After getting off on the right foot against the Phoenix Suns, who are far more competitive than we’ve seen in some time, but still significantly worse than the Raptors – we see the team from Toronto squaring up against the Indiana Pacers for the third time this month. Kyle Lowry & co. (or Pascal Siakam & co. have it your way) are looking to squash a team that will figure heavily into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture. Hopefully, the Raptors can piece together an end-to-end victory, similar to the second game in February, and less so like the first. A game in which they stole victory from the jaws of defeat with a mad-dash 11-0 run that was capped off by a game-winning Serge Ibaka 3-pointer – he makes every shot you think he might miss.
The good news for the Pacers is that they’re bringing TJ Warren back into the fold (he had a great game vs. the Knicks) after he missed the previous two matchups vs. the Raptors. With Victor Oladipo out for most of this season (he’s questionable for tonight’s game) Warren picked up a lot of the scoring slack for the Pacers and has delivered on his promise as a professional scorer. The Raptors had the Pacers offense figured out to some degree in the last matchup, so the variance and competence that Warren’s presence will provide should be welcome for the team out of Indiana.
We’ve seen Ibaka do an incredible job of holding down the center position for the Raptors this year, and with Lowry and VanVleet in-line to operate as pests against Domantas Sabonis while Ibaka provides the backline, we can rest a little easier. And on the other side of the floor, Ibaka’s work in the screen-game either as a short-roller (in which he’s become much improved, both in shot-making and passing) dive-man, or popping out, is going to be paramount to the Raptors success in this one. The Pacers like to run teams off the line, and VanVleet and Lowry are more than happy to let Ibaka work in the middle of the half-court. Not to mention Ibaka is shooting over 55-percent from the field and over 45-percent from deep the past two months. He’s a heat-pump at this point.
On top of the walking front-court flex that is Ibaka, resident All-Star Pascal Siakam is fresh off a game where he eviscerated single coverage, passed incredibly well out of doubles, and became the overlord of the Phoenix Suns in perpetuity. The Pacers have crafted a gritty and smart team, Nate McMillan has done an incredible job. But, the Raptors front-court looks primed and ready. And they’re a tough load to handle, especially when they’re working so harmoniously together. Sure, Marc Gasol pairs better with Siakam for interplay and the 2-man game, but Ibaka and Siakam do a great job of operating as separate points of attack.
The Raptors 3-point defense looms large in this one after seeing the two previous games. In the second game, where the Raptors handled the Pacers easily, they kept the Pacers 3-point shooting under wraps as they finished with 10 makes for the game. In the first matchup the Pacers exploded for 9 makes from downtown in the first half, and 19 on the game. The Raptors were outscored by 21 points from behind the line, and it’s incredible that they won, but that type of performance is hard to replicate. Keep an eye on the attention that’s paid to Sabonis, see if the Raptors have any lapses on the back-end. If a defender takes a couple steps in, a pin-down off the weak-side becomes much more dangerous for a player like Doug McDermott.
Overall though, the Raptors have the talent, the IQ, and the tenacity to gather another win. Everything is important on the road to that all important top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. So let’s buckle in and watch some Raptors basketball.
Tipoff: 610pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN1050 – The Raptors’ odds are seen to be good by the bookies. They’re a 5.5 point favorite.
Marc Gasol (hamstring) is still out for the foreseeable future, Patrick McCaw (flu) is doubtful, and Norm Powell (finger) is out.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Oshae Brissett, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
Victor Oladipo (back spasms) is questionable, and Edmond Summer (sore hip) is out.
PG: Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, TJ McConnell
SG: Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday
SF: TJ Warren, Doug McDermott, JaKarr Sampson
PF: Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, Alize Johnson
C: Myles Turner, Goga Bitadze
Have a blessed day.