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NBA Playoffs: First-Round DFS Preview

Alex Barutha

Alex writes primarily about the NBA for RotoWire. His work has appeared on CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and other sites. He enjoys both year-long and daily fantasy. Vince Carter and Alex both first dunked during their respective sophomore years of high school.

As the playoffs begin, year-long fantasy leagues have come to an end. But if you still need your fix of DFS, youíve come to the right place. Below, Iíve outlined each first-round matchup, highlighting certain players who may play above or below their season averages.

Western Conference

Houston (1) vs. Minnesota (8)

Houston dominated this matchup during the regular season, completing the four-game sweep of Minnesota. However, despite averaging 51.6 fantasy points across the matchup, James Harden was held to just 38.5 percent shooting -- down significantly from his season mark of 44.9 percent. Depending on his Game 1 price, he could be worth fading out of the gate, as the tandem of Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins have caused him problems in the past. Chris Paul and Clint Capela played up to expectations and should make for solid options in DFS, though Iíd have more faith in Capela not to let me down, as the Timberwolves are below average defending centers and above average defending point guards based on Defense vs. Position.

As expected, considering they lost all four games, most Wolves players struggled. The most drastic were Jimmy Butler (31.6 fantasy points) and Taj Gibson (15.1 fantasy points). But, Karl-Anthony Towns (54.2 fantasy points) played well above par compared to his season mark of 44.3 fantasy points per game. Iíll be targeting him heavily in the first round for DFS, as I donít think the Rockets have the personnel to guard him effectively. Jeff Teague also played above average, though I have concerns about Chris Paul turning up his level of defense during the postseason.

Oklahoma City (4) vs. Utah (5)

The Thunder won the regular-season series 3-1. Of note, Carmelo Anthony outpaced his average of 27.5 fantasy points to post 32.0 fantasy points per game against Utah, though only managed to shoot 38.7 percent from the field. Conversely, Steven Adams struggled against Rudy Gobert, collecting only 25.4 fantasy points per game against the Jazz, compared to his season average of 31.5. Russell Westbrook and Paul George both produced average outings.

Similarly, Gobert also struggled against Adams, seeing his average fantasy points dip by 9.0 per game when facing the Thunder. Derrick Favors couldnít get things to fall, either, averaging only 18.7 fantasy points against OKC. Finally, Ricky Rubio looked out of sorts against Russell Westbrook, posting just 18.2 fantasy points per contest in the series.

Overall, I canít find much to like about this series from a DFS standpoint, especially considering the Thunder are middle-of-the-pack in pace and the Jazz rank 25th.

Portland (3) vs. New Orleans (6)

This regular-season series was split 2-2, though the Pelicans were rarely healthy during those contests. In fact, the only players to have appeared in all four games for New Orleans were Darius Miller, EíTwaun Moore, Jrue Holiday and Ian Clark. And DeMarcus Cousins was the teamís leading fantasy player in the matchup by a 10.9 fantasy-point margin, further complicating things. So, it may help us more to look at Portlandís Defense vs. Position. The Blazers are essentially middle-of-the-road for every position except point guard, where they allowed the fewest fantasy points to point guards during the regular season. Rajon Rondo, then, may be someone to avoid.

All of the notable fantasy players for Portland hovered around their season averages. While Damian Lillard saw a bump of about five fantasy points per game, that wouldnít feel like too much to read into considering the Pelicansí plethora of injuries, except for the fact that the Pelicans allowed the third-most fantasy points to point guards on the season. Heís certainly worth a strong look out of the gate in DFS. New Orleans also allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to shooting guards and fifth-most to power forwards on the campaign. So, donít be afraid to fire up C.J. McCollum, either, or save some money by slotting in Al-Farouq Aminu for Game 1.

Golden State (2) vs. San Antonio (7)

The Warriors took this regular-season series 3-1, though Draymond Green was the only one of the Warriorsí core players to appear in all four contests. Overall, the Spurs did a poor job of keeping anyone in check, allowing most Warriors players to hover around their season averages. Thatís despite the fact that the Spurs allowed just the sixth-fewest fantasy points to point guards on the campaign, the fewest fantasy points to shooting guards, sixth-fewest to small forwards and fourth-fewest to power forwards. To me, this means that Warriors players may make for good cash game plays, but could struggle reaching big value in tournaments.

Two players who could make for quality tournament plays, however, are LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyle Anderson. The Warriors failed to contain Aldridge, allowing him to collect 49.6 fantasy points per game compared to his season average of 40.2. Anderson holds a season average of 24.2 fantasy points per game in 26.7 minutes -- marks that jump to 37.5 fantasy points across 28.1 minutes against the Warriors. No other player on San Antonio posted more than 23.8 fantasy points per game against Golden State, that specific mark belonging to Dejounte Murray.

Eastern Conference

Toronto (1) vs. Washington (8)


No team held the advantage during the regular season, splitting the series 2-2. For Toronto, things really only went smoothly for DeMar DeRozan, who saw a 7.5 fantasy-point bump compared to his season average. Then, across the rest of the roster, things get ugly. Kyle Lowryís average dropped by 6.6 fantasy points per game, Serge Ibakaís by 5.5 and Jonas Valanciunasí by 9.6. Thatís especially concerning, as John Wall did not play against Toronto this season while he dealt with his knee injuries. Personally, for DFS, those numbers really only make me confident in DeRozan, unless Lowry, Ibaka and Valanciunas are assigned lower-than-expected salaries.

As mentioned, Wall did not take the floor against Toronto this season. So what can we expect out of him in this series? Defense vs. Position suggests heíll play below average, as the Raptors allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to point guards on the campaign. But, for what itís worth, he posted 52.0 fantasy points per game against Toronto last season. Itís not an easy call. And, as a result of Wallís absence from the series, Bradley Bealís numbers are inflated. DvP suggests heíll see a drastic drop when playing more off-ball at shooting guard, as Toronto allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to the position on the campaign.

If youíre looking to play in a DFS tournament, I might take a chance on Marcin Gortat. Coach Scott Brooks played Gortat about five minutes more per game against the Raptors than on average -- Gortat responding by posting 5.0 more fantasy points per game against Toronto than his season average.

Cleveland (4) vs. Indiana (5)

Indiana surprisingly took this season series 3-1 despite the Cavsí core players being healthy for at least three out of the four tilts. Always of interest in fantasy, Myles Turner played in just one of the contests, posting an impressive 15 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and three assists for 36.9 fantasy points -- much better than his season average of 28.2 fantasy points. However, I expect that to regress to the mean throughout the series, as the Cavs have given up the 11th-fewest fantasy points to centers on the campaign. Aside from Turner, Darren Collison was surprisingly the greatest beneficiary of the matchup. Despite averaging just 26.9 fantasy points on the season, Collison posted 36.5 fantasy points per game against Cleveland on the back of 18.0 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals. That matches up with Clevelandís DvP against point guards, as they allowed the second-most fantasy points to the position on the campaign.

The two primary fantasy interests on Cleveland, LeBron James and Kevin Love, both played well against the Pacers, each seeing roughly a four-fantasy-point boost to their average when matched up against Indiana. As far as the teamís role players go, Cleveland didnít end up facing Indiana following their massive overhaul at the trade deadline. George Hill only faced the Pacers once while he was in Sacramento, posting 16.2 fantasy points, but itís hard to extrapolate anything from that considering his role, or lack thereof, with the Kings. It is worth noting, however, that the Pacers have given up the third-fewest fantasy points to point guards on the season, so Hill doesnít appear to be in a great spot. The story is the same for Rodney Hood, who faced the Pacers once while he was in Utah, managing just 15.4 fantasy points. The Pacers have fared well against small forwards, allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to the position on the season.

Philadelphia (3) vs. Miami (6)

This series was split 2-2 during the regular season. Though Ben Simmons played up to par, Joel Embiid (eye) struggled against Hassan Whiteside, dipping about 10 fantasy points below his season average when matched up against Miami. Whiteside is one of the few centers in the league who can physically go toe-to-toe with Embiid, so fading The Process in DFS might be advisable, assuming he plays in the series. Robert Covington has also struggled against the Heat, losing 6.6 fantasy points off his season average in the matchup. One beneficiary, however, has been Dario Saric, who has seen his production rise from 27.3 fantasy points to 33.9 when up against Miami.

Though Hassan Whiteside adds about four fantasy points to his average when playing the 76ers, the rest of the team has been below par and could be worth avoiding in DFS. Plus, considering how deep the Heat are, itís tough to tell where the minutes will get distributed on a nightly basis, as coach Erik Spoelstra likes to change his rotation based on matchup and game script. That said, the only position the 76ers defend at an above average rate is power forward. Overall, Iíve had little faith in Heat players for DFS all season, and that doesnít change here.

Boston (2) vs. Milwaukee (7)

Neither team could pull ahead during the regular season, with the series being split 2-2. Al Horford stood out the most for Boston, seeing his fantasy points per game rise from 32.0 to 40.6 per game when matched up against Milwaukee, which lacks a significant presence at center. The team dynamics have changed with Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart out of the picture, however, so looking at the Bucksí DvP may help us more here than analyzing previous games. Notably, the Bucks allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to shooting guards. So, it might be best to avoid Jaylen Brown right out of the gate.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has fared well against Boston, seeing roughly a six-fantasy-point-per-game spike within the matchup. Everybody else of note played up to expectations, minus Eric Bledsoe, who has averaged just 24.7 fantasy points against Boston compared to 34.7 on the season. Jabari Parker, who played just one game against the Celtics this seaso

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