February is a key stretch of games for the Raptors as their schedule, seemingly, gets lighter in that 6 of the 10 teams they play are under .500. It starts today with a home-and-home with Indiana. This will be the third time this season they have played a home-and-home, with the Raptors going 3-1 in those games; the only loss coming to Milwaukee on the road.
In addition, not only are there no back-to-backs, but there is at least a day off between games. If the Raptors can steal one of Memphis, Portland or Cleveland (all home games) then they have a great chance of finishing February 32-25. Miami on the other hand has two back-to-backs in the same week, and a much tougher schedule. Considering where this team was two months ago, to put things together and make this run is quite the accomplishment.
The goodness can start today against Indiana; the Pacers are 16-31 heading into this game, 4-6 in their last 10 with the last two games 20+ point losses to the Lakers and Cavs. What’s worse is that the fan-base holds out zero hope of this lot making the playoffs. The Raptors seemingly have a better chance of moving up to 4th in the East than the Pacers have of making the playoffs.
Tim Donahue from Eight Points, Nine Seconds (a great Pacers blog) projected where the Pacers will end up, and even though I’m not much of a Pacers fan, it depressed me how bad this team is and their outlook for the rest of the season. When words like; spitballing, battered, on pace to win only 28 games are being said and no one is disagreeing, the team is done.
With how the Raptors have been playing, and the manner in which they have been closing out games, the Raptors still can’t take this Pacers team lightly. They still have big guns in Granger, Murphy and Dunleavy. All of whom represent a type of player that the Raptors have historically been unable to defend properly.
Of the three, Murphy poses the biggest problem for the Raptors. For some reason, these mobile power forwards who can spread the floor with perimeter shooting give us big problems. When they pull Bosh or Bargnani away from the paint, they open the lane for penetration. More often than naught, Granger will just jack a gawdawful three and rim out, negating the space. In terms of strategy, though, you can’t count on an ill-advised shot as your way out of a situation.
Fortunately, Antoine Wright has been giving the Raptors EXACTLY what they need at the 2/3 with his defense, and occasional spot up shooting. With late game defensive duties falling on his shoulder, and the bulk of the offensive burden on Weems and Belinelli, the shooting guard by committee should be strong.
So after watching that Knicks game again, Hedo actually didn’t get that many more touches than he normally does. I mean, he did, but he seemed to do more with the ball than he normally would, and by that, I mean shoot it. Where normally he would try and create for a teammate, he created for himself. He averages 10 shots a game, and took 16, but got 2.4 less assists than he has been averaging for the year. Maybe ‘ball’ means to let him do what he wants, which doesn’t sit that well with me. Regardless, I think we can all agree that he has been under utilized this season, and based on his game and post-game comments, the ball (*groan* sorry) is squarely in Triano’s court.
I’m looking for both Italians to bounce back tonight after pretty rough performances in New York. The Pacers just don’t have anyone to defend against Bargnani, and with Bosh probably getting the most attention once he gets the ball inside 15ft, Bargnani will have a field day. As far as Belinelli goes, that step back-fade-away three point off one leg should be looking good after 3 days of rest.
The gamblers have the Raptors as 9 point favourite, with an over/under of 217.5. Should be an exciting one, and the Raptors should extend their winning streak to 5 for the first time this season.