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Daily Fantasy Basketball Strategy: December 17, 2015

The NBA schedule started off extremely balanced, but has fallen back to its old ways of late. After a 12-game Wednesday night, Thursday features just three games, but all least they all project to be close games after a blowout-filled Wednesday.

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Vegas lines and totals

Toronto Raptors @ Charlotte Hornets (-1.5) – total of 196
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Cleveland Cavaliers (-3) – total of 205
Houston Rockets (-6) @ Los Angeles Lakers – total of 213

The total for Raptors-Hornets is pretty unappealing, and I honestly think that game has a good likelihood of going under anyway. The Thunder-Cavs total is a bit higher in a game that should be close, but I’m not sure I see it getting to 200, let alone 205, which seems high considering only two of Cleveland’s last nine games have featured both teams going over 100 points and Thunder haven’t allowed triple digits in their past seven. That leaves Rockets-Lakers as the highest-scoring game of the night by far, and the top plays that follow will reflect that.

POINT GUARD

Patrick Beverley ($5,000) – The top of Thursday’s point guard pool is littered with bad matchups, while Beverley gets to face a team that allows over two fantasy points per game more than any other to the PG position. Beverley’s upside is limited but he’s topped 21 fantasy points in nine of his past 10 games, impressive consistency for a bargain-priced player.

Matthew Dellavedova ($4,400) – Dellavedova is coming off a bad game in Boston, but the Celtics tend to have that effect on opposing point guards. With Kyrie Irving still sidelined and Mo Williams struggling in limited minutes off the bench, Cleveland should rely heavily on Delly in their efforts to slow down Russell Westbrook. A minute total in the 30s seems likely, which should help Dellavedova pay off his cheap salary.

Cheap risk option: There aren’t many good cheap PG options besides Dellavedova, but Jeremy Lin ($4,200) has a chance to step into a larger role if Nicolas Batum can’t play Thursday. Jeremy Lamb may draw the start at the 2, but Lin would see increased minutes and has topped 26.75 fantasy points in three of his past five games. A tough matchup with the Raptors limits his upside, though.

SHOOTING GUARD

James Harden ($10,800) – If you’re taking a star Thursday night, which is pretty much a requirement on a three-game slate, make it Harden. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are stuck facing each other, and the Cavs’ team defense should stifle Russell Westbrook far more than the Lakers’ porous unit can do to Harden. He’s been struggling in real life of late, but the fantasy numbers have been there and there’s no penalty for pathetic defense.

Kobe Bryant ($6,100) – While listed at shooting guard, Bryant sees most of his minutes at small forward in the Lakers’ three-guard lineup. The Rockets have struggled covering SFs all season and Bryant is playing better of late, increasing his efficiency and looking to distribute more. His slight minutes drop has actually been a benefit to his production and he should thrive against the Rockets on Thursday.

Cheap risk option: The always-volatile Dion Waiters ($4,000) is coming off consecutive 13-point games and while one came in a blowout win Wednesday, sometimes games like that help gunners like Waiters find a nice rhythm for a few games, like when a backup moves back to the bench after a nice run in the starting lineup but keeps performing. Waiters could get you 20-25 points, which is great return for $4,000 on a short slate.

SMALL FORWARD

Nicolas Batum ($7,500) – At the time of this writing, Batum’s status has yet to be updated after he left Wednesday’s game due to illness. If Batum isn’t ruled out after Thursday’s shootaround, he’ll be a good play against opposing small forward Terrence Ross, who isn’t exactly known for his defense. Batum has been filling up the stat sheet lately, and that should continue if he’s anywhere near 100 percent.

Trevor Ariza ($5,700) – Picking on the Lakers is just too easy on Thursday’s slate. It helps that the Rockets are a fast-paced team that has their own struggles on the defensive end, making a blowout on the road that much less likely. Ariza has played well since missing the first game of his career and has five straight games of at least 25 fantasy points. It would be shocking if he didn’t make it six.

Cheap risk option: Remember what I said about Waiters earlier? The same goes for Corey Brewer ($4,200), who was struggling this season before Trevor Ariza got hurt early against the Nets. Even after moving back to the bench, Brewer has two 20-point games in his past three and is a nice fit for the tempo of this game, especially now that he’s turned his season around.

POWER FORWARD

Julius Randle ($6,000) – It’s not often you’ll find a bench player among my top cash-game plays, but sometimes small slates make you do crazy things. Randle has done a nice job returning his price tag over the past five games despite his role with the second unit, putting up at least 29.75 fantasy points in three of his past five games, and he’s a focal point of the offense while playing less minutes with Kobe. Randle struggled with his shot five days ago against the Rockets, going 3-for-11, but as long as he’s able to find his stroke Thursday, he should clear 25 fantasy points while Kevin Love, Serge Ibaka and Marvin Williams face tough matchups that make risky bets to return value.

Luis Scola ($5,100) – Scola gets the prime matchup of this game, as Williams and the Hornets are one of five teams to allow over 50 fantasy points per game to the power forward position. Power forward is a good position to save money Thursday night, but there’s some risk that Scola plays around 20 minutes rather than 30 considering the Hornets’ lack of size; he usually sees extended minutes against teams without stretch-4s. Even in the case of low minutes, 20 fantasy points isn’t an unrealistic expectation and I’d rather pay Scola’s salary for that production than using Love, Ibaka or Williams for a similar amount of risk. I’ll pay up at other positions.

Cheap risk option: The Rockets PF rotation has been strange of late, as each of Donatas Motiejunas ($3,800), Terrence Jones and Clint Capela have started over the past three games. At the moment, it’s assumed Motiejunas will get another start but even if he doesn’t, it’s obvious Jones has fallen out of the favor with the coaching staff. Motiejunas will likely be the first big off the bench if Capela returns to the first unit and could build off his last outing against the Lakers, where he scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting.

CENTER

Dwight Howard ($7,000) – Forgive my apathy toward Howard’s reported “unhappiness” in Houston. Howard’s price has dropped a few dollars thanks to his minutes being limited on Houston’s back-to-back set earlier this week, and the Rockets don’t play again until Saturday after this game. That means Howard should be good to go for 30-plus minutes in a dream matchup against the Lakers. As the only healthy center over $5,500 with the best matchup on the board, Howard is an absolute must-play.

Roy Hibbert ($4,700) – While Hibbert is a great target for opposing centers, Howard has been a good one as well. There’s always the risk of foul trouble when it comes to Hibbert, but it helps that James Harden is a usage hog who prevents Howard from getting copious touches in the post. He scored 24.75 points in the Dec. 12 matchup between these two teams, and that’s a realistic expectation here if you decide to fade Howard or play a center in your utility spot.

Cheap risk option: It’s been a terrible season so far for Timofey Mozgov ($3,700), but he’s starting to show signs of turning things around. He’s played at least 20 minutes in two straight games and has made 12 of his 14 shots from the field, scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in his last two. He could very easily turn back into a pumpkin at any moment, but a healthy and productive Mozgov is worth more than $3,700.

Cash Game Ranks

This isn’t necessarily an order of who will score the most DraftKings points. Rather, the rankings are aimed to find the best price, value and production combo to help you win cash games, also taking into account potential ownership levels for each player.

PG
1) Patrick Beverley
2) Matthew Dellavedova
3) D’Angelo Russell
4) Lou Williams
5) Russell Westbrook
6) Kemba Walker
7) Kyle Lowry

SG
1) Kobe Bryant
2) James Harden
3) Jordan Clarkson
4) DeMar Derozan
5) J.R. Smith
6) Dion Waiters

SF
1) Trevor Ariza
2) Corey Brewer
3) Nicolas Batum/P.J. Hairston
4) LeBron James
5) Kevin Durant

PF
1) Luis Scola
2) Julius Randle
3) Donatas Motiejunas (if he starts)
4) Kevin Love
5) Serge Ibaka

C
1) Dwight Howard
2) Roy Hibbert
3) Clint Capela (if he starts)
4) Bismack Biyombo
5) Timofey Mozgov
6) Steven Adams

As always, stay locked to Twitter and follow me @christripodi, where I’ll do my best to break down the implications of any late scratches or lineup changes before the first game tips at 6 p.m. EST. I’ll also update this article as news breaks throughout the day if at all possible, but I will usually update via Twitter first.

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