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

    The Eastern Conference race is as close as we have seen in several years as the fourth seed and tenth seed are just 1.5 games apart.  Let’s predict the end-of-season standings for the tight Eastern Conference!

    1. Nets– 49-23 (NBA-best second-half of the season incoming; Big 3 hit their stride)
    2. 76ers– 47-25 (Well-built roster and contender in the East)
    3. Bucks– 46-26 (Jrue Holiday coming back and they will get in a groove)
    4. Heat– 41-31 (The Heat are finally healthy and Jimmy Butler will lead them to a successful second-half of the season)
    5. Raptors– 40-32 (After a very slow start, they are red-hot and looking like a contender in the East)
    6. Celtics– 39-33 (They must make a move. Otherwise, they could sink down this list.)
    7. Knicks– 36-36 (Tom Thibodeau has turned this team into a legit playoff contender)
    8. Pacers– 36-36 (They are still without Caris LeVert and TJ Warren, so this is a mid-level team until then)
    9. Hornets– 35-37 (LaMelo Ball is making this team fun to watch and they should fight for a playoff spot down the stretch)
    10. Bulls- 34-38 (Zach LaVine can only will them so far. However, they will take the last spot in the play-in tournament)
    11. Wizards– 32-40 (The Wizards are starting to turn things around, but they will fall just short of the play-in tournament due to lack of supporting cast around Westbrook and Beal)
    12. Hawks- 31-41 (John Collins could be on the move and the Hawks are riddled with injuries. This team does not look as good on the court as they did on paper)
    13. Magic- 30-42 (Nikola Vucevic is everything for this team. He can’t do it all.)
    14. Cavs- 23-49 (The Cavs are a very young team and just don’t have enough fire-power to will the Cavs anywhere above a bottom-two seed in the East)
    15. Pistons- 21-51 (This team is bad. Jerami Grant is their best player, but he can’t do much as there is no support around him)

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    3 games: Nuggets, Pacers, Pelicans, Spurs, Trail Blazers

    2 games: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Mavs, Nets, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Suns, Thunder, Warriors, Wizards

    1 game: Wolves

    Best Schedule: Trail Blazers (vs. Hornets, vs. Warriors, vs. Kings)

    The Blazers have been holding up quite well with CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic out, so a strong finish to the first half of the season would mean a lot to a Blazers team that is trying to prove their level of contention.  Damian Lillard has proven that he shows up when it matters, but if the Blazers stay hot for the second half of the season they could be a scary team to face in the playoffs.  Gary Trent Jr. has emerged as one of the league’s best sharpshooters and has earned a prominent role in their rotation regardless of whether or not McCollum is active. Expect Enes Kanter, Lillard, Trent Jr., Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. to have a great week.

    Worst Schedule: Wolves (vs. Hornets)

    The Wolves remain one of the worst teams in the NBA and have a one game week before the All-Star break.  They are playing the Hornets who just pulled out a win against the Kings and have been playing some quality basketball.  D’Angelo Russell remains out and Malik Beasley is suspended, so expect Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns to go off.  They should be started, but anyone else aside from Ricky Rubio should not be considered in weekly lineups in standard formats.  The Wolves are not in a great position and should wind up with a top pick when the 2021 NBA Draft rolls around.

    Game of the Week: Jazz at 76ers on Wednesday at 7 PM ET

    The top seeds in each of their respective conferences will face off on Wednesday night in one the of the last games before the All-Star break.  The Jazz sit at 27-7 and the 76ers sit at 22-12, so this has the elements of a playoff-type feeling.  These two teams are extremely deep and we could see them pull out all the stops to bring home the victory.  All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will be battling All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in an important matchup to help the 76ers prove that they can compete with the elite teams in the West.  Tune in on Wednesday night for what should be one of the most entertaining and competitive games of the season.

    Waiver Wire Watch

    Jakob Poeltl– Over his last 10 games, Poeltl is a top-70 value in 9-cat formats and could have a strong second-half of the season.  The Spurs have been unable to get their games in lately due to COVID-19, but they should be back to normal after the All-Star break.  Poeltl is averaging 8.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game on 63.5-percent shooting over his last 10 games. Even with LaMarcus Aldridge now back, he should be able to maintain enough minutes to be worth rostering in standard formats as he has remained in the starting lineup.  Grab Poeltl in all formats as he is a valuable source of rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage.

    Danuel House Jr.- The Rockets have been dreadful without Christian Wood and there is a good chance that PJ Tucker and Victor Oladipo will not be on the team for much longer either. This is more of a speculative add than anything that has been proven by his play this season.  Last season, House finished just outside top-100 value in 9-cat formats alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden.  However, his role has decreased this season and his efficiency and defensive numbers have taken a hit as well.  If Tucker and Oladipo get moved, House could see enough minutes to return similar value to last season which would make him worth rostering in all formats.  Take a flier on House.

    Bruce Brown- The Nets remain a very thin and top-heavy team, but Brown is one player that can alter the landscape for the Nets and provide them with some tough wing defense.  While Kevin Durant has been out, Brown has started and thrived in that role next to James Harden.  He is a top-80 fantasy player in 9-cat formats over the past two weeks and has cemented his role in the Nets rotation as their main defensive presence on the wing.  Over those two weeks, he is averaging 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 57.9-percent shooting.  Pick up Brown in all formats as he could provide solid value in rebounds, steals and efficiency.  

    Injury/COVID-19 Report

    Kevin Durant (hamstring) will be out through the All-Star break due to his hamstring strain.  Domantas Sabonis replaced him on the All-Star roster.  Bruce Brown and Tyler Johnson should see the biggest boost in minutes.

    Pascal Siakam (COVID-19 protocols) will be out through the All-Star break.  The Raptors have been on fire so this is a tough blow for them.  Chris Boucher and DeAndre’ Bembry will see the biggest boost in minutes.

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to COVID-19 protocols:

    Jabari Parker, Hassan Whiteside, Derrick White, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to injuries:

    Danilo Gallinari, Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Taurean Prince, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, Jeremy Lamb, Malcolm Brogdon, LeBron James, Grayson Allen, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris, Mike Conley, Tyrese Haliburton

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

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

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