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3 in the Key - Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Indiana

With Tinsley still on the books, the JO trade gave Indiana some much needed cap breathing room...

With Tinsley still on the books, the JO trade gave Indiana some much needed cap breathing room...

Is this it?

Will today's match against the Indiana Pacers finally result in a win, thus ending Toronto's seven game losing streak?

It's hard to say.

The team put on its best effort in weeks Friday night against Detroit, one which prompted Jose Calderon post-game to state that the team "was very close to being a very good team."


Isn't that a bit like saying the Arizona Wildcats came on strong late in the Pac-10 this year? I mean it's probably just too late regardless!

I've had my head in NCAA land obviously the past few days and it will be a challenge for me to even stay in my seat this afternoon with Duke playing for the ACC crown against Florida State.

However I'm also very curious to see how this Raptors team comes out against Indiana after Friday night's excellent display vs Detroit.

In addition, I'm also intrigued by this Pacer club. Howland and I picked this match in preseason to buy tickets to as we guessed that by now Toronto would have solidified a playoff spot and Indiana would be fighting to stay alive.

Well...we were partially correct I suppose.

This was supposed to be another chance to see TJ in Pacer black and yellow, and to reaffirm that the JO deal was definitely one that worked in our favour.

As we all know, that hasn't been the case, so earlier this week I reached out to Tom Lewis from the Pacers' blog, Indy Cornrows, to get his side of the deal in our usual "Blogging with the Enemy" feature.

Here's what he had to say:

1) RaptorsHQ: I guess the most obvious way to start this is by discussing the Jermaine O'Neal trade. What has the impact of the trade been now that we're almost through an entire season, and do you envision the players who were acquired in the trade fitting into Indiana's long-term plans?

Attached to that question, has the impact of the deal been a positive one for Indiana, and in retrospect, would you give the ok to pull the trigger on it again if you were Larry Bird?

IndyCornrows: At the time of the trade, I felt it was a huge success even if the incoming
players were a bust for the Pacers simply because Jermaine O'Neal was eating up a third of the Pacers salary cap without being able to carry a third of the load. By breaking that salary up, the Pacers finally had a littleflexibility to look forward to this summer. So I would definitely tell Larry Bird to pull the trigger again.

Fortunately, all of the players the Pacers brought in have made a positive impact. T.J. Ford starts at point guard and may not be the perfect PG, but his positives have outweighed his negatives this year. Rasho Nesterovic has a savvy veteran game and has played a nice role as a frontcourt utility man depending on the match-ups and health of his teammates. Plus, Rasho's expiring contract offers the front office some additional options this summer.

Roy Hibbert has been a pleasant surprise. He's far less a project than projected when he was drafted. Roy struggles avoiding foul trouble, but he's been able to produce at the offensive end, plus he's a hard worker with a great personality that's already making him a fan favorite.

2) RaptorsHQ: Talk to us a bit about Indiana right now. The team even without Granger and Jr. Dun is hanging on for dear life in terms of the playoffs in the East. Do you think when healthy and with another solid draft this club will be ready for a major jump next season? Can you envision them squeeking into the playoffs this year?

Indycornrows: The way the race for the final playoff spot is shaping up, the Pacers could definitely squeak in, but it won't be pretty. It seems like the best way to move up in the standings is to have a night off while the competition loses.

As for the Pacers going forward, they could use a consistent interior scoring presence. Troy Murphy has been incredible this year at power forward, but he doesn't play inside. The Pacers need to add a more traditional power forward who can defend the paint and provide that interior
scoring. The team remains in transition with a few contracts up this summer and more deals likely. So the roster will be unsettled until the Jamaal Tinsley situation is resolved and the salary cap is set to determine how much money they can spend to re-sign or replace Jarrett Jack, Marquis Daniels and Rasho Nesterovice. Considering the cap situation, if the market is reasonable for Jack, he's probably the only one they will bring back.

3) RaptorsHQ: As usual, keys to today's game; what does Indiana need to do to hand Toronto their eighth straight loss?

Indycornrows: For the Pacers to succeed they need to push the pace and knock down some shots. The team is coming off a horrible shooting night in Atlanta, so hopefully they can bounce back and find their offensive groove.

They also need a solid game from T.J. Ford an Jarrett Jack. Jack has played real well in recent wins, picking up much of the scoring slack with Danny Granger sidelined. Both Ford and Jack can get in trouble with the ball in the lane, so their ability to take care of the ball and not try to force too much of the action is always a key for the Pacers.

Defensively the Pacers need to account for the Raptors perimeter shooters. Seems like over the past couple of seasons, one or two Raps will torch the Pacers from behind the arc.

Danny Granger may be available to return which will be interesting since the team adjusted to his absence pretty well. The latest reports indicate he may not be able to go after feeling too much pain prior to the game in Atlanta.

A big thanks to Tom for the answers and now I have a question for our readers; does anyone find it disturbing that the exact "benefits" of the trade for Indiana, (expiring contracts, saavy veteran leadership, young prospect,) are the exact things Toronto is looking for now?

Of course that doesn't mean Toronto lost in this trade, it's just interesting to see the other side of the coin. In my opinion TJ had to go so Colangelo took the best deal that he thought was out there.

Really, this trade may have been a good thing for Raptors' fans. Howland in the pre-season argued that the O'Neal trade was either going to be really good (as in he and Bosh would mesh and the team would rise to another level) or things would fail miserably. Indeed the latter was true so perhaps not making the trade would have simply hid some of the gaping holes on this team for yet another season as the Raps toiled in mediocrity.

So that takes us to this afternoon's match pitting a very bad team currently (Toronto) against one that isn't as bad (Indiana.) I'm not going to get into any three keys here as I simply want to see this team go out and compete.

Yes keeping Troy Murphy from dialing it up from long-range all afternoon is key.

Yes keeping TJ's penetration to a mimimum and the Pacers off the glass is important.

Hell, hoping that Danny Granger decides to sit out another match would be nice!

But really all the keys in the world don't really matter if this team doesn't give 100 per cent effort and fights through 48 minutes of game-time.

They did that Friday night, but unfortunately couldn't keep it up in OT.

This afternoon, I'm hoping that changes, even if it means seeing Pops and Roko for 40 of those 48...