Dame’s 49.2 TS% against the Celtics is Dame’s worst opponent, and nobody is even close (Memphis 53.4). Dame can light up the tightest defense in the world, but he will likely see a lot of Marcus Smart, especially with Kemba limited. Plus, his usage rate fell by five with Nurk back in 2018-19. The tougher D on Dame could really open up C.J. here after looking great against the Grizzlies on Friday. Nurkic was fantastic and has moved really well. He is a pretty easy option here, especially if there’s some time against Enes Kanter in Kanter’s revenge game. Hayward will have a big on him, so he could certainly take advantage here.
Jayson Tatum went from a brutal matchup against the Bucks with his 2-of-18 shooting, and now he’s likely looking at a date with Carmelo Anthony. Tatum’s shot selection wasn’t bad against the Bucks with only three two-pointers outside the paint, but it’s worth a mention Tatum didn’t have his shot in the scrimmages (7-of-23). He could really smash on Melo. Jaylen Brown does have a minor back issue and had some treatment, but he’s not on the injury report. Coach Stevens is likely going to go bigger in this matchup, and he certainly can use Grant Williams on whoever plays PF for the Blazers. Enes Kanter revenge game?
Matchup Helps: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, C.J. McCollum
Matchup Hurts: Damian Lillard
San Antonio Spurs (115.5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (120.0)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Spurs 15th, Grizzlies 8th
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Spurs 12th, Grizzlies 4th
Spurs expected starters: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl
Grizzlies expected starters: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Injury news: Bryn Forbes (quad) is out again and Marco Belinelli (foot) is doubtful; the Grizzlies are still without Tyus Jones (knee) and Justise Winslow (hip).
Spurs rotation notes: Wild rotation on Friday with no lineup combo reaching six minutes (starters 5.6), Keldon only had 11.3 minutes next to Marco (12.3 with Dejounte), Rudy Gay with 11.9 minutes at center.
Grizzlies rotation notes (OT game Friday): Dillon Brooks shot too much (this is a recording), De’Anthony Melton only had 6.2 minutes without Morant next to him, Brooks had five minutes at PG, Brandon Clarke and JJJ had 30 minutes together because of JV foul trouble.
This is yet another delicious game on this slate with a lot of mismatches on both sides. It sure looks like Marco isn’t going to go, which could put Patty Mills in the mix after not playing at all in the scrimmages and on Friday. Keldon Johnson is an option regardless in a matchup where both teams will likely play fast. DeMar is likely looking a very weak defender on him in the first unit before Melton comes on, but those who start him will have to worry about the youth movement. DeRozan is really looking to get his guys going for most of the game and he didn’t even get to a 14 usage rate in the the first three, but he went nuts in the fourth with an absurd 50.0 usage rate. Derrick White has looked the part in Orlando, and Dejounte having to guard Ja could set up White yet again.
This isn’t your dad’s Spurs here, and the Spurs let the Kings run all over them at 12.4 seconds per possession. They’re going to go small yet again here, which could really help Ja get going downhill with little resistance around the basket.
Matchup Helps: Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant
Matchup Hurts: Jakob Poeltl
Sacramento Kings (112.3) vs. Orlando Magic (114.8)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Kings 17th, Magic 24th
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Kings 28th, Magic 16th
Kings expected starters: De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes
Magic expected starters: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic
Injury news: Wes Iwundu (neck) is questionable, Alex Len (conditioning) remains out.
Kings rotation notes: Only 4.1 minutes of Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, Richaun still has no limits on him and the same for Harry B.
Magic rotation notes: Fultz really wasn’t let loose in any quarter (more below), Isaac was used four minutes each quarter (end of 1Q and 3Q, start of 2Q and 4Q).
De’Aaron Fox is coming off career-high nights in scoring (39) and almost had it in usage rate by 0.1 (38.6). They are very successful when Fox dominates, putting up an 8-2 record when he has a usage rate greater than 32.5 (11-25 in other games) and it probably should’ve been 9-1 if they didn’t blow it against the Spurs. The Kings were flying against the Spurs at a swift 12.4 seconds per possession. He should be in play again, but his presence may be tougher on Buddy and Bogdan. Even if Fultz starts, Fox should still get plenty of favorable matchups. Holmes’ minutes could really climb here as long as he doesn’t foul Vooch too much.
Fultz didn’t get to six minutes in any quarter, but he did almost get there in the fourth during a blowout. That’s still enough to suggest he’ll start, but he may be capped a bit here. The Magic went up against a hapless Nets team, so a lot of their players like Fournier may cool off even against another bad defense. Isaac went from seven minutes in the last scrimmage to 16, which came as a mild surprise. Aaron Gordon also gets the narrative against the team where he grew up, and he should have mismatches on him too. Although, he did look a step slow on Friday after his groin issue.
Matchup Helps: Aaron Gordon, De’Aaron Fox
Matchup Hurts: Nemanja Bjelica
Milwaukee Bucks (123.3) vs. Houston Rockets (119.3)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Bucks 1st, Rockets 2nd (eyes emoji)
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Bucks 9th, Rockets 21st
Bucks expected starters: Eric Bledsoe, Wes Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Rockets expected starters: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Danuel House, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker
Injury news: Eric Gordon (ankle) remains out along with Bruno Caboclo (ankle); the Bucks will not have Eric Bledsoe (conditioning) and Pat Connaughton (conditioning) again after missing the opener.
Bucks rotation notes: 6.3 minutes of overlap for Donte and George Hill (eight in scrimmages), Middleton with 10 minutes away from Giannis.
Rockets rotation notes (OT game on Friday): Eight-man rotation in a game with 302 points, so what else is there to say? Harden and Westbrook had about nine minutes away from each other each? Sure.
You’re playing Giannis, but if you wanted another reason don’t forget the Harden comments saying what Giannis does “takes no skill at all” back in February. This game is going to be ridiculously fast and Middleton will get some opportunities. The Rockets guards can obviously get a little sloppy, so it’s possible to see Donte and/or George Hill getting some production.
You’re playing Harden here, of course. Coach Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets talked up pace big time coming into the bubble, and my goodness it’s held up on the tiny one-game sample. They were running their offense at an absurd 11.8 seconds per possession (Bucks led NBA at 13.1, Rockets were at 13.3 for second). Their first opponent, the Mavs, have the slowest offensive pace so far among the teams to play in the first two days. Westbrook is a driving machine as the league’s leader, and the Bucks are easily the best defense at points per drive in the league. Still, just the track-meet factor of this game makes him an option.
Matchup Helps: James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Donte DiVincenzo
Matchup Hurts: Nobody unless you’re worried about Lord RoCo fouling GA
Dallas Mavericks (121.3) vs. Phoenix Suns (115.6)
Offensive pace on season (of 30): Suns 14th, Mavericks, 22nd
Defensive pace on season (of 30): Suns 7th, Mavericks 8th
Mavericks expected starters: Luka Doncic, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis
Suns expected starters: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, ???
Injury news: Kelly Oubre (knee) remains out again, Aron Baynes could be back after missing the last one, Jalen Lecque also is out of quarantine.
Mavericks rotation notes (OT game on Friday): Boban cracked the rotation briefly in a bad matchup against the Rockets after getting bench minutes behind KP in scrimmage action.
Suns rotation notes: A little bit of foul trouble on Cam Johnson, Cam Payne held PG2 job after winning it during scrimmages, 11 minutes of overlap for Johnson and Dario, Frank Kaminsky was a straight C.
If you wanted to stack a game that’s not the Rockets-Bucks contest, this is it. The KP at the five lineup continues to be fantasy gold with the Mavs thriving on offense (125.2 O rating on Friday, Rockets had a 128.6), and they were at 122 prior to the bubble with him there. There’s really no reason to think this offense will slow down, and Luka could really be lighting up the Suns after matching his career-high scoring against them earlier this season (42). Seth Curry was brutal in the opener due to foul trouble, and it’ll be really tough to count on him after Trey Burke blowing up for 28. I wouldn’t use Burke, by the way. Porzingis is also really going to try to pull Ayton away from the basket with likely a lot of high 1-5 action with Luka, so he could be in for another big night. Maybe Boban? Maybe?
As mentioned above, the Mavs somehow let the Rockets run at under 12 seconds per possession, and these two teams have two of the fastest defensive paces this season (Wizards flew on the Suns in first game too at 13.4). Mikal Bridges’ buzz did dissipate a bit on Friday with only eight shots from the field, but the 34 minutes will be there. Plus, Dorian Finney-Smith is likely going to guard Devin Booker, so Bridges will see a mismatch. However, I wouldn’t say this is a win for him because there’s a very good chance he has to guard Luka, which may take too much out of him. In two previous games, Bridges does have the most matchup time on Luka on the team.
Matchup Helps: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton, basically everyone
Matchup Hurts: Mikal Bridges, assuming he guards Luka