• 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 teams  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

  • Enes Kanter
    C, Boston Celtics

    Sean Deveney reported that "multiple agents say not all players are on board with an NBA return".

    One agent said, "Most of the guys are excited, fired up, they want to get back out there. Those are 95 percent of the conversations I have had". There are players that feel the money is not worth putting themselves and their families at risk. Enes Kanter weighed in on the topic, saying "there are some other team's players out there, that they don't want to play. They're like, 'It's just a game. I'm not going to risk my life". It is likely that the high-profile players will still play, but it looks like some role players may not be willing to take the risk to join their team when the NBA season resumes.

    Source: Heavy.com

  • Derrick Rose
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.

    Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.

    Source: James Edwards III

  • Zion Williamson
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.

    This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.

    This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Corey Brewer
    SF, Sacramento Kings

    Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.

    Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.

    Source: HoopsHype

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.

    This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.

    Source: TMZ

  • John Wall
    PG, Washington Wizards

    John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."

    Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.

    An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.

    With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Stephen Curry
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

    Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter