• The NBA restart is less than a week away. Finally, we’re all going to get to enjoy some basketball action once again, even if it is for only eight more games. In times like this, when the world is dealing with huge issues like the COVID-19 virus, it’s comforting that we’re going to have NBA games to entertain us and to be thankful for. On that note, we at Hoop Ball are going to do a bit of a mini-preview for each division in the coming days.

    We’re going to kick off this series with the Central Division.

    Milwaukee Bucks

    Record: 53-12 (6.5 Games ahead of next team)

    Restart Opponents: Celtics, Rockets, Nets, Heat, Mavericks, Raptors, Wizards, Grizzlies

    Official Roster for the Restart: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Frank Mason, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Marvin Williams, D.J. Wilson

    Preview:

    The Bucks have a lot going for them heading into the restart. First of all, they’ve all but locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a six and a half game lead over the next team (Toronto Raptors). They’ve kept their roster intact from last season and have been cruising through the regular season at a comfortable pace thanks to improvement, yet again, of their star player and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. He managed to build further on his 2018-19 numbers and has been averaging 29.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 1.5 3PG, 5.8 APG, 1.0 SPG and 1.0 BPG on .547 shooting from the field and .635 shooting from the line.

    The team also got a big boost from second-year player Donte DiVincenzo, who emerged as a useful reserve for the team this season, adding to their already highly competitive depth. Robin Lopez has been a suitable backup to his twin brother, Brook, allowing the Bucks to keep their play consistent throughout the game.

    As far as COVID-19 impact goes, the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton were the only ones who tested positive. Bledsoe has since been cleared and has been practicing with the team in the Orlando bubble in Walt Disney World. Connaughton recently posted on social media that he’s feeling better and is on his way to join the team. This means that the Bucks will be in full force for the eight games.

    The Bucks have enough “easy opponents” (Nets & Wizards) to lock down the top seed. While that’s good for them and Bucks fans all over the world, it poses some risks from a fantasy basketball point of view, given that the team might choose to rest some of its key players heading into the playoffs, which still may or may not happen. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent hiatus that the NBA had to go through, there’s been a long gap where players both got to recover from injuries and rest up from the build up of fatigue. On the other side of the coin, the gap also meant that the players were not able to keep on playing basketball.

    For example, Giannis, who doesn’t own a basketball hoop where he lives, did not touch a basketball for over two and a half months, so it’s possible that he (and the Bucks) may want to get as many games in for him to get back into the flow of the game and ramp up for the playoffs. This is just one of the many repercussions and adjustments teams and players have to deal with in the wake of these very unique circumstances that we’re facing.

    Players to own in restart leagues: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo

    Indiana Pacers

    Record: 39-26 (Clinched Playoffs, currently 5th in Eastern Conference)

    Restart Opponents:  Sixers, Wizards, Magic, Suns,  Lakers, Heat, Rockets, Heat

    Official Roster for Restart: Goga Bitadze, Brian Bowen II, Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Alize Johnson, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Leaf, T.J. McConnell, Doug McDermott, Naz Mitrou-Long, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Jakarr Sampson, Edmund Sumner, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren

    Preview:

    While the Pacers have successfully clinched a playoff berth, they’ve gone through a rocky, up-and-down road heading into the NBA restart.

    At first, Victor Oladipo, who spent a good part of 2019-20 recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, said that he was going to sit out the NBA restart. The 28-year-old later changed his tune and eventually decided to join the Pacers in the NBA bubble in Orlando, though he still hasn’t completely committed to playing. That’s the good news.

    The bad news is that breakout star power forward Domantas Sabonis, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis, is apparently dealing with a more serious foot injury which prompted him to leave the NBA campus on July 25. It’s possible that the Pacers are going to take a cautious approach and get Sabonis’ foot right, hopefully before the playoffs, before letting him take to the hardwood and play. A worst-case scenario here would be that he ends up joining Jeremy Lamb (torn ACL) on the sidelines.

    The loss of Sabonis will be a big blow to the team overall. He emerged as a breakout double-double machine who became an offensive facilitator in the low post, not much unlike his famous dad, Arvydas Sabonis of the Portland Trail Blazers. Sabonis has been the best Pacer in fantasy season-to-date with averages of 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 0.7 SPG and 0.5 BPG on .541 shooting from the field in 34.8 minutes per game.

    Sans Sabonis, the Pacers will likely be deploying smaller lineups, moving T.J. Warren to play power forward and possibly starting Justin or Aaron Holiday.

    Back on the good-news trail, it appears that Malcolm Brogdon, who was dealing with a nagging quadricep injury earlier in the season (and then a COVID-19 diagnosis) is now healthy and the Pacers will hope to deploy him alongside Victor Oladipo, giving the team a potent two-way backcourt duo.

    The Pacers are only ahead of the currently sixth-seeded Sixers by virtue of tiebreakers and trail the Heat by two games, so the team will be playing for a chance to avoid a first-round playoff matchup against either the Raptors or the Celtics.

    Players to own in restart leagues: Myles Turner, T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, Justin Holiday

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