After losing two games with the mercurial Raptors clinging onto their faint playoff hopes, this game is as big as any this year.
Indiana comes into town on the second half of a back-to-back after a tough loss to the Clippers. Apart from that loss, they have been playing quite well, with their only recent blemish being a loss to our very own squad at the ACC earlier in February, where Rudy Gay hit the game winner as the newly anointed Saviour. Remember those days?
Roy Hibbert will be back, chomping at the bit after serving a suspension. Danny Granger is also back after a long layoff from a knee injury and is rounding back into form, albeit off the bench. He played about 19 minutes last night, and he may not play much more tonight if the Pacers are trying to be careful with him.
Let’s get to the tale of the tape:
O-Rating: Toronto 106.1 (12th), Pacers 103.4 (21st)
D-Rating: Toronto 107.7 (24th), Pacers 98.9 (1st)
Pace: Toronto 89.9 (25th), Cavaliers 89.9 (26th)
Strength: Toronto ball control (3rd), Pacers (5th in Offensive rebounding)
Weakness: Toronto Freebies (30th in Opp FTA/FGA), Pacers ball control (26th)
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry v. George Hill
Again, Lowry is the better PG as he is on many nights, but will he take advantage of it? Hill is good defensively, but if Lowry can play the way he can it will change the entire complexion of this game. Hill can struggle with good defensive pressure, Chris Paul locked him up last night and Kyle held him to a 9 pt/5 ast performance in their last meeting.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan vs. Lance Stephenson
Stephenson is one tough, mean player. The kind of guy the Raptors need, but at this point in his career he’s still not accomplished offensively. If DeMar can take away his shot, his FT totals suggest that he can’t finish at the rim, although he does have enough court vision to make the right pass. He will give DeMar a hard time on the defensive side of the ball, so it remains to be seen if DD can build on his very efficient performance last game (34 points off 19 shots)
Small forward: Rudy Gay v. Paul George
Paul George, so hot right now. It’s been a breakout season for the former 10th overall pick, but if there is a guy out there who has the ability to contain him, Gay would be it. George isn’t much of a slasher, he prefers to use his length to shoot, or drive and pull up, to shoot. If Gay isn’t required to help too much, he should be able to contest these attempts. Offensively for Gay, there were nice flashes of court awareness last game. Even if it didn’t translate to a win, it will help the team if he continues to distribute the ball, especially to his boy Lowry and to Valunciunas on pick-an-rolls.
Power Forward: Amir Johnson v. David West
This is a tough one. One-on-one Amir can handle West. Problem is that no other big on this team can. You can put Bargnani in there but right now but we know how that’s working out right now. He chewed up Valunciunas and spit him out last game, especially in OT. So if Amir can stay out of foul trouble, it’ll really help. Amir could probably get some offense going against West if he wanted, but it’s doubtful the coaching staff will take advantage of that.
Center: Jonas Valunciunas v. Roy Hibbert
It’s not necessarily the matchup that Hibbert wins, but the overall impact on defense. The shot-blocking will definitely cause guys like DeRozan and Gay issues at the rim. When will Val see the 4th quarter? At the very least he will get an offensive rebound or two when the points are harder to come by in crunch time.
The Pacers have Danny Granger coming off the bench. The Raptors have Andrea Bargnani.
bet365: Pacers -125 Raptors +105
Me: Pacers by 5
Indiana takes this on the strength of their bench. This may sound overblown, but when a team is playing with the current Andrea Bargnani on the floor, they’re playing a man short like a power play in hockey. And with the margin of victory for this team already as thin as it is, even 15 minutes of him can/will make the difference. By the same token, Amir Johnson needs to be on as much as possible, and has to avoid foul trouble at all costs, because if he’s on the bench David West automatically requires double teams and the Pacers become deadly offensively. Not what you need from a team that plays the best defense in the league.