The NBA is back from its All-Star break with three games to kick off the unofficial second half of the season. Friday’s slate features 14 games, so think of this as the appetizer to the main course that’s coming over the weekend. Each of the three games on Thursday features a great defensive team, with Utah visiting Washington, Cleveland hosting Chicago, and San Antonio taking a trip out west to play the Clippers. Keep the defensive prowess of those teams in mind as you’re building your lineups.
• MORE NBA: Cowboy Way: Dirk Nowitzki still loving the ride
All prices are courtesy of FanDuel and based on a $60,000 budget.
PG: Kyrie Irving ($7,900) vs. CHI: Forget about just rounding into form. Irving found his superstar groove over the last two weeks of the first half. He averaged 30.7 points, 6.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game in his last seven contests, clearly taking to the team’s new style under TyronnLue. Chicago is in the bottom-third of the league in fantasy points allowed to point guards per game, but the matchup is just the icing on the cake. Irving is back, yet he is still priced like a third-tier player at the position. Keep on taking advantage of that differential.
SG: Rodney Hood ($6,000) @ WAS: Hood cruised into the break a changed man, empowered by being one of the top two scoring options in Utah’s offense. Over his last 10 games, he averaged 20.4 real points and 28.4 fantasy points per game. The Wizards, meanwhile, have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to shooting guards this season, making this an ideal matchup for Hood to keep on rolling in his breakout campaign.
SF: LeBron James ($10,300) vs. CHI: We gave some consideration to Gordon Hayward in this spot, as well, but did not want to lean on both of the primary scorers from a team that isn’t necessarily known for its offense. James should be able to exploit a Bulls team that is missing Jimmy Butler, their best defender. Butler is one of the few players in the league who has been able to slow James down at all over the last few seasons, and now that responsibility will fall to the duo of Tony Snell and E’Twaun Moore. That’s great news for James.
PF: Taj Gibson ($5,100) @ CLE: Gibson suffered a minor foot injury in Chicago’s last game before All-Star Weekend, but head coach Fred Hoiberg pronounced him 100% for Thursday’s matchup with the Cavaliers. He slowed down a bit over the team’s last three games, but put up at least 24.6 fantasy points in six of his last 10 contests. That’s great production on a $5,100 price tag. The last time these teams met, Gibson went for 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
C: Rudy Gobert ($7,400) @ WAS: Gobert went into All-Star Weekend on the strength of three straight double doubles. During that stretch, he averaged 13 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, two assists and 34.5 fantasy points per game. He was at or above that number in three of the previous four games, as well. Gobert has turned into one of the safest investments at the center position, rarely scoring fewer than 30 fantasy points, while offering a ceiling that reaches into the mid-to-high-40s.