Pre-Game

Gameday: Pacers @ Raptors, Dec. 19

The nightmare is real, Doug McDermott is here to haunt your dreams.

The Toronto Raptors host an Indiana Pacers team coming off a tough loss at the buzzer to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Victor Oladipo has been back for the last four games after missing just over three weeks with a right knee injury and opened the door for the Cavs victory with two missed free-throws that could have opened up a three-point lead, before Larry Nance Jr. tipped in a tough shot by Rodney Hood before time expired for the 92-91 win.

Home Dipo has averaged 16 points per game since returning on 7-of-20 shooting from three and a 42.9 percent clip inside the arc. With his latest knee issue having occurred on the second night of a back-to-back in Atlanta on Nov. 17, it will be interesting to see how they manage him this time around. Should he need more of a rest, head coach Nate McMillan should have no issues handing over some of the ball handling responsibilities to Toronto native Cory Joseph, who’s averaging career-highs in assist rate (91st percentile in assist rate relative to usage for combo guards!), rebound rate, steal percentage, and three-point percentage (39.1).

In Oladipo’s absence, Myles Turner has been fantastic in leading this squad. Through nine games in December in which the Pacers are 7-2, the fourth-year pro is averaging 16 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and has even made 11 of his last 20 three-point attempts. The defense is arguably what’s been most impressive, Turner talked about coming into this season with a better approach on that end, especially when it comes to defending pick-and-rolls, and being the anchor for this team has catapulted them from 12th in defensive rating last year to second this year, per Cleaning the Glass.

While most of Indiana’s lineups featuring Turner are very good defensively, a Joseph-Oladipo-Bojan Bogdanovic-Thaddeus Young-Turner quintet hasn’t seen much floor time but is a plus-15 over 54 possessions and allows just 82.7 points per 100 possessions after playing to a plus-10.7 net rating last year and allowing 97.2 points per 100 possessions in 330 minutes. Their starting lineup, which plays Darren Collison ahead of Joseph, is a plus-1.8 over 11 times the sample size this season and was a plus-3.9 in 2017-18. CoJo better.

Collison is having a really down year, shooting just 36.2 percent from three after lighting the arc on fire the past three seasons with over a 40 percent clip. He’s averaging just nine points per game this season and what’s really surprising is to see a career 85.2 percent free-throw shooter make just 76.7 percent of his freebies.

Regardless of who’s in the lineup, the Pacers — like the Raptors — do a tremendous job of defending without fouling. They are second-best in free-throw rate allowed and with Toronto fourth in that category, it should make for a fun, free-flowing game. Indiana has had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end, ranking 20th in offensive rating, but this may have more to do with Oladipo having missed 12 games after finishing 13th last year. A star wing player could make this team a contender, but alas, that’s what Indiana gave up to be where they’re at.

Oh, what could have been.

Kawhi Leonard will forever be connected with the Pacers having been drafted by the ball club only to be traded to San Antonio for George Hill. I went back to read this great piece by Zach Lowe in his Grantland days, and it’s cool to look back and see how things played out. Indiana was really high on Leonard, but Danny Granger was effectively the difference between drafting the future Finals MVP to slot alongside Paul George and trading for a point guard who would theoretically supplement Frank Vogel’s offense better.

And here we are now, in a time where Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor. He’s playing for a team still atop the league standings but has lost some of its separation from the rest of the pack in the east after a 2-2 west coast road trip and losing five of eight overall. As you well know by now, Nick Nurse is fresh off a $15,000 fine for his comments on how Leonard has been officiated this season and so keeping track of how the whistle blows over this next little stretch may be interesting to follow.

Nurse was eager to move on from the episode at practice yesterday and as we should. The Pacers are a very good team, have the second-best net rating (plus-9.5) in the league for the month of December behind the Boston Celtics, are 2.5 games behind the Raptors in the standings, and Toronto may well be without their star point guard Kyle Lowry, without whom the offense has struggled to find a consistent rhythm.

GAME INFO

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT.
TV: TSN. Radio: Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

RAPTORS UPDATES

Norman Powell makes his return to the rotation while Kyle Lowry (left thigh) and Serge Ibaka (knee soreness) are questionable to play. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are expected to make their returns as well.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Danny Green, Norman, Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, C.J. Miles
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
OUT: Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka

PACERS UPDATES

Kyle O’Quinn has been battling an illness over the past week and hasn’t seen the floor in eight of the past 10 games. Besides that, it appears everyone is good to go.

PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday
SG: Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Doug McDermott
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: Myles Turner, Kyle O’Quinn

THE LINE

The Raptors are five-point favorites and the over/under is set at 209.

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