James Harden has terrorized the Portland Trail Blazers in each of the three previous meetings earlier this season and he’ll look to make it a four-peat tonight. Here are my picks for Thursday, February 25:
James Harden, Rockets, $18,900 – Lately James Harden has not been a guy I have used and/or considered much but Thursday is a totally different story. While Harden averages 6.6 fantasy points per game (FPPG) less when Dwight Howard suits up as opposed to when he does not, it’s hard to overlook how he has just absolutely torched the Trail Blazers. The Rockets and Trail Blazers have played one another three times this season and it should be noted Howard has played in each of those contests. Despite his presence, Harden has averaged a ridiculous 66.3 FPPG versus the Trail Blazers this season including a 45 point (PTS), eight rebound (REB), 11 assist (AST), five steal (STL) and one block (BLK) outburst that resulted in 84.5 fantasy points. His lowest fantasy point output in any of the three games has been 52.5. In other words fading Harden is a scary proposition especially considering the projected pace of this game (214.5 over/under according to masseyratings) and the fact that the Trail Blazers rank in the bottom half of both fantasy points allowed and efficiency to opposing shooting guards (SGs).
Jrue Holiday, Pelicans, $13,300 – The Oklahoma City Thunder allow the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing point guards (PGs) and play the 10th-fastest pace. However, the reason I like this matchup more than even those numbers suggest is because Serge Ibaka is a very solid defender. Anthony Davis has quite the history against him (60-plus fantasy points in three of the last five meetings) but the Thunder’s tough interior defense should help open up opportunities for Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans PGs. With Davis and co. fighting for every basket inside, their most effective offense is going to come from Holiday penetrating and creating for the team as a whole. Due to the pace and the fact that Russell Westbrook is not a great defender, it’s not surprising Holiday has topped 40 fantasy points in each of his four career meetings against the Thunder as a member of the Pelicans. Holiday scored 45.5 fantasy points earlier this season but that total was aided by five STL which he is unlikely to replicate. Still, Holiday is playing at a high level right now (at least 34 fantasy points in each of the last six games) and his price hasn’t fully adjusted so take advantage before he becomes a $14,000-plus asset and stays there.
Devin Booker, Suns, $10,300 – Now is the perfect time to buy on Devin Booker. The guy is admittedly slumping as he has only surpassed 24 fantasy points in one of his past five games but this porous streak should end on Thursday. The Suns are actually favored at home against a 15-42 Brooklyn Nets team that ranks third to last in backcourt defensive efficiency. Why is it noteworthy they are favored? Amazingly the Suns have lost 12 games in a row. At some point, Booker is going to re-emerge as the team’s top scoring option and I think this is the game. His price has fallen to maybe the cheapest it will dip for the remainder of the season and part of the reason is the team has been blown out a lot lately. Hell, the Los Angeles Clippers just beat them by 40. In what should prove to be a competitive game, Booker should find his shot once again and finally play upwards of 30-minutes which he hadn’t done in the past few games. While he’s probably best suited for tournaments, he can be used in cash if you have as much faith as I do that he’s going to get this slump turned around on this very night.
Dwight Howard, Rockets, $13,200 – Feb. 10 was the last time the Rockets and Trail Blazers squared off and all Dwight Howard did that game was score 28 PTS with 13 REB en route to 49.25 fantasy points. In fact it was the third time Howard managed to top 40 fantasy points in three meetings against the Trail Blazers this season. Portland simply does not have any players on the roster capable of guarding a true center let alone a physical specimen like Howard. Whether it be Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard or whomever, none have a particularly good shot of slowing him down. Their personnel is the reason they rank 27th in efficiency against opposing centers (Cs) and there’s no reason to believe their defense will suddenly improve in this game. Most of the Rockets production will flow through Harden and Howard, which is perfect for fantasy purposes. DFS players like concentrated offenses because they are easy to predict and the benefitting parties typically come with a fair amount of upside considering they touch the ball a majority of offensive possessions. The Rockets fit this description so pairing Harden with Howard even in cash games in a smart idea.
Greg Monroe, Bucks, $12,600 – Off the bench, in the starting lineup, it really doesn’t matter: Greg Monroe still is worth rostering. Coach Jason Kidd decided it was a brilliant idea to bring Monroe off the bench beginning with the Bucks’ game on Feb. 9 and he has scored 50-plus fantasy points in the five game since and only failed to reach 28 fantasy points once. Despite the role change, this is the same old Monroe in terms of production and that’s really all that matters. In fact, the game on Feb. 9 came against the Boston Celtics, his opponent on Thursday, and he dropped a 29 PTS, 12 REB double-double in that one. The Celtics struggle to match up against opposing big men as it is but their bench struggles even worse. With Monroe coming off the bench, he’ll play more minutes against opposing team’s second units which increases the skill advantage over his likely opponents. In the Celtics’ case, this matchup didn’t work well against their backup frontcourt unit in the first meeting and it will not work out well in the rematch either. Start Monroe with confidence as he clearly comes with a rather high ceiling for a price in the mid-$12,000s.
Aaron Gordon, Magic, $11,600 – Not that they are the same player but did you see the line Justise Winslow produced against the Golden State Warriors last night? He only scored eight PTS but grabbed 10 REB, dished out two AST and racked up five combined STL and BLK. Against the Warriors, athleticism is absolutely necessary and, if you watched the dunk contest, you know Aaron Gordon has enough to match up with anyone. Over the past six games, Gordon has scored at least 31.5 fantasy points in each and he has eclipsed 33 fantasy points in each game since Tobias Harris was shipped out of town. This matchup specifically seems as though it’s going to require Gordon to play more minutes than usual as the Magic will need his versatility and he had already been hovering around 30 minutes per night recently. If he reaches the mid-30s in minutes, he should reach 3x value with ease so play him with confidence in all formats even against the best team in the league.
*Stats are accurate as of Wednesday, Feb. 25