After a limited two-game slate during the NBA return Thursday, we have six games on the schedule Friday. Five of them will make up the main slate on Yahoo, which tips off at 4 PM EST. Let’s dive into the matchups and discuss some players to target and avoid.
Luka Doncic, DAL vs. HOU ($53): This is an important game. The Mavericks currently occupy the seventh seed in the Western Conference and are three games behind the Rockets in the loss column for the sixth seed. They are also three games behind the Thunder in the loss column for the fifth seed. Moving up to at least sixth would seem to be appealing for the Mavericks as it could help them avoid facing the Clippers in the first round. That should mean plenty of playing time here for Doncic, who can stuff the stat sheet in multiple categories.
Shabazz Napier, WAS vs. PHO ($25): Both the Wizards and the Suns rank inside the top-nine in the league in pace of play, so this has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. The problem for the Wizards is that they won’t have either Bradley Beal (shoulder) or Davis Bertans at their disposal. Beal’s absence should open up added playing time and ball-handling responsibilities for Napier, who has already averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 three-pointers since joining the Wizards.
Guard to Avoid
Kemba Walker, BOS at MIL ($28): This one is pretty simple. The Celtics are being careful with Walker’s knee, which has bothered him at times this season. The expectation is that he will only play 18-to-20 minutes in their first game back, leaving him with limited upside.
Mikal Bridges, PHO at WAS ($20): The Suns are going to have a difficult time making a run for a playoff spot with Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee) still on the shelf. Filling in for him will be Bridges, who had actually started each of the team’s prior 19 games before the season went on hold. He averaged 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 three-pointers during that stretch. The key is that he averaged 35 minutes a night over that span compared to his season average of 27 minutes per contest. With the expectation that he will continue to see added playing time moving forward, he could take advantage of this favorable matchup.
Troy Brown Jr., WAS vs. PHO ($10): Brown has proven that he can provide increased production when given an expanded role. When Beal was sidelined for five-game span earlier this season, Brown averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, two steals, 1.4 steals and 1.2 three-pointers in 35 minutes a night. With the up-tempo pace at which this game will likely be played combined with added minutes, Brown could be a steal at the minimum price.
Forward to Avoid
Maxi Kleber, DAL vs. HOU ($18): This is not a good matchup for Kleber. The Rockets have always liked to play small, but they’ve taken that to the extreme after trading away Clint Capela. Kleber might not see the floor much in this contest, which is what happened the last time these two teams played at the end of January. He logged just 14 minutes in that contest, finishing with four points and six rebounds.
Deandre Ayton, PHO at WAS ($37): This is a juicy matchup for Ayton. The Wizards have struggled to slow down opposing centers for much of the season, allowing the eighth-most Yahoo points per game to the position. With Oubre out, the Suns will also rely even more heavily on Ayton for scoring. Injuries have limited him to only 30 games, but he’s been spectacular when on the floor, averaging 19.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest.
Jakob Poeltl, SA vs. SAC ($13): The Spurs frontcourt enters the bubble significantly depleted. The big name that they will be missing is LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder). On top of that, they won’t have key reserve Trey Lyles (side). Look for them to ask for more from Poeltl, who has averaged 6.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks across 12 games in which he logged at least 20 minutes.
Center to Avoid
Hassan Whiteside, POR vs. MEM ($35): Bringing Whiteside into the fold couldn’t have worked out much better for the Trail Blazers. He’s put forth a monster campaign, averaging 16.3 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. It’s important to note that he’s done that in 31 minutes a night. It’s difficult to see him playing that much moving forward now that Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are healthy. I’d take a wait-and-see approach on the Blazers’ big man rotation before deploying Whiteside at such a hefty price tag.