Finally…

It’s finally here. Finally. FINALLY! Regular season Toronto Raptors basketball is here.

The Raptors open the season tonight at home, hosting the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. on TSN. Air Canada Centre doors open at 5:30. And I…will be sitting in class, and then doing a presentation on physiological testing for elite hockey players, and then trying to watch the game on PVR having hopefully avoided texts/emails/twitter. But you don’t care about my struggle…all you care about is that you have RAPTORS BASKETBALL to watch. Tonight!

As I mentioned, the Raps will host the Pacers, a strong team that finished third in the East last year at 42-24. Let’s break down the…

Tale of the Tape, 2011-12

Offseason Moves
Sure, that tape tells us enough about last year and two people’s thoughts for this year. But have these teams changed?

Indiana In: D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, Sam Young, Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson
Indiana Out: Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa, A.J. Price, Louis Amundson, Dahntay Jones

Toronto In: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, John Lucas, Quincy Acy, Dominic McGuire
Toronto Out: Jerryd Bayless, Gary Forbes, James Johnson, Jamaal Magloire, Ben Uzoh, Solomon Alabi

It certainly looks like the Raptors got better, as even the most negative of predictions (Hollinger) have predicted a significant increase from their 28-win pace from last year. Lowry adds a tough-nose defender and floor general that will command accountability from his teammates and be an extension of coach Dwane Casey on the floor, while the Lethaluanian is overflowing with potential and already looks like a competent rotation player. None of the losses are key, and Fields, Ross, and Lucas add depth and specialized skills at the wing and guard spots.

For the Pacers, they certainly didn’t get worse, but it would be hard to argue they got better, either. Augustin is alright, but probably not any better than Collison, whom they basically gave away for the right to overpay Mahinmi. Still, this is a team that was significantly better than the Raptors last year, so toeing the line was probably a wise move.

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard – Kyle Lowry (starter) and Jose Calderon vs. George Hill (starter) and D.J. Augustin
Advantage: Toronto
The Raptors solidified this position early in the offseason and are ready to reap the rewards after a summer of anticipation. Lowry isn’t in the elite class, but he’s safely in the second tier, while Hill and Augustin are both in the Calderon mold of being strong backups but sub-optimal starting options. Neither Pacer guard should be able to contain Lowry, while this is a point guard duo that lacks in size, negating one advantage opposing point guards can usually hold over Lowry.

Wings – DeMar DeRozan (starter), Landry Fields (starter), Terrence Ross, Alan Anderson and Linas Kleiza vs. Paul George (starter), Gerald Green, Lance Stephenson and Sam Young
Advantage: Draw
Normally this would be a huge advantage for the Pacers, but Danny Granger is out indefinitely with a left knee problem. His absence makes the Pacers relatively thin on the wing, and while George is the best of any of the wing players in this game, Green is their only other option. If DeRozan can get to the line at the rate he was in the preseason (yes, save for that last game), he should be able to improve his scoring efficiency enough to have legitimate value, although this says nothing of his defense and rebounding. Fields is the anti-DeRozan, doing just about everything other than scoring at a high level. Fields will likely draw the George match-up defensively, and DeRozan may have trouble with George’s size on the offensive end.

Bigs – Andrea Bargnani (starter), Jonas Valanciunas (starter), Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and Aaron Gray vs. David West (starter), Roy Hibbert (starter), Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi
Advantage: Pacers
The advantage here is only slight, as while Hibbert is one of the best centers in the game now, West looked a bit past his prime last season. If West can bounce back, this is a dangerous front-court duo with complementary offensive talents. West will be a tough guard for Bargnani, and Hibbert may be able to get Valanciunas to foul, but if this goes to the benches the Raptors have an advantage. Gray can body up on Hibbert, but Amir and Davis will essentially be useless on him, surrendering far too much size, and as such will be used on West (Bargnani would have to body up Hibbert) or when Mahinmi and Psycho T check in.

Overall Analysis
The Pacers are a very strong team, but without Granger their offensive creation can suffer a fair amount. I’d expect the Pacers to toy with two-guard lineups and George at the three, possibly allowing Casey to deploy Lucas in a manner similar to the preseason. DeRozan will need to attack regardless of Georger’s length, while Bargnani will have to confirm that his man defense improved last year by handling West effectively. The Raptors have a prime opportunity to steal a victory from a better team, leveraging Granger’s injury and the energy from a Home Opener crowd (that hopefully turns into a sell-out by game time).

Vegas line: Indiana -2, O/U 188.5
My pick: Raptors by 4, over