Small five-game slate squeezed in here on Christmas week, and it’s not a fun one. We have some major news and some tough games to handicap. The big news is LeBron is out after suffering a groin strain on Christmas Day. James Harden is also listed as questionable today after apparently picking up a minor injury on Christmas too. Chris Paul is already out, so no Harden would mean a lot of…
Small five-game slate squeezed in here on Christmas week, and it’s not a fun one. We have some major news and some tough games to handicap. The big news is LeBron is out after suffering a groin strain on Christmas Day. James Harden is also listed as questionable today after apparently picking up a minor injury on Christmas too. Chris Paul is already out, so no Harden would mean a lot of Eric Gordon and newly signed Austin Rivers for the Rockets. Giannis is perfectly healthy, but his Bucks are a big favorite and he is one guy the team loves to rest when the scores get out of hand. The Bucks and Warriors are both big favorites playing at home, so we do have some blowout risk to worry about as well. It really is a very tricky slate to navigate with all the injuries and potential landmines. I’m not a huge fan of playing heavy on these small slates in cash anyway, and this one is no different. It feels like more of a GPP slate, but we will talk about the best cash game plays anyway in case you guys want to go that route.
HIGHEST PROJECTED TOTAL
- Bucks – 119.5
- Warriors – 117.5
- Kings – 116.5
- Lakers – 113
- Jazz – 111.5
BIGGEST PACE BUMP
- Rockets: +2.7
- Knicks: +2.3
- Jazz: +2.2
HIGHEST PROJECTION OVER AVERAGE
- Jazz: +4
- Bucks: +3
- Warriors: +2
- Kings: +1.5
FAVORITE CASH PLAYS
Damian Lillard – A lot of people prefer Steph Curry here and Vegas would probably agree given the spread, but the Warriors have not looked good and haven't been as dominant at home. Dame is from the bay area, and he has had some big games when he comes back to visit. Unlike Steph who has other major scorers on his team, Lillard really doesn't have as much help. Lillard has a high floor and a super high ceiling. Normally he’s more of a GPP type of play, but that hometown narrative is big for me. I expect Dame back in the bay to show out and be aggressive, which should lead to an upside game for him.
Lonzo Ball – A lot of reasons to like Ball today. Besides LeBron, Rajon Rondo also was re-injured in that last game. Rondo is likely out a few weeks. That means Ball is now expected to play 35ish minutes or more like he was recently when Rondo was out. Lonzo also is likely to see a usage boost, because this time there is no Lebron to share ball handling and passing duties with. We now have to view the Lakers how we saw them last season with guys like Ball, Ingram, and Kuzma in line for massive minutes and a usage bump. Lonzo not only projects as one of the highest point per dollar options on the slate, but he’s my #1 PG today.
Emmanuel Mudiay – Mudiay’s production has been erratic over the last few games, but even the bad games have not killed you. The good games have been GPP winning type games. What is really interesting here though is the minutes. Whether he plays well or not, he’s being given the opportunity to put up good numbers and that high minutes floor is very much why I like his potential for cash.
James Harden – I mention the numbers every time I write him up without CP3, so you guys should know them by now. His minutes, field goals, usage, assists, and points all go up when CP3 is not playing. There are some major issues to consider with Harden today. He is banged up; he does play against one of the better perimeter defensive teams; the Celtics also have their rim protector back in Horford. A lot of reasons to doubt Harden today, but there’s one reason not to, and that’s volume. Volume of shots, volume of passes, and just overall volume of his usage. If the ball is always in his hands, you best believe it is going to translate into a lot of production, even against a tough defense.
Malcolm Brogdon – One thing I love about Brogdon is that he is basically blow-out proof. He plays a lot of minutes and doesn't always come out when games get ugly, as we see with Giannis. The other thing I like is the high usage lately. He’s been above 25 usage in each of his last few games and is putting up 5-6X while he does it. Brogdon also remains reasonably priced and is coming off a good game against the same opponent, so I’m on board for him to shine again today in cash.
Josh Hart – You are going to see a lot of Lakers on the list and rightfully so when you have Rajon Rondo and Lebron James out and guys like JaVale McGee also questionable. Hart does not have a massive ceiling, so he’s unlikely to drop 40 and win you a GPP, but he should get bumped up to 28-32 minutes, which we have seen for him before. At the $4Kish price he holds on both sites, he doesn't need to do a ton to make or exceed cash game value for that cheap.
Kevin Durant – I know Giannis is a guy more people like today, but he honestly scares me. Giannis always sits when games get ugly, and this is a rematch of a game that got ugly in NY for Giannis and now they play them at home. That means KD is the guy I prefer to pay for today. I usually choose between KD and Steph when I am looking for a Warrior in cash and I prefer Lillard to Steph in this matchup. That means the guy who makes more sense to pair with him if you think the game stays close is Durant. Durant is averaging well over 50 fantasy points over the last 3 games. He’s doing it by playing 35+ minutes, scoring well, adding near double-digit rebounds and a half dozen assists or so. Durant just does a little bit of everything and unlike Vegas I expect this game to stay relatively close.
Brandon Ingram – Ingram is now going to see a big jump in his usage. He’s played well since coming back from injury, but now he’s going to get a boost in minutes and usage. Last year, we saw Lonzo, Kuzma and Ingram late in the year playing 35-40 minutes and putting up solid numbers. Ingram routinely put up 32-45 points a game last year when he was a main piece before his late-season injury. If the Lakers are going to win here without LeBron, those guys are going to have to revert to 2017-2018 form again.
Nemanja Bjelica – I was debating Bjelica and Wilson Chandler and ultimately I do like them both. These guys are just too cheap for the roles they play and the roles are similar. Neither is a main option on their team or a guy who does anything great, but both guys play big minutes and contribute in a few different categories. Bjelica is more consistent for me because those rebounds are consistent. Still, if you need to save money, I like both guys as cheaper options to help you fit other things in.
Kyle Kuzma – So without Rajon Rondo and LeBron James, you basically have the 2017-2018 Lakers. Late last season Kuzma was one of those Lakers who routinely saw 35-40 minutes and was putting up 40ish fantasy points. Kuzma had a string of 40+ point games over a two week period recently when guys like Rondo and Ingram were out. LeBron played more minutes and has a higher usage than Ingram. With Lebron out here, it should be even a bigger boost for Kuzma.
Kevin Knox – I debated Noah Vonleh and Kevin Knox, ultimately I wouldn't be upset if you decided to use either of them. Both guys are consistently seeing into the 30+ minute a night range. Knox got the nod for me because he is a little cheaper and I have him projected for 1.5 more fantasy points, so discounted and with the higher projection, he makes more sense. Vonleh did have a slightly bigger game last time out against this same opponent, but when you look at matchups, he drew more Giannis defense and I do not want to pick on Giannis. Personally, I do think the Knicks are in danger of getting blown out here, but both of these guys put up 30+ last game which also was an easy 14 point Bucks victory.
Al-Farouq Aminu – Aminu is still cheap. He has the same kind of projections and ability as guys like Knox and Vonleh, yet always costs $1,000-$1,500 less. This is still a high pace game even if it’s not the best matchup or projected total to attack. Aminu had a big game on Christmas for dirt cheap and the Warriors do love to play smaller. Aminu is a good defensive option and one that can play PF next to a true center or slide over and play center himself with the right group of other players when needed. That should give him a high minutes floor and his rebounding should give him a high floor in general today.
Clint Capela – Capela has been up and down without Chris Paul, but his recent games without him seem to be upside. Capela has had monster rebounding games lately, popping off for 23 of them on Christmas. He doesn't tend to score as much without CP3 setting him up, but he makes up for it with huge minutes and big rebounding totals. He’s playing 35 minutes consistently and has 5 double-doubles in the last 7 games with points, not rebounds being the thing he fell short in. With the tough matchup for Embiid against Gobert, I feel like it makes sense to go a tad cheaper than Embiid in cash.
Ivica Zubac – JaVale McGee has some serious medical condition that keeps him from playing huge minutes on a daily basis. He is luckily out of the hospital, but I doubt back to 100%. In his absence, Ivica Zubac has seen big minutes. Without Lebron and Rondo too, the Lakers rotation is very short-handed. Zubac has been one of the guys who has really stepped up with 35-40+ fantasy points in each of the last few games. His price has come up, but based on that kind of production he is still way too cheap.