To restate what I told you yesterday, the final month of the NBA season can look a lot like chaos. This is also the time of year when the fantasy playoffs get into full swing. For those playing DFS, the action will continues hot and heavy right on through the NBA playoffs. Speaking personally, I've actually had relatively more DFS success during this "chaos period" than at any other time of the season, perhaps because I'm able to find some order in the chaos.
Let's call it "organized noise" -- not to be confused with Organized Noize, though I'm happy to shout out to Outkast and Goodie Mob. Organized noise is still chaotic, but if we can find even some loose patterns to help guide us, it can put us in a good position to thrive. One thing I like to do, and I've alluded to it in this space in recent weeks, is to look at team motivation along with the performance level of the sides in order to try and estimate whether a particular game shapes up for good fantasy value.
My favorite matchups involve two teams of similar level, both with motivation to win. For example, games that pit two of the teams currently sitting somewhere between Nos. 3-10 in the West, or between Nos. 3-8 in the East. Those are the contests I target most when looking for daily streamers or DFS-friendly games.
My second-favorite matchups involve two lottery teams that are both playing good offense and not a lot of defense. Neither team should be good enough to consistently blow out the other, which will help players on both sides get a chance to shine against lesser competition than normal. It's a win-win, even if the teams themselves tend to lose and lose.
On Monday night, there weren't any games of either of these types. Instead, we had two games pitting playoff contenders against lottery squads and two games pitting strong playoff teams playing great ball against opponents with playoff aspirations but also injuries that robbed them of stature. The results? Meh!
The Houston Rockets blew out the injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs by 16. The Portland Trail Blazers blew out the injury-riddled Miami Heat by 16. The Milwaukee Bucks blew out the lottery-bound and injury-racked Memphis Grizzlies by 18. The Oklahoma City Thunder actually played a close game against the Sacramento Kings, but the Kings had lost their previous two matchups against Western Conference playoff hopefuls by a total of 39 points.
The problem isn't just that last night's games tended to be relative blowouts. It's that the individual performances were also quite meh. After a Sunday where there were seemingly more monster individual performances than there were actual games, on Monday only Damian Lillard's performance would have made the cut. It was just, overall, a lesser night of production.
Look, on a night like Monday when those are all the games that you have to choose from, you simply have to make the best of it and choose the individual matchups as best you can. However, on a night like Tuesday -- with many more options available from the 11-game schedule -- the key is to organize the noise.
There are three games featuring one likely playoff team against a longshot that is still seemingly motivated by their slim mathematical playoff hopes: Charlotte Hornets-New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons-Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets-Los Angeles Lakers
Those games aren't magical "must-have" stack-fests. It's not impossible to get value from the other five games that aren't listed. But, again, the point is to build some order from the chaos. You're essentially playing probabilities, looking for likelihoods. Generally speaking, I'd expect there to be more close games and overachievement on the whole from those six games than the five mismatched contests that I didn't list.
In other words, organized noise.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 32 points (8-19 FG, 9-10 FT), 10 assists, 7 3-pointers, 5 rebounds, 3 TO
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers: 27 points (12-18 FG, 3-5 FT), 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 3 TO
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 17 points (7-19 FG, 1-3 FT), 11 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 2 TO
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks: 16 points (5-9 FG, 3-3 FT), 12 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 2 TO
Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs: 4 points (1-5 FG, 2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 TO, 15 minutes
Josh Richardson, Miami Heat: 4 points (2-6 FG), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 16 minutes
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder: 6 points (3-5 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
Brandon Jennings made a hugely triumphant return to the NBA on Monday, almost notching a triple-double in only 24 minutes off the bench. Eric Bledsoe is still clearly the lead guard on Milwaukee, but the blowout nature of the win over the hapless Grizzlies allowed the Bucks to rest their starters and give Jennings plenty of minutes. Though the numbers aren't sustainable in his current role, it is good to see that the potential is still there.
Sacramento's Willie Cauley-Stein came off the bench for the second straight game on Sunday after returning from a four-game injury layoff due to a back issue. For the second straight game he played near-starter minutes, this time notching 29 minutes while producing 9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. Kosta Koufos started at center on Monday, but only played 16 minutes.
The Spurs have so many players out injured that it's hard to judge their current level. With LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined and Kawhi Leonard not expected back until Thursday, the Spurs didn't put up all that much resistance against the dominant Rockets. Not one of their starters played more than 24 minutes, and three of them played 15 minutes or less. Only one starter, Rudy Gay, even scored in double-figures and none had over five rebounds or three assists. It was just a bad night overall, and the loss dropped San Antonio in the standings to where they would miss the playoffs if they began today.
James Harden returned for the Rockets after missing Sunday's game (knee), and he turned in a ho-hum 28 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 3-pointers. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon both only played 23 minutes, though Paul was much more productive with 18 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 1 steal in his limited time on the court.
Injuries of note
Steven Adams left Monday night's game with a left hip contusion, and didn't return. The Thunder play again on Tuesday, so Adams should be considered very questionable for that game.
Analytics advantage for Tuesday
The Mavericks are one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league, tied with the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors with 11.7 made 3-pointers per game, fifth-best in the NBA. The Knicks, on the other hand, are one of the worst 3-point defenses in the NBA, allowing 11.4 made treys per game (tied for fourth-most) at a 37.4 percent clip (tied for third-worst). Put those stats together, and this seems like a day that Dallas could have some fun from beyond the arc.
Top players to watch tonight
Both the Lakers and Nuggets are playing well with high-scoring offenses that are capable of explosions. These two teams played last week and combined for 241 points, and there was bad blood at the end of the game as Jamal Murray seemed to get into it with Lakers coach Luke Walton. This is a game to watch, with Julius Randle for the Lakers and Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets as the most likely to pop for big games.