• There are eight games on the slate for this Thursday night in the NBA, and Hoop Ball is here to guide you to the games that you’re not going to want to miss.

    (*Quick note: I was recently asked, ‘what are the honorable mentions?’ The ‘honorable mentions’ are listed for you as a backup plan in case the listed ‘must watch’ games turn out to be duds.)

    The Honorable Mentions: The Trail Blazers look to take down the Spurs, a hobbled Bulls team faces off against the Nets and the Nuggets will go up against the Hawks.

    Now for the ‘must watch’ games on Thursday night.

    Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers

    Tip Time: 7 pm (est)

    Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

    Player Matchup: DeMar DeRozan and Paul George

    The Raptors (45-21), a franchise that has never made it past the first-round of the playoffs, is poised to lock up at least the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has gone 4-1 through their last five games, giving them a six and a half game lead over the third-seeded Miami Heat.

    With just 16 games left in the season, head coach Duane Casey has said that he will start resting his players with the playoffs drawing near. Casey stuck to his word, as he rested DeMar DeRozan on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

    There was word swirling from the beat writers in Toronto hinting that either DeRozan or Kyle Lowry would get rested on Wednesday, and Casey chose to go with DeRozan. The game against the Bucks turned into a blowout, and that allowed Casey to rest Lowry in the fourth quarter.

    I would expect to see both guys in the lineup tonight, but be sure to stay close to Hoop Ball for updates on the status of these two players before tip-off.

    Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is currently listed as ‘questionable’ for tonight’s game. The fourth-year center re-injured his broken (left) hand in Monday’s loss to Chicago. The good news is that the hand is not broken, and has been diagnosed as a hand contusion.

    “It feels better than last time,” Valanciunas said about the injury. “It’s not broken. I didn’t re-break it. The X-rays were negative. So, we’re going to take it day-by-day.”

    If Valanciunas is to miss more time, replacing him would be the 23-year-old Bismack Biyombo. When filling in for Valanciunas earlier in the year, Biyombo was putting up some very nice numbers averaging 6.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. (For $4,200 on FanDuel, Biyombo becomes a great play.)

    The Pacers (36-31) currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and hold a two-game lead over the Pistons and Bulls. The Pacers’ schedule gets easier down the stretch, with just six of their last 15 games against teams with a record above (.500). Also, 10 of those final 15 games will be played on their home court.

    Indiana is a team that relies heavily on the production of Paul George, and rightfully so, the guy is a stud. In 67 games this season, George is averaging 23.4 points, seven rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. However, in the previous two meetings against the Raptors, George has averaged just 16.5 points while shooting a miserable 30 percent from the field.

    The Pacers have undergone a big change from last season to this season. Losing Roy Hibbert and David West in their frontcourt caused Indiana to search for both young and experienced talent to their roster to sustain a strong team without having to go through a full rebuild.

    Getting guys like Monte Ellis, Jordan Hill and drafting Myles Turner has given this team a depth of talent. Though the talent seems to be there, the production from George’s supporting cast is inconsistent but George still notices the potential that his team holds.

    “I see potential, a lot of potential for this team to go forward with momentum,” George said. “We got a chance to move up. With 15 games left, nothing is set in stone, we’re still right there.”

    If the season were to end today, these two teams would be duking it out in the first round of the playoffs. The series between these two teamsĀ  is currently split 1-1 through two meetings.

    Charlotte Hornets vs. Miami Heat

    Tip Time: 7:30 pm (est)

    Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL.

    Player Matchup: Kemba Walker and Goran Dragic

    This is another game — that if the season ended today — these two teams would be matched together in the first round of the playoffs. There is also more importance to this game than some may actually realize, as these two Southeast Division rivals are separated by just one game at the top of the standings.

    “You know it’s really go time,” Dwyane Wade said. “You really understand every team is trying to play their best basketball right now. This is the time of the year where it gets harder. You have to take care of games.”

    The Heat (39-28) have quietly been flying under the radar, going 6-4 over their last 10 games. Wade, in his 13th season in the NBA, is still putting up All Star numbers averaging 19.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Over his last 10 games he has been averaging 20 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game at the advanced age of 34. The former champ is proving that he can still carry a team, even if he will need help to make any real noise in the playoffs.

    Heat’s center Hassan Whiteside is listed as a ‘game-time decision’ for this game as he is currently dealing with soreness in his left foot, but it appears that the Heat do expect him to play.

    The Hornets (38-29) are becoming one of my favorite teams to watch on NBA League Pass. Kemba Walker has been spectacular this season, averaging 21.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

    Charlotte is sitting just a half-game back of both the Celtics and the Hawks for the fifth and sixth seed. The Hornets have the potential to go from their current seventh-seeded position and jump to fifth within the final 15 games of the regular season.

    “If you look at the last 10 years, 75 percent of the home teams won in the first round,” head coach Steve Clifford said. “The only seeding that’s not where the home team didn’t win most was the 4-5 (matchup). We have to concentrate. That to me is the carrot.”

    These two teams have faced each other three times already this season and Charlotte currently holds the tie-breaker, winning two of those three games. So let’s just review what this game has at stake – first place in the division, owning the tie-breaker and moving up in the standings. Yeah, this is by all accounts a ‘must watch’ game.

Fantasy News

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    In a recent fan question session Bucks' GM Jon Horst hinted towards signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a supermax extension when eligible.

    Horst mentioned that he cannot technically discuss an extension until he is eligible, but said Antetokounmpo will be a Buck for a long time. The Greek Freak will be eligible next summer and is all but sure to get a supermax extension.

    Source: Fox Sports Wisconsin on Twitter

  • Tacko Fall
    C, Boston Celtics

    Tacko Fall (mild knee sprain) is expected to miss one week after a collision in workouts.

    With training camp two weeks away, Fall should be ready to roll by then. He is currently on an Exhibit 10 contract, battling for the final roster spot with Javonte Green (partially guaranteed) and Kaiser Gates (Exhibit 10). Fall is an intriguing talent at 7'7" but is not expected to be fantasy relevant in his first season even if he does make the team with the Celtics already carrying four center eligible players on guaranteed contracts.

    Source: Jared Weiss on Twitter

  • Nicolas Batum
    SG, Charlotte Hornets

    According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been informed that, "The agenda is youth and development."

    The article adds that both players will have a chance to compete for minutes but the Hornets' top priority will be to develop their younger players which bodes well for Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, P.J. Washington and Willy Hernangomez. Miles was already putting up near top-100 value to close the season at around 25 minutes per game while the rest of the players could all produce fantasy value if given the minutes so they should at least be put on the watch list to see how the preseason plays out.

    Source: Charlotte Observer

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting and drained seven triples as Serbia topped Czech Republic 90-81 to finish in 5th place.

    Bogdanovic also added four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block and was certainly one of the most impressive players in the tournament. Although he has the talent to be a successful full-time starter, the 27-year old will likely be relegated to a similar 25-27 minute, off-the-bench role he played last season with Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and newly added Trevor Ariza also on the wings. Nikola Jokic also did his usual thing this game with seven points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. Boban Marjanovic and Nemanja Bejlica were not really involved in this one, playing only two and eight minutes, respectively.

    Source: FIBA

  • Donovan Mitchell
    SG, Utah Jazz

    Donovan Mitchell scored 16 points with 10 assists as US beat Poland 87-74 on Saturday to finish seventh place in the tournament.

    Mitchell was an efficient 5-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from downtown but the bigger story of course was USA's disappointing showing as this was only the second time that they finished outside the top-3 in the FIBA World Cup since 1978. Kemba Walker (neck), Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Marcus Smart (hand/quad/calf) all sat out the final game as they now have two weeks to rest before the start of training camp.

    Source: FIBA

  • Evan Fournier
    SF, Orlando Magic

    Evan Fournier scored 16 points to lead France in their semifinal loss to Argentina by the score of 80-66.

    This was a really poor showing all around in an elimination game by the French team. Fournier scored an inefficient 16 and was joined by Frank Ntilikina's 16 as two of just three French players in double figures.

  • Rudy Gobert
    C, Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert was invisible in France's loss to Argentina in the semifinals of the FIBA World Cup, scoring just three points and pulling down 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.

    This just wasn't enough from Gobert, who couldn't impose his will against a weaker Argentina squad on paper. Joining him in the "forgot there was a game" club was Nicolas Batum, who consistently finds a way to do nothing in heavy minutes. Batum's line in this one was a paltry three points (1-of-6 shooting), five boards, one assist and a block.

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills was the star for Australia, scoring 34 points and hitting four triples against Spain, but Australia fell in double overtime 95-88.

    Mills did as much as he could but he just didn't get enough help from his supporting cast. Joe Ingles couldn't find the basket and only had four points (to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists). With that off night of shooting from Ingles, the Aussies needed someone like Matthew Dellavedova (six points) or Aron Baynes (six points) to step up.

  • Ricky Rubio
    PG, Phoenix Suns

    Ricky Rubio approached a triple-double in the semi-final win over Australia with 19 points, seven boards and 12 assists in 38 minutes.

    It was another big line for Rubio in the semis, who has been a stalwart for this Spanish run to the finals. He was inefficient from the field (6-of-19) but ran the offense well and should be a factor again in the final game.

  • Marc Gasol
    C, Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol carried Spain to the FIBA World Cup Final in a double-OT win over Australia, finishing with 33 points, six rebounds and four assists.

    Gasol had a great outing to lift Spain here and they should have a great shot at winning the title against Argentina. We'll see how this high workload summer affects him going into the new season.