Apologies for breaking up your first day of March Madness, but the Toronto Raptors have a game against the Indiana Pacers tonight. Why yes, it is kind of silly that the NBA overloads it’s schedule during March Madness, and it does stink that the Raptors play three games over opening weekend. That’s life, and nobody is going to take pity on a team that’s won nine in a row – two off of a franchise record – and 16 of their last 17 to sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 4.5-game cushion.
The Pacers certainly aren’t, not as they’re looking to lock up favorable seeding in the East themselves. They’ve won three in a row, six of seven, and 14 of 19 to vault into third in the conference, nudging into the top 10 on both ends of the floor in the process. They haven’t done so in a flashy manner, instead building methodically from within and getting a lot of incremental improvement from the roster and the system itself. And Victor Oladipo has reached another stratosphere. The Pacers aren’t elite anywhere, really, they’re just very solid up and down the rotation and the stat sheet. If there’s a weakness, it’s that they don’t go to the line much and have been susceptible to the type of traps the Raptors are familiar with, the king that force non-Oladipo players to make plays. They also don’t send opponents to the line, though, and they generally come out ahead in the turnover battle.
This should prove an interesting game on multiple front. It’s two hot teams and two great stories who have split the season series so far. Indiana’s offensive balance might make the Raptors inclined to tweak their pick-and-roll scheme a bit to prevent Oladipo from attacking, but they may also just choose to see how OG Anunoby handles that heavy responsibility in his first game back. The Pacers, remember, won the meeting between the sides in which Oladipo had “just” a solid night, losing the one in which he went off. That’s not to suggest causation, only to say that the Pacers don’t necessarily go the way Oladipo goes in all instances. The Raptors might be comfortable remaining who they are and letting him look for his if it means eliminating everything else.
The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
Good news came down at shootaround, as OG Anunoby will return from a seven-game absence. Unfortunately, Norman Powell will not only lose his spot as a starter, he’ll take Anunoby’s place on the injured list. Powell suffered an ankle sprain on Wednesday and was in a walking boot at shootaround. He’s technically listed as doubtful. That’s a hard doubt. Powell had a window to make his case for a larger role once Anunoby returned, and while he showed flashes, it was as uneven as his performance has been all year. The Raptors will need Powell again at some point, and he’s a better player than he’s shown for chunks of time this year. Maybe he gets another chance once healthy. In any case, Anunoby’s return is good news, and the performance of the starters should trend back upwards now that he’s back in the fold.
That is, assuming he starts. The Raptors haven’t said either way yet, but it seems a safe bet given he hadn’t come off the bench since entering the starting lineup and his replacement is out. C.J. Miles or Malcolm Miller could theoretically start, too, though it would seem a good time to return to the 10-man rotation they were using before Anunoby went down, with Miller and Nigel Hayes as additional depth. As noted in the pre-game, this is the first of five games in seven nights, so keep an eye on workloads the next week.
UPDATE: Malcolm Miller is starting, which is interesting to say the least. Whether this is a case of the Raptors wanting another look at Miller or not wanting to task Anunoby with a full load of Oladipo – or a sign Anunoby is on a minutes restriction as he eases back in – it means the rotation will almost certainly include 11 players. Miller with the starters has produced a slightly positive net rating in their short time together, and Miller is the type of versatile defender who might be able to keep Oladipo in front of him. It’s a big test, though, ahead of a tough 15th-man decision for the Raptors. As for Anunoby, easing him in makes plenty of sense, even if he’s 100 percent – he’s been out a few weeks, and there’s only so much conditioning you can do outside of games.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Malcolm Miller, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Nigel Hayes
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: Norman Powell
905: Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie
Indiana will be without one of the keys to some of their best lineup iterations, as Domantas Sabonis is out with an ankle sprain. That means Al Jefferson figures to see minutes backing up Myles Turner. With all due respect to Jefferson, a long-time favorite, that’s a positive for the Raptors. Sabonis has been excellent this year, and a handful of Indiana’s best looks have involved Sabonis in place of turner. Making matters worse, Trevor Booker is a game-time call with an ankle sprain of his own, which could leave the Pacers exceptionally thin in the frontcourt. T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu are around, if unproven, and this would seem like a game they’ll spend the bulk of small.
The starters are still a lineup to watch out for. Swapping Cory Joseph in for Darren Collison has turned that group from okay to deadly. Joseph and Miles squaring off against their respective former teams should be a lot of fun, and The Plus-Minus Wave God Fred VanVleet going against The Plus-Minus Fade God Cory Joseph might set a record for heart-eyes emojis tweeted in one game.
UPDATE: Booker is available, per the Pacers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get some time as a small-ball center with Sabonis sidelined and the Pacers much deeper on the wings than down low.
PG: Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, Joseph Young
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Glenn Robinson
PF: Thaddeus Young, Trevor Booker, T.J. Leaf
C: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Ike Anigbogu
OUT: Domantas Sabonis
Fort Wayne: Edmond Sumner, Ben Moore, Alex Poythress
- Raptors 905 are heading out west for a four-game trip that will set up their playoff bracket (their magic number is down to one). Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Malachi Richardson are on the trip.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about the tough 15th-man decision the Raptors face sometime around March 25.
- I also wrote about Nigel Hayes’ weird experience drawing a G League assignment while on a 10-day deal and switching sides in a rivalry in the process.
- Some more really good Fred VanVleet content, this time from Michael Grange at Sportsnet.
- Shouts to Chris Boucher on becoming the record-setting 14th Canadian to play in the NBA this season.
- Over at Vice, I wrote about Carl English’s basketball origin story and what he’s trying to do for basketball in Newfoundland. (I know it’s not Raptors, but it’s CanBall, so deal.)
- Our man CanBallRay put together a list of all of the Canadians on NCAA postseason rosters. It’s the second year in a row 22 players are set to participate in the men’s NCAA Tournament, per Canada Basketball.
— CanBallRay (@CanBallReport) March 13, 2018
The Raptors are 4-point favorites with a 211.5 over-under. The line has held most of the day, though the over-under came down two points.