With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Toronto Raptors will play the Indiana Pacers tonight at home. After a 43 game hiatus, the Raptors finally saw prized free agent DeMarre Carroll return to action in their last matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, where they lost 95-87. If the playoffs started today, the Raptors would be going head-to-head with the Pacers in the first round as they currently hold on to the number 7 seed in the East. Heading into tonight’s game the Pacers are riding a 3-game winning streak an will try to prove themselves a worthy first round opponent. The Raptors have beaten the Pacers 2-out-of-3 times and defeated them 101-94 in their last meeting with Bismack Biyombo setting a franchise record 25 rebounds.
Key’s to the game:
Prepare to get hit
The Pacers are just one game away from clinching a playoff berth in the Eastern conference. With the Raptors slotted as their current first round opponent, expect nothing less than physical play from Indiana. As much as the Raptors could and probably should use this game to rest key players, they’ll need that mental edge in the first round should they play the Pacers. With Carroll still easing his way back the Raptors should have their hands full with Paul George who’s still a bonafide superstar in this league averaging 23.4 ppg, 7.1 rebs & 4.0 ast. The Raptors need to do their best to contain George as he’ll be the rise and fall of the Pacers in this game.
Inside out game
Without the defensive player formerly know as Roy Hibbert; the Pacers’ lane protection just isn’t what it used to be. The Pacers are still a stingy defensive squad under Frank Vogel so it still wont be a walk in the park, however this should be a green light for players like DeMar DeRozan and now Norman Powell. Neither Jordan Hill or Ian Mahinmi are tenacious shot-blockers so the Raptors shouldn’t have a problem getting to the rim against the Pacers’ front court.
This season the Pacers have elected to increase their pace of play by pushing the rock off turnovers. The Raptors need to stay focused and not get caught up with the result of their offensive play. Monta Ellis is still lightning quick at his age and George is very sneaky as he likes to leak out for those highlight plays. The Raptors will need to protect the ball and focus on limiting those live ball turnovers if they want to see a victory tonight.
X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
Jonas Valanciunas will be the best big on the floor tonight against the Pacers. With his length and ability to crash the offensive glass, JV should go into beast mode tonight. In the Raptors three games against Indiana, Valanciunas has only played in one game (the season opener). He went off for 21 points and 15 rebounds in that game. Let’s hope JV can channel that same energy and give the fans a repeat performance.