There's not much left to say other than, "this is it."
All the off-season and pre-season speculation, all the prognostications and estimates, all the player evaluations and theorems, throw it out the window.
It's an interesting first test as the Pacers of course are coming off a very successful 2011-12 campaign, however have lost a few key pieces in the off-season, added a few unknowns like DJ Augustin and Ian Manhimi, and are dealing with what could be season-long knee situation in regards to star wing Danny Granger.
Not that this means the Raps are in for an easy 1 and 0 start to their season, but more that we're likely watching two teams tonight who are still trying to figure a number of things out.
However I'm predicting a Toronto win.
As I sat down to write this preview early this morning. I was reminded of a song that I've been playing a ton, "People I Love" by the band, English Words:
It speaks to the importance of friends and family, and as I thought about the strengths of this current Raptors team, I couldn't help but draw some parallels between the early camaraderie and depth that the Dinos put on display, and the song's lyrics. (As an aside, check out their debut album, a slice of indie-pop heaven.)
This team has real depth for the first time in years, and I'm not talking about the "oh hey, we can bring David Andersen and Marcus Banks in off the pine, what you got?" type depth.
There's some solid talent here and even if it's a bit of the niche variety (defenders, rebounders, scorers, but not necessarily all together), it's something I think we'll see the team lean on as an advantage over the course of this campaign.
And tonight, I think behind a sold-out ACC and backed by this depth, Toronto gets the W.
We usually look at three keys to each affair but today, let's take a look at three areas that I'll be watching intently:
1. Rotations. The one problem with depth? Who gets the bulk of the minutes. We know the starting five but beyond that, it's going to be very interesting to see if Coach Dwane Casey rolls out a specific second unit, makes decisions based more on match-ups, or already has a set order of minutes for players outside the top five.
This also means keeping an eye on the starters.
If they struggle early, as was the case in pre-season, who does Casey yank, and who are the first options off the pine?
2. Valanciunas. Casey declared yesterday that Jonas Valanciunas was going to be the club's starting center, proclaiming that he had earned the nod. Hard to disagree based on pre-season play, but nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how he responds, particularly since he'll face a tough test tonight in the front-court of Roy Hibbert and David West. Both are excellent rebounders, Hibbert, particularly on the offensive end, so Big Val's going to have to do a solid job keeping his man at bay, and staying out of foul trouble.
3. Offense. We've heard lots of talk about Casey focusing more on the offensive end of the court this season and now's our chance to see that come to fruition. Hopefully. For of their defensive improvement, the Raps were in the league's basement offensively last season and for this team to challenge for a playoff spot, that really has to improve.
Unfortunately in pre-season, I didn't see much of a progression in this area as there was still a lot of "give it to Andrea to see what he can do" and I felt that Kyle Lowry was rendered a bit ineffective. Sure, when needed, Kyle would bulldoze his way to the rim, but I'd love to see him initiate things a bit more as I believe that's when this club's offense will be at its most potent.
The Pacers can do damage offensively themselves (seventh in the league last year in offensive rating) so I'll be watching with anticipation as to which club can better execute their sets on O this early into the season.
Most importantly though...Raptors basketball is back!