Happy 2014, everyone.

The Raptors finished off 2013 with an encouraging 85-79 victory over the Bulls on Tuesday night, but things get much more difficult to start 2014.

Unfortunately for the players, they had to hop on a plane back to Toronto right after the game and likely spent the stroke of midnight sipping in-flight Gatorade together. At the very least, the Indiana Pacers had to do the same, travelling after a home drubbing of Cleveland, although they played at 3 p.m. and as such might be a bit more settled and rested.

The Raptors would be in tough against Indiana, the East’s top team at 25-5, in any scenario, but the second game of a travel back-to-back poses an extra challenge. But it’s a new year, so let’s try our best to be optimistic.

To help break down the game, I hit up Ian Levy, top cheese at Hickory High and contributor of excellent work at Hardwood Paroxysm.

1) So…the Pacers are pretty good. With Raptor fans seemingly split (if not evenly) on whether to tank or not tank, perhaps you could speak to the experience of Pacers fans over the past decade. The team doesn’t have a single player picked higher than 10th (Paul George), but is the “Pacers model” of smart drafting and unbelievable player development at all one that can be replicated? (Obviously not reliably, but what I’m asking is whether this is a lot of good fortune or a legitimate building strategy?)

I think the whole thing looks way more comprehensively strategic in hindsight than it actually was. Writer’s and fans spend a lot of time with the binary “tank or not to tank” question, but I think it’s always more complicated at the team level, and certainly was for the Pacers. My sense is that for most teams (at least the smart ones) every opportunity to change the make-up of their team is evaluated based on how much potential for improvement it offers, short-term and long-term. Some teams are obsessed with the short term (see Knicks, New York). For some, playing the long game means getting bad quickly. For the Pacers, I think they always saw the path to improvement paved with player development.

After the brawl the team began sliding towards irrelevance in large part because they felt forced to make some deals that would clear the roster of players who had been involved in that mess. Those moves were made outside the context of a win-loss dynamic. But as the roster turned over they found themselves with some young talent that felt worth developing – Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, T.J. Ford, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, Paul George, A.J. Price. Finding themselves in that situation I think Donny Walsh and Larry Bird saw that the quickest path to improvement was maximizing that talent and hoping they could convert it into something more with sweat equity. I think the Pacers journey is less a commentary on the viability (or lack thereof) of tanking and more a lesson on just trying to make the best of what you have.

2) Granny Danger is back and could add another element to the Pacers second unit, taking over Orlando Johnson’s minutes. How has he looked through a handful of games, and what do you see as his role come playoff time?

He’s clearly still figuring things out, especially on offense and it’s understandable considering how much has changed since he was last playing regular minutes for the Pacers. The biggest concern is staying healthy between now and the playoffs. Lance Stephenson’s contract situation and impending free agency is very complicated and Granger’s own impending free agency is one of the biggest variables. The clearest path is for the Pacers’ to get as much as they can out of Granger this season, hopefully pushing themselves over the top into championship contention. What they need from him is consistent defense, solid shooting and health. The health thing will always be a question but right now it looks like he’ll be able to provide the other two fairly soon.

3) The Raptors should probably just not bother attempting shots at the rim, right? The Pacers allow a below-average number of attempts within five feet and have the best rim protection in the entire league. They also somehow don’t allow any corner threes. Other than getting piping hot from mid-range, what can the Raptors do to score on this team?

It’s a risky proposition but attacking the rim does give the opportunity to get Hibbert in foul trouble. Taking and making open mid-range shots is important and so is forcing turnovers and attacking the Pacers in transition. But the biggest component of scoring enough to beat the Pacers is not wasting opportunities. Open shots have to be made and the ball has to be protected.

4) Rasual Butler – still completely useless?

I’d much rather see his minutes going to either Orlando Johnson or Solomon Hill, both young players with a lot of potential. But he doesn’t kill the Pacers when he’s on the floor and I suppose he’s not a bad insurance policy to have in case every other wing on the roster simultaneously rolls an ankle.

5) Following this game, the team’s meet again next Tuesday. Is Frank Vogel the kind of coach to make adjustments game-to-game, or will the Raptors likely see the same offensive sets and defensive looks in both games?

Defensively, I doubt you’ll see anything different. Offensively it seems like Vogel is still figuring out a balance on offense and tinkering to see what he can rely on in different situations when the playoffs arrive. The playbook is still pretty vanilla but you may see different players take on a more featured role at different points.

Vegas says: Pacers -6 with 72 percent of action landing on the road team, over/under of 192.5 with the under being taken 58 percent of the time.
Hollinger says: Pacers -2.5
Heisenberg says: Say my name

Blake says: It’s tough to be too optimistic given the opponent, but with a fresh new year, let’s give the Raptors some benefit of the doubt – they keep it close enough for the fourth quarter to matter, make yet another statement that they’re not a pushover and gain some valuable experience but just miss covering the spread. Pacers by seven.

Happy new year, everyone! Hope you all had a safe and happy December 31.

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    theres no “smart drafting” when you pick as high as they did. They just got lucky with George fulfilling his potential while others did not.

    • BlakeMurphy

      That is a very stupid comment. There’s so much more that goes into it than just where you pick and “luck”…look around the league, man.

      • Tim

        DIdn’t RR just appeal for more politeness in the comments section? I don’t want to come off as an a-hole but think your first sentence could have been excised and your point would still be made. (You’re not making derogatory personal attacks though, I recognize that). Thanks for the preview, the work is appreciated.

        • BlakeMurphy

          I suppose. I usually stay away from the comments so am not in touch with politeness requests or w/e. It’s just completely nonsensical.

          In any case, I apologize, FREEJV.

      • FREEJV

        i look around the league and seems to me like draft position DOES matter. miami: Lebron (1st), Wade (5th)
        okc: Durant (2nd), Westbrook (5th)
        san antonio: Tim Duncan (1st)
        portland :Aldridge (2nd)

        Indiana is the only exception so you can be quiet now bud.

        • BlakeMurphy

          Okay “bud.”

          LeBron was a free agent, by the way. And Aldridge is the best player but the system is incredibly important there, which is why they’re suddenly now great despite Aldridge being good for a long time.

          There’s also Cleveland with four top-4 picks including two #1s, Utah with a tonne of lottery picks, even the Raptors (#1-Bargs, #4-Bosh)…there are counterarguments to that strategy.

          And beside that, your quote was “theres no “smart drafting” when you pick as high as they did.” even though they have no top picks on their team, and you suggested it was luck while discounting scouting, system or player development. That’s what I said was stupid. Bud.

      • ckh26

        People say things to elicit a reaction. No need to respond to something so simplistic.

    • Mihkel Bafter

      LOL, no need to go to the comedy club this weekend

  • Captain_Dog

    This team has gotten to the point where even if they’re down headed into the 4th, I no longer get anxious because I expect the ball movement, help defence, and rebounding to get us back into the game and, most likely, the win.

    Also, this team is a joy to watch, so many dunks, hustle plays and three point bombs.

    Here’s to an awesome 2014.

  • StabbyRaccoon

    Last time Jonas and Hibbert faced off Hibbert got the better of him. I don’t see Jonas coming out on top this time but he might just surprise us, he has been pretty good lately.

  • raptorstand

    The only way the Toronto Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers is by attacking the rim. You have to look for the lane, big man inside passing and throw four bigs at Hibbert hopefully getting him into foul trouble. If we come out and take jump shots early and often that would be the old Raptors. Hibbert is a great player around the rim but he can be beat. We have to attack him, then the open looks come. Gonna be fun.

  • Quest

    let’s get it!

  • Louvens Remy

    Free Tim W. It’s ok to comment while we’re winning son!

  • doncity

    can stank nation fuck off and die now?

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