NBA Thoughts – 3/22/17
As we wind slowly to the close of the NBA regular season, a DFS sport that can already be a bit frustrating with late news, scratches, injuries, and players resting, becomes even more so. With fewer games left to play, many teams are running out of reasons to really go for wins and play their best players for the majority of minutes. Several teams are more or less locked into their playoff seeds and will prioritize rest, while others are actually de-incentivized to win games with the NBA’s lottery system (look who the Lakers started in the second half of last night’s blowout loss to the Clippers). I thought it would be worthwhile today to look at some teams and players that should be reliable, and others that we may want to steer clear of. All of this can change over the next few games, but it should generally be a reliable guide to the end of the season.
Race for Western Conference 8th Seed
While it may seem foolish to put so much effort into acquiring the 8th seed in the Western Conference just to face almost certain defeat in the first round to the might Warriors, the teams in contention for this spot are clearly still all going full out to try to secure it. Until these teams are more or less mathematically eliminated, we can probably rely on them to play their studs when healthy and play them for heavy minutes. These teams include: Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Pelicans, and Wolves. The Mavericks, Pelicans, and Wolves don’t actually have much chance in this race, but due to various reasons (one of the last seasons for Dirk, the trade for DeMarcus Cousins, and trying to develop a winning mentality in Minnesota) I expect all three teams to keep playing hard and be mostly reliable for DFS purposes at least for the next week or so. The Nuggets and Blazers are locked in a dead heat for the 8th seed and should be among the most reliable teams in the NBA down the stretch as far as playing their stars for big minutes.
Wide Open Eastern Conference
Take a look at these standings for the Eastern Conference:
Most of the teams here clearly have a lot to play for. The Celtics most certainly have their eyes on acquiring the top seed in the East in hopes of toppling the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and we can expect Coach Brad Stevens to aggressively chase wins as long as the Celtics are within striking distance of the Cavaliers OR are in danger of losing the 2 seed to the Wizards or Raptors. It’s safe to rely on Celtics players’ minutes down the stretch run. We know we can’t necessarily trust the Cavs, who are clearly prioritizing rest for their stars. Nearly every other team on this list should be going for wins in the last part of the season until they either lock up one of the seeds of fall out of the race entirely. The Bulls and Hornets should continue to compete for now, but a few more losses and they may have to reconsider their motivation/priorities.
The MVP Candidates
The true two studs of this NBA DFS season – James Harden and Russell Westbrook – appear to be toe-to-toe frontrunners for the MVP. The Thunder are also jockeying for playoff position in the Western Conference, and Russell Westbrook will almost certainly continue to play big minutes in every competitive the rest of the regular season as he has a double incentive happening with both the MVP and playoff positioning on the line. James Harden is a bit more interesting, as the Rockets are more or less locked into the 3rd seed in the West with extremely little chance of moving up to number two or falling to number four. That fact makes me a bit weary of possible rest for some of the other Rockets, but I fully expect Harden himself to continue to see his normal heavy minutes down the stretch as he tries to secure his first ever MVP. There are a lot of question marks in the NBA right now but Westbrook and Harden should continue to be targeted nearly every time they take the court.
The De-incentivized Teams
While some teams are gearing up for a playoff run, others have fallen out of any possibility of making the playoffs and are actually incentivized to lose games in order to keep draft picks or gain more ping pong balls for better lottery odds. These teams include the Knicks, 76ers, Magic, Kings, Suns, and Lakers. Be very weary or rostering players (especially veterans) from these teams. These teams need to lose, and may rest players/give players fewer minutes/do random annoying stuff in the last couple weeks of the season. Proceed with caution here.
Don’t forget to join Manny, Loughy, and myself on the Deeper Dive today at 5pm EST for specific analysis on today’s slate!