How things have changed. A year ago, this would have been a huge statement game for the Toronto Raptors. Going up against a top seeded Indiana Pacers team, the Raps would have had their hands full with Paul George and Lance Stephenson. But with George’s unfortunate injury and Stephenson’s departure, this Pacers team has crumbled. They currently sit at 7-15, which is good enough for 11th in the East.
The Raptors have an important stretch of games coming up. They play 6 straight games against teams below .500, and without their all-star DeMar DeRozan, it is becoming increasingly clear that they will need to take care of business in games like this to stay atop the East.
Let’s get to the Cage’s Keys to the Game:
48 minutes of focus
People keep talking about the Raptors poor rebounding and perimeter defense as the main causes for struggles without DeRozan. Yet, last game against the Cavaliers the Raptors were leading in the rebounding category, The problem is the mental lapses they have at certain stretches in the game – particularly in the fourth quarter. #WeTheFourth doesn’t seem to be as applicable without their all-star, and they will need to figure out a way to regain that focus for 48 minutes.
Despite their struggles, the Pacers still have a (sometimes) elite frontcourt. David West and Roy Hibbert are no laughing matter, and the Raps will need to take care of them to ensure the W here. With Luis Scola also coming off the bench, this will be a tough one for the Raps. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will need to be a strong force in there. Get them going early and often.
Move the ball
The Pacers actually own the league’s 7th best defense, so scoring the ball will be the real challenge here. Guys like Terrence Ross (who is now a father) will need to be ready to facilitate offense. I’ve said it before, but we cannot rely on Kyle Lowry as much as we have. Firstly, it will burn him out. Secondly, it’s not sustainable. Let’s get some crisp ball movement tonight.
X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
As mentioned, he will have his hands full tonight. He will need to prevent Hibbert from having a strong game, and ultimately give Lowry some support offensively. We have seen some flashes of what he can do in the past couple of contests- it would be great to see that translate to a full game. It would also be great to see Dwane Casey give him a chance.