The Toronto Raptors entered week six having swept the previous week’s opponents and riding a high. A loss in the Mecca punctuated by an embarrassing third quarter collapse resulted in Toronto floating back to earth. Clearly, there is still ample work to be done, particularly on the defensive side of the hardwood.
Losing to the Knicks serves as an important reminder any team on any given night can steal a victory, even by winning a single quarter. Appropriately this is a timely lesson for the Raptors who are about to embark on a far easier portion of their schedule. Eventually the East leading Celtics will travel to the opposite coast. Whether Boston continues to win at the same clip won’t be known until the spring since their West travel is the complete reverse of the Raptors (back end loaded).
Diving deeper into the schedule, aside from today’s opponent (who they play again Dec. 1), Toronto won’t face another top ten offense until January 11. Furthermore, in the next 12 games the Grizzlies are the only top ten defense (10th) on tap. Therefore, the Raptors must tackle the upcoming teams without taking any one for granted. The wins captured now may not push them ahead of Boston or the suddenly charging Cavaliers, but come spring when those teams will have to win out West the victories Toronto accumulate now could make a difference.
With that, let’s examine today’s opponent, the Indiana Pacers.
Post Paul George Era:
It was rumored Pacers General Manager, Kevin Pritchard had more lucrative offers on the table from the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers than the deal he eventually accepted with the Thunder.
NBA: Celtics' offer to Pacers on draft night for Paul George included three 1st-round picks, Jae Crowder and another starter – Jeff Goodman…
— Pro Ball Metrics (@proballmetrics) July 1, 2017
The overwhelming majority of pundits felt the George trade was won by the Thunder and Pritchard had gone this route to avoid having to face the small forward four times a season by virtue of trading him to an Eastern competitor. In retrospect, given how well hometown native Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis have integrated perhaps the Pacers GM knew something others didn’t. Albeit it’s a small sample size, but the two players are central to the team’s production and will grow with the core.
Additionally, Pritchard added several new players to the roster:
- Former Raptors reserve point guard Cory Joseph
- Three point sharp shooter Bojan Bogdanovic
- Starting point guard Darren Collison
- Veteran center Al Jefferson
- Rookie T.J. Leaf
Indiana is currently on a four-game win streak and will play eight of their next eleven games at the Fieldhouse. Just as the next schedule segment is key for the Raptors, the success of the Pacers over this period may pay dividends down the road.
Our new gold Statement uniforms debut tomorrow against the Raptors. Tipoff is at 8p and tickets for the game are included in the Gold Friday pricing: https://t.co/JDaj2RsEFZ pic.twitter.com/3TdI2DdM2s
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 24, 2017
McMillan utilizing shortened bench:
Head Coach Nate McMillan made adjustments to his rotation utilizing far fewer members of the reserve unit. During the Pacers current four-game win streak only eight players are receiving action. Aside from the starting unit Cory Joseph, Domantas Sabonis and Lance Stephenson are the only bench members getting significant minutes. This playoff-like shortened bench means rookie T.J. Leaf (oft considered a potential candidate for the Raptors in the draft) isn’t getting any run.
The Pacers who haven’t played since Monday will likely go this route again, barring the Raptors shutting down those eight Pacers and building a large lead.
Raptors Killer Bogdanovic:
Bojan Bogdanovic has feasted on the Raptors regardless of what jersey he’s sported. In the last two seasons he’s had at least one big game versus Toronto.
Case in point:
- 2015-16 Nets: 29 points hitting 7-10 from deep. (per game average: 11.2 points/1.5 threes)
- 2016-17 Nets: 23 points, connecting on 5 of 8 three-point shots. (per game average: 14.2 points/1.8 threes)
- 2016-17 Wizards: 27 points hitting 6 of 7 perimeter shots (per game average: 12.7 points/1.7 treys in 26 games)
Much of the new shortened McMillan rotation has to do with Bogdanovic’s increased playing time. During the four-game win streak he’s averaging 20.8 points (26 points in each of the last two games versus the Heat and Magic). From the perimeter during this period the forward has connected on 18 of his 29 attempts for a blistering 62.0 percent. Considering his previous success versus Toronto, no doubt he is likely anxious for tip-off.
Given his recent explosion from the perimeter Dwane Casey will need to prioritize a defensive strategy specifically to address him. Notably, one caveat to the forward’s excellence on offense is he’s also a minus 2.1 defensively. Logically the Raptors will try to limit his touches and force him off the line into drives. Another practical choice will be to run much of the offense at Bogdanovic to force McMillan into a decision of whether his offensive prowess outweighs his defensive liability.
— Cory Joseph (@Cory_Joe) November 23, 2017
Raptors Front court depth could be a factor:
Like Bogdanovic, Myles Turner is also capable of shooting from deep. On the season he’s averaging two attempts and connecting on 35.4 percent. Precisely how Casey chooses to match up individual defensive pairings will be interesting. Certainly Serge Ibaka will be employed to cover one of the big men and Pascal Siakam will also get run versus one or both.
Although Valanciunas will logically be matched up to defend Turner there is also the matter of his Lithuanian National Team experience. Sabonis and Valanciunas are extremely familiar with one another; therefore it may behoove Casey to allot some time for JV to match up versus his younger Lithuanian teammate.
Raptors backcourt could feast:
Indiana’s starting backcourt (Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison) has excelled during the win streak. Historically however, the Raptors All-Star backcourt has registered big games facing them. Although Oladipo has produced some quality outings versus DeRozan, the same can be said of the Raptors shooting guard who rarely logs back to back subpar performances.
Moreover, depending on whom Casey decides to task with guarding Oladipo the Indiana native could be in for a heavy dose of OG Anunoby or a combination of Lowry, DeRozan, Anunoby and Powell. Since Collison is on the shorter side it also allows for VanVleet to have a more comfortable matchup. Its unfortunate Delon Wright is injured, as I was eager to see Cory Joseph and his protégée guarding each other.
Lowry versus Collison:
- Dec 12, 2014 at Sacramento: Collison- 4 points, 4 assists, -22 | Lowry – 27 points, 13 assists, +20
- Jan 28, 2015 at Toronto: Collison- 12 points, 2 assists, -14 | Lowry – 13 points, 7 assists, +15
- Dec 20, 2015 at Toronto: Collison- 11 points, 1 assists, -11 | Lowry – 27 points, 13 assists, +20
- Nov 20, 2016 at Sacramento: 15 points,9 assists, +2 | Lowry – 25 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, +12
DeRozan | Oladipo:
Notably in previous games against Oladipo (both with Orlando and Oklahoma) DeRozan’s rebounds and assists skews higher than his average. This, perhaps because Oladipo defends DeRozan tightly, affording him time and opportunity to move the ball. With the new high assist offense it may be a harbinger for a big assist night from DeRozan.
- DeRozan: Nov 9, 2016: DeRozan – 37 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, +20
- Oladipo: March 16, 2017 (brutal loss vs. OKC with Lowry out): – 23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, +18
The Stat Comparison:
Arguably an area the Raptors can exploit is paint scoring, however Turner missed time due to a concussion, so the Pacers lack of success defending the rim may be due to his absence and the small sample size.
Expect the Raptors to come out with focus and aggressiveness. Although the Pacers are playing with confidence, the depth and better defense of the Raptors should translate into a win. There’s also the little matter of Lance Stephenson’s nonsense to collect on (as per below).
New Papa C.J. Miles will miss game:
Following the Knicks game C.J. Miles flew home to be with his wife (per Blake) as she gave birth to the couple’s first child; a little girl. Miles clearly is among the players who has a good relationship with the media in Indiana (see Scott Agness tweet). Wishing Miles and his family congratulations on the birth of their daughter.
Based on his Ig story, it looks like CJ Miles has left the Raptors for the impending birth of his first child ❤️
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 23, 2017
Congrats to C.J. and @iamlaurenmiles, proud parents to a baby girl.
Sidenote: I’m disappointed we won’t get to talk about it tomorrow, assuming he even flys to Indy for the game. https://t.co/LFhi4nfO4A
— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) November 24, 2017
TORONTO RAPTORS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
Shooting Guard: Norman Powell
Small Forward: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
Power Forward: Pascal Siakam
Center: Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
INDIANA PACERS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Darren Collison
Shooting Guard: *Victor Oladipo
Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
Center: **Myles Turner
INDIANA PACERS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Corey Joseph, Joe Young
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson, Damien Wilkins
Small Forward: Alex Poythress
Power Forward: T.J. Leaf
Center: Domantas Sabonis, Al Jefferson
- *Victor Oladipo listed as probable after taking a hit to head versus Magic
- **Myles Turner listed as probable after tweaking his ankle versus Magic
- Edmund Sumner – knee – no timetable for return
- Glenn Robinson III – ankle – surgery on medial and lateral ligaments Oct 14 (expected to miss three to four months).
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana, Indianapolis
Game Time: 8:00 PM ET
TV: Sportsnet One, NBA TV
Radio: Sportsnet 590 The FAN
The line: Raptors are favored by 1.5 with an over/under of 216 points.