Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard dunks
Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard dunks over Memphis Grizzlies' Steven Adams, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Nikki Boertman)

DFS NBA PICKS, JAN. 4

Mike Shara

Tonight’s schedule is relatively light with just 5 games on the slate, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a night you should take off. Sometimes working within the confines of a restricted number of options makes you more creative – just ask the White Stripes. Here are some options you should look at tonight. Just remember to make sure you check the latest updates to ensure that all of the players you’re selecting are playing tonight – Covid situations can arise at the last minute and nothing sabotages a good fantasy roster quite like a last minute DNP.

LEBRON JAMES, PG/SF, LA Lakers ($11,200 on DraftKings)
Right off the bat we have a player whose status for tonight’s game vs. Sacramento is somewhat in doubt. LBJ (you may have heard of him) has been nursing an abdominal injury for the last little while. It has done little to limit his fantasy production, though, as he has averaged just under 35 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and nearly 2 steals per game in his last 8 games. His injury status (he is still listed as probable) has lowered his DFS salary somewhat tonight, even though his Lakers are facing a Sacramento team that is ranked 26th in the NBA in overall defense. Make sure he doesn’t miss tonight’s game for the dreaded “load management” but if he’s in there, even at his high cost he’s still kind of a bargain tonight, given his recent production levels.

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DERRICK WHITE, PG, San Antonio ($7,200 on DraftKings)
Dejounte Murray is out tonight for the Spurs, despite having already been activated from the league’s Covid 19 Health and Safety protocols as the team is giving him additional time to improve his conditioning. His absence means continued high production from White at a relatively cheap price. Over his last 4 games he is averaging nearly 29 minutes, 15 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds, a block and a steal. San Antonio plays on the road tonight in Toronto against a Raptors team that is just starting to get healthy and has been playing better lately, but still ranks just 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating. This game could be a bit of an offensive shootout and White seems likely to be one of the main beneficiaries of that outcome.

FRED VANVLEET, PG, Toronto ($9,000 on DraftKings)
You saw in that last paragraph how I was talking about the chances of tonight’s San Antonio/Toronto game being a bit of an offensive juggernaut, right? Well, that benefits both teams and FVV is priced very reasonably for someone likely to be his team’s fantasy star night in and night out. After missing a few games on Covid protocols, FVV has averaged about 55 DFS points per game on DraftKings in his last two as he continues to quarterback a young Raptors team’s improving offensive package. San Antonio loves to play fast, which makes it very likely that an athletic Toronto team will have even more offensive possessions than usual tonight, only making Vanvleet’s profile even more appealing.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS, C, New Orleans ($9,200 on DraftKings)
In his first game back after a brief Covid-related absence, JV put up a very impressive stat line against Utah and the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (25 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists in 30 minutes). Tonight, the Pelicans are at home against an injury-riddled Phoenix team that will be missing both starting center DeAndre Ayton and his backup Javale McGee. With his conditioning likely back to normal levels and a much inferior level of talent attempting to defend him, Valanciunas looks primed to be a big fantasy contributor – even more so with Zion Williamson still out and Brandon Ingram still rusty after returning from an achilles injury.

DWIGHT HOWARD, C, LA Lakers ($4,000 on DraftKings)
The Lakers did not resign Stanley Johnson after his 10-day hardship contract expired on Monday. Johnson was quietly effective for Los Angeles in his brief stint, starting three games and keeping Howard in his backup role, despite Anthony Davis being out with an injury. However, now that Johnson is gone, Howard almost has to see an increase in minutes just out of sheer necessity. He averaged over 20 DFS points in the two games he started for L.A. just before Christmas, so if you’ve rostered more expensive players in other positions, Howard looks like a good roll of the dice to acquire some valuable contribution at a scarce position and at a relatively inexpensive cost.

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