The Pacers are 1-0 and looked really good against the Pistons in their opener, they blew them out of the water by halftime and coasted the rest of the way. If you had to pick “up and coming” teams in the East, Indiana would be near the top of that list. They’re buoyed by last year’s playoff performance, have added a key veteran free-agent in David West, and have a core that as a Raptors fan you have to be a little envious of. You know of Roy Hibbert, the Hoya who was shipped on draft day in exchange for a decaying Jermaine O’Neal, you might also know UNC alumni Tyler Hansbrough, and there’s also Darren Collison and Paul George, the latter now starting for them.
What I’m trying to get at is that the Pacers are a legit threat, and the Raptors will be truly tested at home tonight. The win in Cleveland is now but a memory, and tonight is the only outside chance at a W given the upcoming three games, all on the road: Dallas, Orlando, and New York. If the starting lineup holds up from the Cleveland game, the matchups would be:
George vs. DeRozan: This is the most intriguing of them. The Pacers are basically starting two small forwards in Granger and George because they want to fit them both in the lineup. George does have the length to check twos in this league, but his overall defensive capability, much like DeRozan, has found to be lacking so far. DeRozan can’t rely on his jumper against George because that’s what George would prefer, the Raptor needs to test his lateral quickness and force the Pacers interior defense to rotate.
Bargnani vs. West: Height advantage at the PF. This will be a recurring theme for the Raptors this season. Two things need to happen for Bargnani on every night: he can’t let the higher agility of his matchups get the better of him on defense, and he needs to take advantage of his size in his new role. In that order. Bargnani needs to realize that West is not a great defender and can be coaxed into leaving his feet and conceding space for short mid-range unblockable jumpers. Coincidentally, the mid-range game is also West’s forte. Let’s see who wins out. It’s safe to say this matchup poses a much different challenge for Bargnani than Jamison did.
Granger vs. Butler: Offense vs. defense here, and this matchup goes beyond the starters for the Raptors. We’ll no doubt see James Johnson check Granger for parts of this game with the goal being to limit his clean looks (career 39% 3FG), and his forays to the rim. Tough task, I’d say if you have to concede one, start by testing his jumper.
Hibbert vs. A. Johnson: This one’s a little concerning because Hibbert comes in 50lbs heavier than Johnson. Aaron Gray’s still got the irregular heartbeat, and I’m thinking Casey will opt for the bigger Magloire here because he can’t expect Amir Johnson to contend with Hibbert on his own. The collective matchups pit length against strength: Johnson/Davis/Bargnani/Magloire vs. Hibbert/Hansbrough/West/Amundson. The Raptors have their hands full in trying to win the rebounding battle, especially on the offensive glass.
Calderon vs. Collison: Never been too high on Collison, don’t ask me to explain it but it has to do with his shoot-first mentality and court vision. I realize it’s early in his career and all that change, actually, in that sense he’s a little like Jerryd Bayless. Speaking of who, I can see Casey going to Bayless earlier than usual if Collison gives Calderon any trouble. The other matchup at the G spot is Leandro Barbosa vs. Dahntay Jones, and I expect Barbosa to come through there.
This should be an entertaining game in the sense that we’ll be seeing two young teams try to go 2-0 in the early season. From the Raptors perspective, DeRozan has to assert himself against George and can’t have a repeat of his subpar game where he was anonymous for large stretches. If this is the season where he announces himself as a potential star in the NBA, then it’s matchups like these against his draft class that he has to excel in.
The three-point shooting was rock solid against Cleveland, and we should expect regression to the mean to kick in so offense needs to come from other areas. The Raptors will need to slow the game down because they cannot win it in a track meet, it has to be in the halfcourt. Bargnani, DeRozan and any of our wings missing jumpers can be dangerous because they’re the perfect fuel for Collison, George and Granger to get started on the break. This is a matchup where everyone has to cover back in transition and play smart offense: slow it down by getting to the foul line, and make this a game where execution trumps talent.
Some bad blood to watch out for:
Indiana was angered that Raptors guard Leandro Barbosa tried to add to his season-high 29-point effort with a drive to the basket – instead of dribbling out the clock – with six seconds left.
Toronto argued that it was payback for Pacers point guard Darren Collison hitting a long 3-pointer as time expired in the Jan. 31 matchup.
“If I was on him, I would have took (Barbosa’s) head off and I would have been suspended for a game for a flagrant foul,” said Granger, who led with Pacers with 19.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the season series. “Stuff like that will sit in the back of your head the next time we play Toronto. We don’t play them again but if I was on him, I would have taken his neck off.”
The injury has Aaron Gray sidelined for the Raptors with Colangelo saying (Update: he’s available):
“We’re just being very precautionary obviously with the sensitivity of that particular scenario,” Colangelo said. “The kid reportedly feels fine, but we don’t want to take any chances.”
There is a report out there that says the Raptors are after Fesenko, which would mean that the Raptors would have to cut somone: Alabi or Gray? (Update: The guy signed with GSW.)
For the Pacers, Jeff Foster is out. On that note, so am I.