After going nearly a full year without playing against each other, the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers are set to square off three times in 17 days. They’re somewhat familiar with playing each other in rapid order, as they engaged in a seven-game, 17-day series in the first round of last year’s playoffs. A lot has changed for both sides in the time since – thank you, Frank Vogel’s Game 5 rotations – but there’s a decent chance the two sides could find themselves squaring off again in a longer series in a couple of weeks.
As the Pacers visit the ACC on Sunday, they stand in sixth in the East, with a 1.5-game cushion on either side of them. They could conceivably finish anywhere from fifth to out of the playoffs, and were they to sweep the Raptors and see Atlanta stumble, fourth isn’t even out of the question (it is, however, a long shot, even still). The Raptors, meanwhile, have a three-game edge for home-court advantage in the first round but don’t have the insulation of a tiebreaker against Atlanta, and they (likely) wouldn’t have one if Indiana pulled close enough to push for the spot. They’re also just two back of Washington for third and the chance to (possibly) avoid Cleveland in round two, though catching Boston for the Atlantic Division crown, with a 3.5-game deficit and the Celtics facing the easiest schedule in the conference from here, is probably a dream that has died.
Elsewhere of importance: Isaiah Thomas sat for the Celtics and Al Horford was dominant, but Boston shot 6-of-24 in the fourth to drop a decision to The Homie and the 76ers; the Celtics host the Wizards tomorrow in a game that has pretty major seeding consequences; the Cavs, presumably not resting key pieces, visit the Lakers tonight; the Hawks visit the Hornets tomorrow with Charlotte’s playoff life on the line.
It’s probably too early to live and die by the standings each day, but it’s fun that we’re close enough to the playoffs to look at these scenarios, and that the three games against the Pacers matter to some degree.
The first of those games tips off at 6 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Is this the first time all season the Raptors have gone back-to-back games without a player being a game-time call? It feels like it. Everything appears to be status quo around the ACC in terms of health, though the Raptors will effectively be shorthanded with Kyle Lowry still on the shelf and a pair of youngsters on assignment. The questions, then, fall on the specifics of the rotation, particularly the backup point guard and center spots. But that’s nothing new, with the specifics of those roles fluid.
Don’t expect the Raptors to get too many players rest down the stretch here, by the way. They don’t have a back-to-back until April 4-5, and they’ll find other ways beyond sitting guys down to minimize their workloads, from the sound of things.
“I believe in resting guys,” Dwane Casey said before the game. “I think there’s a lot of different ways you can get rest. I don’t know if we have the luxury of sitting three guys out or four guys out in a game and trying to win.”
Considering the team’s two stars have been forced to “rest” via injury at times this year, this is probably fair, and the Raptors have always been aggressive in limiting practice and shootaround time to try to maintain the health of Lowry and DeRozan amid heavy minutes loads. As it stands, the Raptors probably won’t have to evaluate resting guys until that April 4-5 back-to-back and their one remaining back-to-back that follows that, decisions they can make based on health and the standings at that time.
PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
ASSIGNED: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
OUT: Kyle Lowry
Lavoy Allen is questionable with a knee injury that’s had him in and out of the lineup since before the All-Star break. The Pacers are healthy otherwise and have no players on assignment, so they’ll be in good shape to put their best foot forward. That includes a very tough starting lineup and some effective smaller groups.
UPDATE: Allen is available.
PG: Jeff Teague, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Joseph Young
SG: C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis
SF: Paul George, Glenn Robinson III
PF: Thad Young, Lavoy Allen, Rakeem Christmas, Georges Niang
C: Myles Turner, Kevin Seraphin, Al Jefferson
- Bruno Caboclo and Pascal Siakam remain with Raptors 905, who are in Long Island for the first game of a four-game trip. It’s unclear if Siakam will stay with the D-League club for the entirety of the trip – the games are close enough that he could be recalled as necessary – but Caboclo, who hasn’t been dressing when on the Raptors’ bench anyway, will probably stay with Jerry Stackhouse and company.
- Caboclo turned in maybe his best two-way game of the season yesterday in a win. The 905 had 39 assists on 51 field goals with just nine turnovers. Seriously.
- Sticking with the 905, I wrote a pair of pieces over at The Athletic this week. The first is on the 905 shifting their collective focus toward a championship, and the second is on Jarrod Uthoff and how two-way contracts could prevent the organization from losing NBA-caliber prospects in the future.
- I know the work I do at The Athletic is normally behind a paywall, which doesn’t work for everyone. If it helps, Raptors Republic readers can now get 20 percent off the subscription price by using this link.
- More Life is good. I like More Life. Drake is good. I like Drake.
The Raptors have fallen from a 4-point favorite at open all the way to Raptors -2.5, a bit of a surprise given how much information was available about both sides when the line was set and because those points are the most valuable for the line to jump. It’s an eye-opening swing, one that suggests the market sees Indiana as slightly better than a Lowry-less Raptors team on neutral court. That’s valuable information ahead of a potential playoff meeting. The over-under has dropped from 199.5 to 196.5, something I suggested on Sportsnet 590 this morning was likely to happen given the pace of the two sides, the preferred styles of play, and Indiana’s recent market trends.