• There are five games on the schedule for Thursday, March 24th, and we at Hoop Ball are here to help guide you to the games that you don’t want to miss.

    The Honorable Mentions: The Pelicans face the Pacers and the Bulls head to MSG to take down the Knicks.

    Now for Thursday’s ‘must watch’ games of the night.

    Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Tip Time: 8 pm (est)

    Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

    Player Matchup: Gordon Hayward and Kevin Durant

    After defeating the Rockets on Wednesday, the Jazz took sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Now if they wish to stay in the playoff picture, the team will have to find a way to slow down the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

    “It feels good to know we’re still in it,” Favors said. “But we’re not in there yet so we’ve got to continue to work hard, play hard and keep winning games.”

    Utah (35-36) has been rolling as of late, winning four out of their last five games. Though they are not the most offensively gifted team, the Jazz earn their wins on the defensive side of the floor. Over their last five games they have held their opponents to an average of 83.6 points per game. No opposing team in the Jazz’s past seven has even crossed 100 point mark.

    Gordon Hayward filled the stat sheet against the Rockets, finishing the game with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Derrick Favors, who converted the game-sealing dunk with 1.6 seconds left, had himself a nice night finishing the game with 17 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

    The Thunder (49-22) enter Thursday’s game on a five-game winning streak. They have been on a scoring tear averaging 119 points per game and defeating their opponents by an average of 15.4 points per contest.

    A big reason for the team’s success has been the play of Russell Westbrook, who just notched his 15th triple-double of the season against the Rockets on Tuesday – which is the most in one season since Magic Johnson had 17 in the 1988-89 season.

    Utah has faced this Thunder three times already this season and in each matchup they have come up short. A win today could give the Jazz sole possession of the seventh seed but a loss would make them surrender their playoff position to the Rockets.

    Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

    Tip Time: 10:30 pm (est)

    Where: Staples Arena, Los Angeles, CA

    Player Matchup: Damian Lillard and Chris Paul

    Both teams are entering this matchup on the second night of a back-to-back.  Both are looking to keep breathing room over the teams directly behind them in the standings.

    Damian Lillard has been amazing over his last 10 games averaging 28.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, his great play has not resulted in wins as the Blazers are just 5-7 through the month of March.

    Lillard has struggled in the three meetings against the Clippers this season averaging 18 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting an abysmal 34.5 percent from the field. The three-year veteran understands that the playoffs are quickly approaching and that his team needs to start defending opposing teams if they want to make the playoffs.

    “We are in control of where we want to be if we can finish this thing out the right way, but we have got to defend the way we did (during an 18-4) stretch,” Lillard said.

    The Blazers’ (37-35) defense has been awful as of late. Over the last five games they have surrendered 118.6 points per game to their opponents.

    The Clippers (43-27) are struggling right now and they enter Thursday’s matchup looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The team’s defense has been terrible giving up 110 points per game to their opponents. This has led the team to a 4-7 record through the month of March.

    Chris Paul has done what he can as the team’s leader to make sure the ship does not sink as Blake Griffin makes his way back from injury. Paul has averaged 19.6 points, 11 assists and 2.4 steals per game over his last 10 games. However, against the Blazers he has not played like his usual self.  In the three meeting against Portland, he has averaged 14 points and 11 assists while shooting just 38.1 percent from the field.

    This game is going to be an offense-heavy type of game and with its playoff implications you can expect these teams to get at it.

Fantasy News

  • Kevin Durant
    SF, Brooklyn Nets

    There is some optimism in league circles about Kevin Durant's (Achilles) chances of playing this season, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

    Looking back on Durant's decision to return during the Finals, the Nets may want to exude caution when considering KD's return to action. However, Durant is pursuing his rehab with a sense of purpose, and it would be great to see him get back on the court this season. We'll keep you posted when a real timeline on Durant's rehab emerges. This news does not make him a target on draft day for standard leagues.

    Source: New York Post

  • Larry Nance Jr.
    PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Larry Nance Jr. is the presumed favorite to start at PF heading into training camp according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

    Fedor went on to speculate that Nance Jr. could see a lot of time at the four while Kevin Love starts at center and Tristan Thompson and John Henson compete for back up minutes behind those two. Any uptick in playing time would be a huge boost to the per-minute dynamo that Nance Jr is, and a starting role with a new coaching staff bodes well for that. He's trending in the right direction.

    Source: Cleveland.com

  • Kevin Knox
    SF, New York Knicks

    Coach Fizdale told the Knicks players that no starters have been determined and players had to earn their minutes.

    Kevin Knox will battle with veteran Marcus Morris for the starting small forward spot. Knox has been working on getting his body stronger to be able to take on more contact on drives to the basket. Last season as a rookie, he averaged 12.8 points on a putrid 37 percent from the field. Knox will look to get more looks closer to the basket and increase his field goal percentage to more respectable levels. Knox provided little else outside of points and rebounds last season and will need to improve his shooting and defense to be considered a standard-league player.

    Source: New York Post

  • Bol Bol
    C, Denver Nuggets

    According to Nick Kosmider of The Athletic, Bol Bol could spend his entire rookie season in the G-League.

    Bol Bol was not drafted to be an immediate impact player, but just fell too late fore the Nuggets liking. The 44th overall pick needs to bulk up and show that he could take the bumps and bruises before having his chance on the big stage.

    Source: Nick Kosmider of The Athletic

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    After speaking with Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank, Dan Woike's takeaway is that Kawhi Leonard's "load management" will not be as strict as it was last year.

    It was reported in July that Kawhi said he wants to play all next season fully and approach load management on a game-to-game basis so this is further confirmation that he will most likely play more than the 60 games he played last year but surely won't play all 82 either. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports speculates that this could be for several reasons. One could be that Leonard can take on more now that he is a little healthier while he believes the Clippers might also limit his per-game minutes to help him play more games. The other idea is that because the Western Conference is so deep, the Clippers will not be able to get a good seed if Leonard sits too many games. Fantasy wise, Leonard finished last season seventh in per game value but 18th in total value since he played only 60 games. Near the top of the second round would be a great place to snag him if he plays around 70 games this season.

    Source: Dan Woike on Twitter

  • Malik Beasley
    SG, Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets want to extend Malik Beasley and Juan Hernagomez before the October 21 deadline.

    The Nuggets already locked up one of their 2016 first-round picks (Jamal Murray) to a long-term deal and now want to do the same with their other two 2016 first-round picks, Hernangomez and Beasley. If not, the two will likely become restricted free-agents at the end of the season. Both players saw stretches of big minutes last season due to injuries but at full health, Beasley was around 20 minutes per game while Hernangomez was at around 10. Fantasy wise, neither player puts up big defensive stats but Beasley is a very efficient shooter with low turnovers, knocking down 2.0 triples per game last year, putting him near top-150 value at only 23.2 minutes per game. Hernangomez is a decent rebounder and knocked down 0.9 triples per game but he would need closer to 30 minutes per game to be a factor in standard leagues.

    Source: Denver Post

  • OG Anunoby
    SF, Toronto Raptors

    Coach Nick Nurse intends to put OG Anunoby "back out there in a primary role."

    With Kawhi Leonard vacating the starting small forward spot, Anunoby is the leading candidate to take the role. Before the arrival of Leonard, Anunoby started 62 games in his rookie season. Last season he started 6 out of 67 games, and missed the entire playoffs due to an emergency appendectomy. He averaged 7.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks over 20.2 minutes per game, while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor, 33.2 percent from 3-point range and 58.1 percent from the free-throw line. He can be picked up as a late round flier in drafts.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Daryl Macon
    PG, Miami Heat

    The Heat have signed Daryl Macon.

    Macon getting picked up by another NBA squad after a solid Summer League campaign is not a shocker. If he were to crack the rotation he would post a nice assist rate, but it is unlikely Macon will be getting playing time unless something goes terribly wrong for the Heat this season.

    Source: NBA

  • Tahjere McCall
    F, Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks signed Tahjere McCall from their Summer League team.

    This is just a depth signing for the Hawks. He shouldn't see much court time on the NBA floor if he makes the main roster out of camp

    Source: Kevin Chouinard on Twitter

  • Thabo Sefolosha
    SF, Houston Rockets

    Marc Stein is reporting that the Rockets will sign Thabo Sefolosha.

    Sefolosha was among the names at a recent mini camp, and he should make for a nice fit as a defensive stopper off the bench. The Rockets have a pretty thin group of reserves so we'd expect Sefolosha to be a regular rotation player, which puts him on the board as a steals specialist in deep leagues.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter