• Welcome, Hoop Ball readers, to another edition of The Week Ahead!

    We are officially in the second half of the NBA season and we are already beginning to see some playoff-level basketball.  The Thunder and the Jazz went to double overtime and the game ended on a floater by MVP candidate Paul George over Rudy Gobert to seal the win.  The MVP race is ultimately going to come down to Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and Paul George.  Each of them has a good case for winning the award, so it will be interesting to see who ends up on top.  The playoff races in both conferences should be about as close as the MVP race, so we are due for a very exciting second half of the season.

    Here is my prediction for the playoff picture in both conferences:

    Eastern Conference

    1. Bucks 61-21
    2. Raptors 59-23
    3. 76ers 54-28
    4. Pacers 53-29
    5. Celtics 51-31
    6. Magic 40-42
    7. Nets 38-44
    8. Pistons 37-45

    Just Miss It: Hornets 36-46, Heat 35-47

    Western Conference

    1. Warriors 60-22
    2. Nuggets 57-25
    3. Trail Blazers 53-29
    4. Thunder 52-30
    5. Jazz 50-32
    6. Rockets 49-33
    7. Kings 45-37
    8. Spurs 43-39

    Just Miss It: Lakers and Clippers both at 41-41

    Now here is an overview of the week ahead:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    4 games: Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Pacers, Pelicans, Pistons, Rockets, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wolves

    3 games: 76ers, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Mavs, Nuggets, Raptors, Spurs, Suns, Wizards

    Best Schedule: Nets (Spurs, Wizards, Hornets, at Heat)

    The Nets are playing four teams that are stuck between the 7th and 11th seeds in their respective conferences.  They are only 3.5 games ahead of the 9th seed and they are playing three teams that could challenge them for a playoff spot.  I consider this to be a “best” schedule because they are going to be on top of their game since they are fighting for the playoffs and playing three of these games at home.  Specifically, expect D’Angelo Russell to have an outstanding week, with other players having random good performances.  Russell, Jarrett Allen, and Joe Harris are the must-starts for this week. Look out for a competitive week from the Nets.

    Worst Schedule: 76ers (at Pelicans, at Thunder, Warriors)

    The 76ers are playing two road games and one home game in their three games this week.  The first game of their week is the easiest, as they are playing the Pelicans on the road.  However, their next two games are against the Thunder on the road and the Warriors at home.  The Thunder are an outstanding defensive team and have played great basketball led by Paul George and Russell Westbrook, so this will be a tough game to win. The Warriors have five All-Stars (two of which have won an MVP) and are starting to look like the team everyone thought they would be heading into the season.  This will likely be a tough week for the 76ers, but feel free to use the starting lineup in fantasy as they are the only ones who should maintain their value and just too good to bench.

    Game of the Week: Celtics at Raptors on Tuesday, February 26th at 8 PM ET

    The Celtics and Raptors are facing off on Tuesday in what should be another down-to-the-wire game. The Celtics have proven that they can beat the best teams in the East, but they have struggled against opponents such as the Bulls, who they lost to on Saturday. The Raptors have added Marc Gasol, Jodie Meeks, and Jeremy Lin from the deadline and buyout market, so they have added some strength since the last time these two teams faced off.  The Celtics will need to be on top of their game to compete with the new-look Raptors, but it should be an exciting game.  Tune in on Tuesday night.

    Waiver Wire Watch 

    Tyler Johnson – For the past two seasons, Johnson provided late-round value as a member of the Miami Heat. This season, he seemed to be falling off a bit and he was traded to the Phoenix Suns.  However, since joining the Suns he has started and fit into that role nicely.  He has not had phenomenal performances aside from his last game when he had 29 points, but his shots will start to fall consistently as he finds a groove with this tanking team.  He should be added in standard formats as he should provide no less than late-round value the rest of the season.

    Bobby Portis – Since joining the Wizards, Bobby Portis is hovering around top-60 value in six games played. In those games, he averaging 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 2.2 threes per game on 50% shooting.  Also, he is consistently seeing minutes in the upper-20’s despite coming off the bench and is their definitive sixth man (and occasional starter) right now.  He has been more productive thus far than he was in Chicago, and he has the ability to maintain middle-round value if he remains this efficient.  Give him a look if he is floating on the wire in your league.

    Joakim Noah – The Marc Gasol trade opened the door for Joakim Noah to see some meaningful minutes in Memphis.  Over the past four games, he is averaging 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists with 1.0 steals and 1.5 blocks on 57.1% shooting.  He is putting up these stats in just 22.9 minutes per game in that span, and his numbers are good for top-50 value in 9-cat leagues. Although he is coming off the bench behind Jonas Valanciunas (and had the benefit of JV missing one of those games, putting up 22 & 11), he is seeing minutes in the 20’s and should be able to maintain late-round value at the very least. Pick him up.

    Injury Report

    Jaren Jackson Jr. (right quad) will be out indefinitely with a right quad injury.  The Grizzlies do not have a lot to play for and only keep their first round pick if it falls inside the top-8, so they are likely in tank mode right now.  They will be cautious with Jackson Jr., so it could be a while before he returns to action, if at all, this season. Ivan Rabb and Joakim Noah should benefit the most from his injury.

    Another week without a lot of significant injuries, so here is the list of guys who are day-to-day: DeAndre’ Bembry, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, Aron Baynes, Otto Porter Jr., Tristan Thompson, Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber, Trey Lyles, Draymond Green, James Harden, Iman Shumpert, Myles Turner, Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, DeAndre Jordan, Frank Ntilikina, Joel Embiid, TJ Warren, Evan Turner

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

    Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!

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