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The play-in games have been fun to watch even with blowouts. Thursday is the penultimate day of this format and features one game – the Washington Wizards versus the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is 8 p.m. ET.
The Wizards and Pacers are both in the top five in pace of play this season and are the top two teams over the past 15 games. The Over/Under is currently at 237 points but has fluctuated between that and 240.5, where the line opened. The expectation is a high-scoring game, and I agree. Indiana has averaged 115.1 points allowed per road game, while the Wizards average 119.1 points allowed per game at home. Both teams rank 25th or lower in points per game allowed on the season.
The Wizards swept the season series on the back of Russell Westbrook. In three games against the Pacers, Westbrook averaged 27.3 points, 18 rebounds, and 20 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field. Westbrook has assisted on 47.7% of his teammate’s baskets when he is on the floor.
Bradley Beal has admitted that his hamstring is an issue, and the eye test corroborates Beal’s testimony. He still took 25 shots in a loss to the Celtics but was ineffective for majority of the game. Indiana can take away the 3-pointer, which is a shot that Beal has leaned on at times. He was only 1-for-6 against Boston and must shoot more efficiently to give Westbrook and company the opportunity to spread the floor.
Davis Bertans may be the role player that is most negatively impacted by this matchup due to his dependence on 3-pointers.
Washington can beat Indiana with strong performances from its more athletic forwards and centers, such as Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford. Alex Len played poorly against Domantas Sabonis during the regular season, because Sabonis is one of the better facilitators and shooters at power forward/center. Not only does Gafford has a better chance to hang with Sabonis, but he can also take advantage of Sabonis’ defensive shortcomings.
Hachimura is one of my favorite targets after failing to contribute on Tuesday. We have seen Hachimura run hot at times this season. Now would be a good time to get hot against one of the worst interior defenses in the NBA.
The Pacers took advantage of what Charlotte does poorly — defending the 3. Indiana shot 45.7% from 3-point range (16-for-35). Neither Indiana nor Charlotte depends on long-range shots, and Indiana is the second-best team at defending the 3. This game will have to be won in the interior.
Indiana can do so with Sabonis and Oshae Brissett. Neither has a positive matchup according to Opponent Plus/Minus, but in a do-or-die game that matters less to me. Sabonis and Brissett were vital to Indiana’s victory on Tuesday. Sabonis was one assist shy of a triple-double and will be asked to perform similarly with Caris LeVert out due to health and safety protocols.
Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) is not at full strength yet still managed to play over 21 minutes. His final stat-line fell two assists shy of a double-double after previously missing 10 games. That is an impressive feat. Our NBA Model projects Brogdon to play over 31 minutes with the season on the line, and Brogdon boasts an 85% Bargain Rating on FanDuel.
Russell Westbrook ($16,000 FanDuel/$20,100 DraftKings)
Westbrook was not on top of his game on Tuesday and was shut down (in Westbrook terms) by Marcus Smart. Boston ensured that Westbrook’s his passing lanes were shut down as soon as possible and forced him to take bad shots. Indiana does not have the defensive pieces to do that. Westbrook will have to perform at an elite level if the Wizards want to advance. He is the top-rated MVP option according to the NBA Model.
Domantas Sabonis ($15,000 FanDuel/$16,800 DraftKings)
The savings on DraftKings especially secures Sabonis among the upper-tier Captain options. He rates just below Westbrook, and both players are top-four options on FanDuel and DraftKings. There is also a realistic chance that Sabonis achieves a triple-double and Westbrook does not, which makes Sabonis that much more valuable.
Malcolm Brogdon ($13,500 FanDuel/$15,000 DraftKings)
T.J. McConnell is going to be a popular pivot due to Brogdon’s injury, but I think the value and ceiling of Brogdon against a weaker defensive backcourt is enticing.
Daniel Gafford ($10,000 FanDuel/$4,400 DraftKings)
Remember that FanDuel has one set of prices when seeing the price discrepancy. Gafford rates as a top-10 play on DraftKings. His athletic talent and upside is why he is priced higher than Alex Len and Robin Lopez.
Goga Bitadze ($9,500 FanDuel/$4,200 DraftKings)
Indiana misses Myles Turner badly, and Bitadze is the team’s next-best option as a defensive-minded center. He has met or exceeded projections and scored double-digit points in three of four contests.
Ish Smith ($9,000 FanDuel, $7,800 DraftKings)
Smith has scored at least 20 FanDuel points and 21.75 DraftKings points in six straight games and was arguably Washington’s best player in Tuesday’s loss. Beal’s injury will keep Smith playing bigger minutes, and Smith should continue to accumulate defensive stats against better competition than Westbrook.
Pictured: Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards
Credit: Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images