One month ago if you were to suggest that the Raptors would be underdogs in a match-up versus the Pacers, you would have been dismissed immediately, but that suggestion may not be so far-fetched now.
The Raptors have disposed of the Pacers twice already this season, getting big performances from their backcourt on both occassions. In their first match-up on December 12th at the Air Canada Center, Lou Williams scored 26 points off the bench, Jonas Valanciunas out-rebounded Roy Hibbert 14-2, and the Raptors out-scored the Pacers 50-32 in the paint.
About a month and a half later, the Raptors went into the Fieldhouse for another victory behind DeRozan’s 24 points, Kyle Lowry’s near triple-double, and 42 points from the second unit.
Tonight, the Raptors travel to Indiana with little trace of the confidence that was apparent in those two victories.
Two wins and ten losses make up their record in the last twelve games.
What you need to know about the Pacers…
Straight up, Indiana is on the rise. Before slipping against the Celtics – a direct rival for that 7th/8th seed – on Saturday, the Pacers had won 7 straight. The improved play brings them up to 5 games below .500, and 3.5 games behind Milwaukee who lie 6th.
The ressurgence will make for a very interesting end to the Eastern Conference playoff race between Indiana, Boston, Miami, and Charlotte, who are all one game away from each other.
If you really want to measure just how good the Pacers are playing right now, you can assess it with one simple question: Just how urgent is the return of Paul George?
Answer: It’s not urgent.
A few weeks ago, the answer would’ve been ‘desperately urgent’; but Paul George himself would tell you otherwise now.
“They’re playing so well, they’ve come together, to shake up the chemistry and add another body, another player in there… I don’t want to be that guy that destroys what these guys have going,” Paul George said.
The Pacers have one glaring weakness right which the Raptors can magnify with some defensive intensity. That weakness is turnovers. For the most part, the Pacers have done a good job to take care of the basketball during their win streak, but have comitted a combined 37 turnovers in their last two games.
Frontcourt: Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson vs Roy Hibbert, David West. Edge: Raptors
Is there a more annoying big-man duo in the NBA than that of the Pacers? It would be an interesting debate to have, but popularity isn’t why I gave the edge to the Raptors here. Valanciunas usually matches up well with Hibbert, and Amir does a good job defending power forwards who can stretch the floor to the mid-range game.
Backcourt: Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry vs Solomon Hill, C.J. Miles, George Hill. Edge: Raptors
DeRozan is one of the lone bright spots for the Raptors during this slump, but the key match-up here is George Hill vs Kyle Lowry. Lowry is in a funk right now, while George Hill is playing some of the best ball in his position in the Eastern Conference. It’s his play that currently makes Paul George’s absense easier to handle. Lowry needs to keep Hill in front of him and in check, because once Hill is open or gets by you, he’s really dangerous on the offensive end. During this hot streak for the Pacers, Hill has averaged four more points per game than his season average of 14.
I’m actually going to give Indiana the slight edge off the bench here. While Toronto’s second unit is better on paper, the Pacers have been getting huge scoring contributions from Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson. Also, the Pacers actually lead the league in bench scoring with 41.8 ppg. Stuckey has been a really good addition to the Pacer’s depth.
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