Coming off a solid win against the Houston Rockets, the Toronto Raptors continue to fight through what is possibly the hardest week of their recent schedule. Tonight they host the Indiana Pacers for the fourth and final time this season.
This season the Pacers proved to be hard fought challengers to the Raps, winning two out of three games so far. However the Raps showcased their ability to retaliate as they won the game on New Years Day, and now face an Indy squad that's seen better days.
During their last meet up on January 7, the Raptors gave up a 16-2 run to the Pacers that pretty much did them in, while Amir Johnson and Jonas Valancuinas were unable to score thanks to the efforts of two time NBA All-Star, Roy Hibbert.
However during the game on January 1st, the most significant contribution from the game came from sophomore Terrence Ross, as he was all over the Pacers' other stud, Paul George, forcing him to turn the ball over six times while shooting 5-14 from the field.
While they Raps had a great win over the strong Rockets squad, as noted, the Pacers haven't been playing their best ball as of late as they enter this game looking to a snap their season-worst five game road losing streak. As part of this losing streak, the Pacers recently relinquished their hold on the top spot in the Eastern Conference as well as they now sit behind the Miami Heat.
Despite Indiana's recent woes, they've been able to stay effective offensively, as they're now shooting 49.4 percent from the floor, the best in two and a half weeks, even limiting the most recent opponent, the Detroit Pistons, to season low 36.6 percent from the floor on Wednesday night.
If that's not unsettling enough, the Raps may be without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, as their statuses remain uncertain for this evening's match.
Even so there's still room for optimism. If Greivis Vásquez can get rolling again like he did against Houston while Patrick Patterson gets back into rhythm there should be little reason to fret. The battle for the third seed in the East against Chicago continues as the Dinos play their first game of a back-to-back stand. Here are our three keys for a Raptors victory.
1) Contain Roy Hibbert:
Roy is a beast. A 7'2" big man weighing a whopping 290 pounds, it comes as no surprise fans shout out "the Great Wall of Hibbert" as he makes a monstrous block or forces a bad shot.
For Jonas the task seems daunting, as he's both underweight and undersized compared to Hibbert. Despite the uodds, Jonas has done a better job on Hibbert this season, and has been a key factor in Toronto's recent wins.
As well, Big Val's rebounding game has been slightly better than Hibbert's this season -- 8.5 vs 6.9 rebounds per game. With no Amir Johnson, expect Tyler Hansbrough to get some extra burn as the Raps try to hold arguably one of the best centres in the league to as few points as possible.
2) Defend home court:
While Hibbert is a greatest concern for the Raptors they'll still have to be effective holding down the team as a collective. They've had success in this area vs Indy on the season, holding Indiana to only 32.0 field goal makes this season -- the fewest vs. other opponents in the league, also holding them to 40 percent shooting from the field -- the second fewest vs. other opponents in this category (Dinos held the Rockets to the fewest with 38.1 percent).
In fact, if you like defense, this match is likely for you. Expect to see both teams trying to lock things down as the Raps hold the seventh most efficient defense in the league while the Pacers maintain to hold the number on the top spot in this category.
3) Pass the ball around:
While the Raps may be without their leading assist master Kyle Lowry, Greivs Vasquez showed vs the Rockets that he can do a solid job running the show. His shot wasn't falling with much regularity, but he refrained from doing too much chucking, electing to get into the paint and move the ball around.
Against a top notch defence like the Pacers, this is a must as one-on-one play will put this match in the L column pretty quickly. With Hibbert clogging the paint it will be key to find open looks on the perimeter through great ball movement, especially if Amir Johnson is a no-go as well.
As well, if the second unit can get rolling, this will provide a potentially short-handed squad with a nice boost as the Dinos try to get a win against one of the most toughest clubs in their conference, one they may meet at some point in the playoffs.