If you have to play a team three times in 17 days, may as well make it a boring one that hasn’t really gotten up for the games, right? That’s the scenario the Toronto Raptors find themselves in as they come face-to-face with the Indiana Pacers once again Tuesday.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the Pacers looked a tough draw for the Raptors, and a potentially worrisome playoff opponent. They took Toronto seven games last year, after all, and probably could have won the series if it weren’t for some curious decisions and a remarkable Raptors comeback in Game 5. Plus, Paul George is a custom-built DeMar DeRozan stopper. Fast-forward to now, and not only do the Raptors look better than this time a year ago and the Pacers worse, but George frequently seems disinterested, and DeRozan’s gone off for 22-3-4 and 40-9-4 on respectable 20-of-45 shooting over two meetings, both without Kyle Lowry (who wouldn’t have George Hill opposite him this time around) to help carry the load.
Sadly, the Raptors moving to 3-0 against the Pacers during this stretch would likely end any thoughts of drawing them in round one against this year, the Raptors’ best-case first-round scenario. The Raptors are in a position, surrounded by seeding uncertainty, where all they can really do is worry about themselves, though. Keep in this groove, don’t let bad habits set in, stay healthy, and the chips will fall where they fall.
It doesn’t mean we can’t speculate, though. We’re going to make this round-up a regular pre-game news & note feature the rest of the way, and maybe even introduce it on non-game days:
- 1-2 seed: Boston is off, Cleveland hosts Orlando – This is a big game for the Cavs, as it’s their one “in hand” with an even loss column. Win this and win Wednesday against Boston, and Cleveland is in control of the one-seed. Lose either, and there’s a lot up in the air still. (Boston has a 57-percent chance at the one seed, per Inpredictable’s model.)
- 3-4 seed: The Raptors visit the Pacers while the Wizards host the Hornets. Tough for both the three and four seeds here facing two teams on the brink of elimination, though the seeding preference is unclear, anyway. Toronto is in control of their own destiny here with a one-game lead and the tiebreaker. (Toronto has a 72-percent chance of finishing third, per Inpredictable.)
- 5-7 seed: Milwaukee visits OKC, Atlanta is off, and Chicago visits the Knicks. It’d be the most 2017 Bulls thing ever to drop this game to New York rather than continuing their upward momentum. Milwaukee’s in tough, particularly with the Thunder trying to hang on to the six-seed and avoid San Antonio in round one. This segment could easily extend to be “5-9 seed,” as every spot is separated by just one game. A lot of uncertainty here still, and multi-team tiebreaker scenarios to figure out. (Milwaukee has a 59-percent chance at the five-seed, per Inpredictable. Chicago has a 32-percent chance at finishing sixth. Atlanta finishes in each spot from fifth to ninth in at least 10 percent of scenarios.)
- 8-11 seeds: Miami is off, Indiana hosts Toronto, Charlotte visits Washington, and Detroit is off. The Hornets and Pistons have their backs against the wall, and Indiana should be desperate here. The basketball fan in me definitely wants the Heat to get in, and they own the tiebreaker over Indiana. (Miami has a 38-percent chance of making the playoffs. Indiana has a 60–percent chance of getting in. Charlotte has an 18-percent chance. Detroit is almost mathematically eliminated.)
This is a big one for Indiana.
The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Kyle Lowry was a partial participant in a partial practice yesterday but won’t play here. Friday or Sunday seem like plausible return dates. Just how important was Lowry before the injury? Well, it was only just Sunday, after a 15-6 stretch without him, that the Raptors managed to break even with him on the bench for the season. In 1,605 minutes without him, they’re a plus-6. In 2,111 minutes with him, they’re a plus-314. Obviously a lot has changed with the two acquisitions, the young player development, and the continued growth of DeMar DeRozan, but that stat speaks volumes about how much Lowry drove this team earlier in the year. Add him back into this group? (/Birdman hands rub together)
P.J. Tucker sat Sunday due to knee soreness. He was at shootaround Tuesday, per the Raptors’ Instagram story, and spoke to media with his left knee wrapped heavily in ice. An MRI came back negative, and he’ll suit back up in this one. Norman Powell has missed a bit of an opportunity during the recent absences of Tucker and DeMarre Carroll to solidify a spot in the playoff rotation, and it’s probably telling that Dwane Casey mentioned Tucker and Carroll as drawing the Paul George assignment, despite Powell being thrown into that spot a few times in the past (to be fair, it’s not a great matchup for Powell, who’s better suited to chasing Monta Ellis or Jeff Teague in this one, but it probably indicates that he’s back to being the fourth wing).
"We're going to have to have multiple people prepared to defend him." – Casey on the challenge of guarding Paul George. pic.twitter.com/Qe0Siil0qR
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 4, 2017
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: Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam
OUT: Kyle Lowry
Lance Stephenson is back! The recipient of an odd three-year deal, Stephenson returns to an unfamiliar group to bring some much needed wing depth. He re-debuted in Sunday’s double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers, scoring four points with three rebounds, three assists, and five fouls in 18 minutes. He figures to see the bulk of the backup minutes at the two, even playing some three when the Pacers downsize with Paul George at power forward. This likely also means that Monta Ellis will stay in the starting lineup over C.J. Miles for the time being.
Glenn Robinson III (calf) and Al Jefferson (ankle) remain sidelined.
PG: Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks, Joseph Young
SG: Monta Ellis, Lance Stephenson
SF: Paul George, C.J. Miles
PF: Thad Young, Lavoy Allen
C: Myles Turner, Rakeem Christmas, Kevin Seraphin
ASSIGNED: Georges Niang
OUT: Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III
- Bruno Caboclo and Pascal Siakam are with Raptors 905, who begin their postseason tomorrow in Canton. I previewed the series here, and over at The Athletic, wrote a more big-picture piece about what the title push means for everyone involved.
- Raptors Republic readers can get a 20-percent discount on subscriptions to The Athletic using this referral link.
- Raptors Republic readers can also get discounted 905 playoff tickets by using the promo code REPUBLIC905.
- Similarly, Georges Niang is down with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants ahead of their playoff series. See ya in the second round, Georges!
- Kyle Lowry working out right-handed on a road trip alert!
Photo skills may be lacking but, trust me, that's Kyle Lowry and he looks quite normal pic.twitter.com/YMeQ853Lhk
— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) April 4, 2017
The Raptors are 2.5-point underdogs, with a 203.5 over-under. Indiana being favored might raise an eyebrow given how the last two games have gone, but they’re at home, they’re desperate, and it’s really difficult to beat a team three times in a row over the course of two-and-a-half weeks. This feels like a bet on the situation more than on the teams involved. (I’d suggest there’s also a slight chance the Raptors opt for rest, because even though they haven’t given an indication they will, this would be the most logical game to do so in.)