It’s fantasy playoffs season for a lot of owners out there, but luckily the NBA had a good week overall with only a handful of minor injuries to start March. Before we dive in on the impact of injuries, let’s just go over some quick pointers for fantasy playoff matchups.
(Feel free to skip ahead if you’re only reading this for DFS)
Know your schedules inside and out. If you’re in a head-to-head league with daily move limits, it’s imperative you know what you and your opponent are dealing with. Before a matchup starts, you should take five minutes to see where you stand on game counts. It makes sense to see how many games your top-five players have, and then the remaining players after that. In other words, four games of James Harden next week has more value than the last guy you’re not streaming on your roster. If you find yourself at a disadvantage on volume for minutes, you will have to be more aggressive on adding players and subsequently dropping colder ones with 2-3 days off in a row. If you’re at a clear advantage in a matchup prior to the championship, you can maybe set yourself up for more games in the next matchup. If you want a look at how many games a team plays per week, here’s a schedule grid I made over the summer. Side note: Golden State only has two games next week. Plus, you should always set your lineup on Monday for the week. Not just to get it out of the way, but you’ll want to know if you have a full roster on an NBA day with 10-plus games or something like that. Lastly, knowing back-to-back days is everything in max-move leagues. If you can get twice the games with one move, that’ll help you stay under the limit over the course of the week, especially if you are streaming multiple players.
Don’t be afraid to cut someone who isn’t getting it done. Upside is king in the early part of the year, but now there’s just no point. You need guys who are going to play big minutes and also with good schedules. If one of your worst 3-5 guys is off for 2-3 days, chances are you can add some guys who will help you while said player is on a mini-break. Plus, in ESPN leagues, you can waiver your own guys, so keep that in mind if you have a high waiver among the playoff teams. Of course, if a low-end guy is hurt in your playoff matchup, you need to weigh how you stand with game counts, etc. If you’re undermanned, you probably have to drop a guy giving you a zero. If not, maybe you can wait it out.
Know where you stand in a matchup for each category. You can compare how your teams have been doing in the previous few weeks compared to your opponent. It’s hardly an exact science, but it should help you set up your plan. In an extreme case, let’s say you’re going against Mitchell Robinson, Myles Turner, Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez. Chances are you’re dead meat in the blocks category, so you shouldn’t necessarily be streaming a guy who blocks shots even though he might be the best player available to stream for a given day (based on ranks, your assessment, or advice from someone else). I always try to figure out how I see myself winning by ranking my confidence in each category. Plus, if I know I’m undermanned for the whole week, I’m going to have to really focus on just squeaking out a 5-4. That also makes winning percentage categories extremely important, so you’ll want to avoid streaming percentage killers like poor foul shooters or higher-volume shooters who miss shots often. If not you’re not at a disadvantage, I try to eliminate two categories that I feel are going to be the toughest to win. Sure, it’s nice to crush your opponent 9-0, but you should have a plan. Additionally, this plan should be written in pencil, not pen. For example, Derrick White owners increased their chances to win blocks after his six-block Wednesday. Obviously as the week goes on, you’ll have a better idea of where you stand for each matchup. That’s part of the reason why you should value your later-week moves a little more than early ones. If you don’t feel totally sold that a guy you’re streaming on Tuesday won’t help you too much, feel free to wait it out. Plus, earlier in the week you’d want more well-rounded guys in most matchups, and then you can go with specialists over the weekend as you start to see where you stand.
OK, let’s take a look at the injuries around the league.
The Lakers are really thin right now with Kyle Kuzma (ankle), Brandon Ingram (shoulder) and Lonzo Ball (ankle) all on the sidelines. Kuzma had an MRI and could miss up to a week, Lonzo still hasn’t been cleared for contact, and Ingram has missed the last two games. On Wednesday, we saw the Lakers close with a group of LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart, Moritz Wagner, Johnathan Williams and Alex Caruso -- coach Luke Walton made a lot of subs. Not great, Bob.
To make matters worse, the Lakers are now 6.5 games back of the No. 8 seed. According to Basketball Reference, the Lakers now have a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs this year. The Lakers have back-to-back sets coming up on Mar. 14-15, Mar. 26-27, and Apr. 4-5, so that could be a factor for even healthier players like LeBron. The likelihood of shutdowns for Lakers also goes up, so that’s another factor fantasy owners will have to deal with. LeBron is a shutdown candidate. The times, they are a changin’.
Last night, Walton used 13 different lineups for at least two minutes with no lineup getting more than 10 minutes. Over the last two games, there’s only one lineup he used in each of those two (LeBron, Rondo, Bullock, Hart, Wagner). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only getting seven minutes on Wednesday might be the biggest sign of things to come with a possible youth movement. Walton also gave more evidence of the young guys playing more when asked about Caruso, Williams, Wagner and Hart. “I loved it. We’re looking for guys who are going to play the way we need," Walton said. Walton was also asked about those guys even if Ingram and Kuzma come back, and Walton said he would still play the South Bay guys if they played with that kind of effort. Walton also said “the goals could change” with the team once they’re out of the playoffs, and that player development could be an even bigger priority.
Until we see Ingram, Kuzma and Ball back, fantasy players should be taking a look at Caruso, Wagner, Hart and Williams as streams, DFS punts or deep-league adds. Meanwhile, Rondo could be a bigger risk based on his -7.3 net rating with LeBron and how he was sitting on the bench by himself last night. It’ll be really hard to count on Reggie Bullock, KCP, Muscala, and Lance Stephenson.
Other Injury Notes
The Hawks are a little thin up front right now. Dewayne Dedmon (knee), Alex Poythress (ankle) and Omari Spellman (ankle) were all on the sidelines at the end of the Wednesday game. Spellman may be done for the season, but Dedmon didn’t need an MRI. He should be back soon, so Alex Len party time shouldn’t last too long. If Dedmon is going to miss more time, the Hawks may have to go smaller, and they just added Tyler Zeller on a 10-day deal.
Klay Thompson (knee) has missed the last two games and didn’t practice on Wednesday. Interestingly, Draymond Green said the Warriors do want homecourt advantage. Maybe Klay could return for a huge game against the Nuggets on Friday. The Warriors only have two games next week, but the following week they have five games. They have two B2B sets in that week, so expect some of their players to sit out at least one game. There really isn’t a reliable player to stream, though.
Kyrie Irving (thigh) didn’t play on Wednesday, but it’s just a bruise and presumably the back-to-back set was a factor. The Celtics have a back-to-back set on Mar. 23-24 and Mar. 29-30, so expect Irving to sit out there and possibly other games. Irving has said he can’t wait for the regular season to be over.
The Cavs still don’t have Tristan Thompson (foot), and Ante Zizic (concussion) has been out since the weekend. Larry Nance has seen big minutes while David Nwaba has played the four behind Nance and Kevin Love. Nwaba just scored a career-high 22 points and could be an option to start next week with a Monday-Tuesday B2B.
Goran Dragic’s left calf has limited him and kept him out for the last three games. Rodney McGruder should take on his minutes, but he won’t have much fantasy value. Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters should be more reliable, as well.
We’re still waiting on Joel Embiid, but coach Brett Brown isn’t saying much about a return.
Marvin Bagley could be back soon and he wasn’t really limping when he had his MRI last week. The Kings go 4-4-4-4 in the final four weeks.