• OPPONENT: Indiana Pacers

    RECORD: 24-20 overall (10-10 on road, 5-5 last 10 games)

    MEASURABLES: 108.6 offensive rating (sixth), 106.6 defensive rating (21st), +2.1 net rating (eighth)

    PACERS PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Darren Collison, SG Victor Oladipo, SF Bojan Bogdanovic, PF Thaddeus Young, C Domantas Sabonis

    WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH10:00 EST, Moda Center (Portland), NBC Sports Northwest/FOX Sports Indiana

    The Indiana Pacers, that solid-green net rating be damned, aren’t the eighth-best team in the NBA. Nate McMillan has done an excellent job this season in Indianapolis, withstanding the summer departure of Paul George to reinvent his team in a new style and put his best players in varied positions to succeed. The Pacers aren’t world-beaters, but that hardly means the Portland Trail Blazers can take them lightly and expect to leave Moda Center with a victory on Thursday night – and one player is the biggest reason why.

    Victor Oladipo is a veritable lock to be named Most Improved Player at season’s end. A tireless and all-encompassing offseason training regimen, examined in great depth last month by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, turned the former top-five pick from one of the league’s most disappointing players into one of its most exciting young talents in just a few months’ time. More casual NBA fans who remember Oladipo most as the shaky building block of the Orlando Magic’s post-Dwight Howard rebuild, then Russell Westbrook’s bystander sidekick during a surreal MVP campaign will be shocked to find out the Pacers have a bonafide new franchise player.

    Oladipo’s improvement offensively is too sweeping to describe in detail at this space. His newfound ability to drain pull-up jumpers behind the arc and from mid-range looms largest, though, and further leverages the high-level dribbling and finishing craft he’s added to his game this season. Staying attached to his hip in ball-screen action and pursuing from behind is chief to keeping Oladipo in check, as is the second line of defense forming a wall at the rim and failing to fall for his plethora of feints around the basket.

    C.J. McCollum will get the first crack at defending Oladipo, while Pat Connaughton, Evan Turner and even Shabazz Napier could find themselves tasked with that unenviable primary assignment on Thursday, but limiting his effectiveness will be a team effort first and foremost. Oladipo had four games of at least 36 points last month, and is shooting 51.6 percent from the field in January, when the Pacers have gone 5-1 with him in the lineup. As its soon-to-be first-time All-Star goes, so does Indiana.

    Oladipo obviously isn’t the only player on McMillan’s roster having a banner year, though. Domantas Sabonis, son of Lithuanian legend and former Blazers star Arvydas, has been a similarly pleasant surprise for Indiana, reinvigorated by a shift in role compared to his rookie season that has the seven-footer making hay in the paint with his soft touch and bevy of moves and counter moves. Veteran point guard Darren Collison has never shot the ball better from the field or 3-point range. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph have also made strides from deep, while Lance Stephenson has revived his career given the additional playmaking latitude afforded him by McMillan – license that can still lead to as many befuddling moments as dazzling ones.

    Despite widespread improvement across the roster from three, Indiana relies more on mid-range jumpers than any team in the league, exactly the shots that Portland’s defensive scheme hopes to goad out of offenses. That seems a losing recipe for the Blazers on the surface, but only if they’re unable to offset the potential for a barrage of mid-range jumpers with sustained 3-point shooting. Portland has been hot from deep of late, and if that continues on Tuesday, the math should be in favor of Lillard and company.

    Indiana, like the Blazers, suffers from a lack of quality perimeter defenders on the ball. Oladipo has yet to make good on the raw defensive gifts that made him such a menace in college with the Indiana Hoosiers, and Collison’s proclivity for steals has long overstated his true impact on that side of the floor. Most telling of the Pacers’ deficiency here is that Bojan Bogdanovic has often been used as his team’s designated stopper this season. He’s woefully ill-equipped to defend the cat-quick likes of Lillard and McCollum, and the same can be said for Stephenson, whose discipline on that end comes and goes as one would expect from a player with his demeanor.

    Oladipo, then, will likely draw the same matchup he most often sees offensively. If McCollum can make him work on the other end, that will go a long way toward ensuring Oladipo doesn’t have another big scoring night, or at least has to sacrifice efficiency to get it.

    This is a game in which Jusuf Nurkic should be a deciding factor, especially given the absence of sweet-shooting Indiana center Myles Turner. He’ll try and corral Oladipo in pick-and-roll all game long while keeping an eye on the always-active Sabonis, and could create problems for the Pacers by consistently crashing the offensive glass. If Nurkic isn’t engaged early, as was the case against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, don’t be surprised if Terry Stotts again alters his rotation to account for that disappointment. Ed Davis will surely be a better option than Nurkic should that troubling penchant for a blunt playing edge again get the best of him.

    Portland enters Thursday’s action at 23-21, suddenly tied for sixth in the Western Conference. With another winnable game at home, the Blazers have a golden opportunity to begin distancing themselves from the pack of teams fighting for that final playoff spot. A mediocre performance or random in-game letdown will likely be too much to overcome against the Pacers, however, especially if Oladipo still has the hot hand.

    Was Portland’s occasionally dominant play against Phoenix the beginning of a midseason rejuvenation, or simply the byproduct of facing an inferior, undermanned foe? How the Blazers perform on Thursday will give us a partial answer one way or the other.

Fantasy News

  • Delon Wright
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Delon Wright scored an efficient 15 points off the bench for Dallas on 6-of-8 shooting, adding four rebounds, one assist and three steals in Saturday's win over Toronto.

    Wright played well and was extremely efficient for the Mavs. The three steals are great and his value lies within his abilities to generate defensive statistics.

  • Jerome Robinson
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    A career night for Jerome Robinson who scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, adding five 3's, four rebounds, one assist, two steals and two blocks in Saturday's win over the Hawks.

    Robinson got an extended run in tonight's 150-101 blowout win over the Hawks. A nice game for the second-year player.

  • Terance Mann
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Getting the start, Terance Mann scored a career-high 13 points in 33 minutes of action, adding six rebounds and eight assists in Saturday's blowout win over the Hawks.

    With teammate Patrick Beverley out, Mann got the start and made the most of it earning career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. This is a great game for him, and something for him to build off of, but this type of output should not be expected again pending prolonged injuries to Beverley.

  • Paul George
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Paul George was on fire in Saturday's 150-101 blowout win against the Hawks scoring 37 points in 20 minutes, adding four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

    In only his second game back from injury, George has scored 70 points in 44 minutes of total play. Needless to say he has already found his groove. Had the game not been a blowout from the start there is no telling how many more points he would have racked up. It is also worth noting that he shot 11-of-11 from the line tonight-coupled with the 10-of-10 from last game- he has not missed a FT yet. This torrid pace is probably not sustainable but the high usage and excellent efficiency, paired with "load-management" nights for teammate Kawhi Leonard, make George a possible top-10 player this year pending any re-occurring shoulder issues.

  • Trae Young
    PG, Atlanta Hawks

    Trae Young scored 20 points (4-of-16 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the line) on Saturday with six assists and two threes in a 150-101 blowout loss vs. the Clippers.

    The Hawks were destroyed on Saturday so throw this game out the window. Young is a top-30 player so far with averages of 26.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 3.3 threes. Forget about this game and enjoy watching Trae post top-20 value this season.

  • Ivica Zubac
    C, Los Angeles Clippers

    Ivica Zubac fouled out in only 17 minutes of play after scoring seven points, nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks in Saturday's win over the Hawks.

    In less than 16 minutes a game this season Zubac is providing top-100 value thanks to highly efficient FG and FT percentage, high rebounds and good blocks without hurting owners anywhere. He is an easy player to own that can be picked up and dropped on the waiver-wire without raising too many eyebrows.

  • De'Andre Hunter
    SF, Atlanta Hawks

    De'Andre Hunter struggled from the floor on Saturday, shooting 5-of-14 on his way to scoring 12 points.

    Hunter added a steal and a three but he is hurting more than he is helping by shooting .369 from the field this season. The drag on field goal percentage is too big to warrant rostering Hunter right now outside of deeper leagues.

  • Montrezl Harrell
    PF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Montrezl Harrell scored 17 points in a blowout win over the Hawks, adding four rebounds, two assists and a block in 23 minutes off the bench Saturday night.

    Harrell would have picked up a few more boards and points had the game been tighter but found his services not needed in this blowout win. He will continue to provide great energy off the bench for the Clippers and a high FG percentage, points, and rebounds for fantasy owners.

  • Lou Williams
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Lou Williams scored an easy 25 points off the bench in Saturday's win over the Hawks on 5-of-13 from the field and a perfect 15-of-15 from the line, also adding six rebounds and six assists.

    In 23 minutes off the bench Williams scored 25 points, making more free throws than shots attempted. In this crazy game Williams was able to get to the line with ease and made a mockery of the Hawks' young defenders, who failed to adhere to the scouting report and fell for pump-fakes. This was an excellent game for the 14th-year guard.

  • Damian Jones
    C, Atlanta Hawks

    Damian Jones started and scored 11 points (4-of-7 from the field) on Saturday with three rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes.

    Jones and Alex Len (five points in 18 minutes on Saturday) are currently fighting for playing time at center. Jones and Len are both low-end streaming options for big man stats, but neither player can be relied on right now.