Wednesday night witnessed seven players score at least 35 points, tying a single-day record, but on Thursday, Portland's Damian Lillard was the high-scorer with 25 points in an unsurprising drubbing of the Suns. A natural explanation for the lack of impact performances might be that the average margin of victory for Thursday's three-game slate in the NBA was 25.6 points. Blowouts and fantasy fun often aren't the best of pals.
After this sleepy Thursday slate, let's pivot our focus to some of the critical under-the-radar plays for Friday's robust 10-game slate.
We can start by streaming with the Lakers' Josh Hart, as Brandon Ingram's ankle injury suffered in the team's recent win over the Spurs will keep him sidelined for at least the team's next two games. Ingram isn't traveling on this brief back-to-back road trip for the Lakers, confirming Hart's ascendant stock for at least this brief stretch.
Yesterday, I endorsed Kent Bazemore in this space as a worthy addition for the next several weeks with Taurean Prince sidelined. The point being that identifiable opportunity rates shouldn't be dismissed. Hart's window for value isn't quite as open, but with an expectation of more minutes, shots, touches and likely a starting role in the next two games, he's now capable of helping your fantasy team in a way most fantasy free agents can't.
It also helps those who want to pay up for LeBron James in daily fantasy competition that the Spurs, tonight's opponent in a rubber match with the Lakers, are found at 29th in the league in defensive rating, with only the Cavaliers rating worse in points allowed per 100 possessions this season.
Speaking of Cleveland's porous defense, it's a good time to load up on their opponent tonight, the Sacramento Kings. Tonight marks just the seventh time the Kings have been favored on the road since the start of 2017, but impressively the third time in the past month. Cleveland owns a 59-58 lead in the history of this matchup, signaling a chance for Sacramento to even things up.
The Kings drubbed the Suns on the road this past Tuesday, while the Warriors soundly dismissed the Cavs on Wednesday in a rematch of the past 24 finals (I joke), as these two franchises are suddenly trending in opposite directions. But really, this is a choice spot to stack De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein in DFS.
The key redraft move is to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic in all formats. In a season rife with worthy Sixth Man of the Year candidates, this guy is making a quietly strong argument for consideration. After needing a few games to reintegrate into the Kings' new-look rotation after missing the first three weeks of the season with an injury, Bogdanovic has averaged 17.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 2.6 3PG the past 10 games with a positive net rating of plus-2.2. Hitting an awesome 93 percent of his free throws and 39.7 percent of his 3-point attempts, it's clear Bogdanovic is a gifted shooter worthy of our attention.
With an eye on meaningful fantasy performances and relevant statistical trends, let's delve into the night that was in the NBA.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 25 points (8-14 FG), 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 TO
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics: 8 points (2-6 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: 6 points (3-9 FG), 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 TO
Top pick Deandre Ayton didn't start for the first time of his young career due to what coach Igor Kokoskov described as stomach issues, with Richaun Holmes playing the first three minutes of the game before giving way to Ayton. The Arizona product played 27 minutes but was mostly ineffective on both ends with just 11 inefficient points (5-13 FG) and a minus-17 net rating.
Those in deeper leagues might want to pay attention to the ongoing point guard battle between Elie Okobo and De'Anthony Melton in Phoenix. With Devin Booker sidelined and the team having a clear void at the position even with their top scorer healthy, this could be a rewarding role from a fantasy perspective if a clear starter is determined in the coming weeks. Okobo has been starting of late, but Melton is matching him in minutes the past two games and has produced much stronger net ratings in each of the previous two outings.
We saw another starting lineup shift last night, with Utah's Favors successfully shifting to the bench with the team starting Jae Crowder at power forward. With Rudy Gobert getting ejected for swiping objects from the scorer's table onto the floor just three minutes into the game last night, Favors was able to establish a new season-high in points in becoming the fourth Jazz player ever with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench over the past 10 seasons, joining Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter. I wouldn't read too much into Favors' surge, given it required Gobert's ejection to facilitate the opportunities, but it's a good sign that there is still valuable utility left in the veteran forward.
However unsustainable, the Knicks' Noah Vonleh is scorching the nets from beyond this season, as he's the only player averaging at least eight rebounds and hitting on at least 45 percent of his 3-point attempts among those lofting at least one 3-pointer per game. During the past 10 games, nine of them starts, the former lottery selection is averaging 10.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, and sinking a ridiculous 61.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
I'm going to guess that even Portland's Jake Layman doesn't have Portland's Jake Layman rostered in his fantasy hoops league. Layman hadn't played in Portland's last five games but came off the pine last night to score a career-high 24 points, and the Trail Blazers snapped a three-game losing streak in the process. Layman scored 15 points of his 24 in just under six minutes in the first quarter, as the Suns have somehow been outscored 70 to 18 in the past two first quarters. A lesson here isn't to add Layman, but rather to stream whenever reasonably possible against Phoenix.
Injuries of note
The Celtics' Kyrie Irving told reporters he injured his shoulder late in the win over the Knicks. The star point guard mentioned his AC joint as a possible issue, but also said he'd be "alright" with some simple post-game care. We'll want to keep an eye on this one, as it would make Terry Rozier a valuable spot-starter in the case Irving missed any time. Boston's Aaron Baynes left Thursday's win over the Knicks early with an ankle injury, with details still to come on the severity.
Hassan Whiteside isn't with the Heat for this six-game Western Conference swing as he awaits the birth of his first child. Wayne Ellington is also not with the club due to personal reasons. Goran Dragic did travel with the club and could suit up against his former team tonight in Phoenix after missing the past eight games with a knee injury.
Analytics advantage for Friday
Two of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference meet when the 76ers visit the Pistons on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The matchup features some of the league's most productive big men, as Joel Embiid (26.3) and Blake Griffin (24.9) each rank in the top 10 in points per game. Griffin scored a career-high 50 points in the Pistons' 133-132 overtime win against Philly on Oct. 23, while Embiid had 39 points and 17 rebounds in the 76ers' 109-99 win against Detroit on Nov. 3.
Embiid has averaged 30 PPG and 11.2 RPG in his career versus the Pistons, one of two teams he has averaged 30-10 against (Clippers). Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are the only other active players who average 30-10 against an opponent.
Andre Drummond, meanwhile, leads the league with 15.5 rebounds per game after leading the league with 16.0 RPG last season. The last player to average at least 15 RPG in consecutive seasons was Dennis Rodman, who did so from 1996-98.
The Pistons have held opposing teams to a league-low 31.3 percent 3-point clip this season. However, they rank 30th themselves in 3-point percentage on offense (31.9 percent). Defensive 3-point data can prove somewhat noisy this early, but it could also prove prudent to avoid Philly's shooters in DFS play tonight, given Detroit's aggressive close-outs on the perimeter.
Top players to watch tonight
Two of the top three teams by ESPN's Basketball Power Index will meet when the Warriors visit the Bucks at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Bucks trounced the Warriors 134-111 at Oracle Arena on Nov. 8, the third-worst home loss Golden State has suffered under Steve Kerr. Stephen Curry also injured his groin in the loss, causing him to miss the next 11 games.
The Bucks' incomparable Antetokounmpo turned 24 on Thursday. Antetokounmpo is currently averaging 27 points per game, 13 rebounds per game and six assists per game. At age 24, he would be the second-youngest player in NBA history to average 25-10-5 in a season, per Elias. Only Oscar Robertson has reached those averages at a younger age. He also joins Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady as the only other players with at least 500 blocks and 500 steals by the age of 24.
Per Second Spectrum, Durant has shot 34.4 percent (11-32 FG) since 2013-14 against Antetokounmpo as his primary defender. That's his lowest shooting percentage against the 87 defenders he's attempted at least 25 FG against in that span. This should be fun.