Gameday: Raptors @ Pacers, Feb. 8

Not even Chris Traeger gives the Raptors much of a chance. The Pacers are LITERALLY the best defensive team in the NBA.

Did I pick this pic for a reason? Hmmm.

The Raptors are off to Pawnee to take on Roy Hibbert, Leslie Knope and the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are a very hot team, having railed off five straight victories over some decent Eastern Conference competition. The Pacers are big, play slow and grind out the game at the defensive end, which will be an interesting match-up for the Raptors. The Raps, of course, have played three straight games against teams that play faster (going 1-2), two of which also play small (0-2). So it will be a fresh look to evaluate Rudy Gay against, anyway.

To help us out with the analysis, Jared Wade of 8 Points 9 Seconds, the True Hoop Network Pacers blog, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

The Pacers have gotten red-hot, going 21-8 after a 10-11 start. What’s changed for the team since early December?
The most obvious change has been Paul George turning into one of the best players in the NBA. He has been a high-level defender since he entered the league and could always contribute in various ways on offense, but he was really shaky early in the season. But since December 3, he has averaged 19.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.2 apt and 2.1 spg while shooting 44.2% from the floor and 39.7% from behind the arc.

Frank Vogel has also settled into its rotations and it has led to a beastly starting lineup. In November, Sam Young and Gerald Green often got starts and crunch-time minutes over Lance Stephenson. But Stephenson has been a prominent member of all the team’s best lineups and the now-entrenched starting unit has been one of the best in the league. Even individually, Lance has been having some big games of late and, still, catching teams off guard with burst of points and dimes in short stretches.

Roy Hibbert has been disappointing this season, at least on the offensive end. What’s behind Hibbert’s struggles this year?
It’s a mystery. Tim Donahue did a big analysis on Hibbert’s shot location and shot type right before the new year, and he’s just missing a ton of shots that he has always hit at a decent rate throughout his career. One hope is that he is still struggling through a wrist injury, but it clearly goes deeper than that. He just is inactive, passive and unable to exert any force down low in some games.

Have you ever been to Pawnee? Is it as wonderful as it seems? How do you get there from Indianapolis?
I have not. I’m not sure. I actually live in New York and am currently ducking snowflakes. It seems like a wonderful place, however, and any town that holds Detlef Schrempf in such high regard is OK in my book.

What can the Raptors do to try and slow down the streaking Pacers and steal a victory?
You have a 2002 Vince Carter lying around? I really don’t know. I know the Raptors are playing better of late as well and the Rudy Gay pickup has added a lot of energy into the team, but Indiana is on another level right now. The defense has been ridiculously good all season and now they’re dropping points, too. Meanwhile, Gay shot 7-for-22 when he went up against Paul George on MLK Day (and 3-for-17 when Indiana and Memphis played on 12/31), so I’m not sure he will help a lot.

The Pacers have won five straight and 15 in a row at home. They are also the only team in the NBA that was forced to play a back-to-back-to-back this year (due to a snow cancellation/reschedule) and that took place this week. How did they respond to the adversity? By easily handling the Bulls and Hawks and then flying to Philadelphia to beat the snot out of the Sixers. Now, back at home, it’s tough to see them coughing one up against the Raps in front of a Friday night crowd The Fieldhouse.

Good luck though.

Ugh. That doesn’t sound great, and I have to agree with Jared’s last paragraph there that things don’t look pretty. I had mentioned to Arsenalist on the podcast I forgot to record (idiot, this guy right here), but I don’t see the Raptors taking one here. The Pacers are damn good, and the Raptors aren’t comfortable enough in their new skin yet to come out and catch them napping now that they’re back home. But let’s have a look.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 106.2 (12th), Indiana 102.6 (26th)
D-Rating: Indiana 99.5 (1st), Toronto 108.2 (26th)
Pace: Toronto 90.1 (25th), Indiana 89.6 (26th)
Strength: Indiana David West being a boss, Opponent eFG% (1st), Toronto Ball Control (Yawn, 2nd)
Weakness: Indiana Forcing Turnovers (26th), Toronto Fouling (1st)

Interesting to see the Pacers lead the league in defensive efficiency without forcing many turnovers. It’s almost entirely based on getting stops and doing well on the glass. They’re…I don’t want to say risk averse, but they don’t gamble much defensively, and it makes it really difficult to create holes in their coverage.

The Picks
Vegas: Pacers -7.5
Hollinger: Pacers -10
Blake: Pacers by 9

I’ll split the difference with the two lines and guess the Pacers build up a decent lead late in the third, only for the Raptors to slowly shave away at it when the Pacer’s bench starts to get some run.

The game goes at 7 p.m. on TSN. Let’s hope I’m wrong and the Raptors can steal one, then double-down Sunday against the Hornets. At least the schedule gets a bit friendlier from here.

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