The Raptors visit Indiana on this glorious St Patrick's Day, and they'll hope to have the luck of the Irish with them as they battle a deep Pacers team that is finally getting healthy. How's that for a hyper-specific, yet somehow generic seasonal sentiment?
Indiana is currently 7th in the East, so if the playoffs were to begin today, this would indeed be the Raptors' first round match-up. While the Pacers do have a two game cushion between themselves and both the 8th and 6th spots, the logjam from 3 to 10 in the East is such that if you threw in one or two streaking teams (be it winning or losing) the whole picture might completely change over the next 15ish games. Scientific, I know.
With that said, this a good test for Toronto, who has played Indiana to a 1-1 record so far this season.
Here are your keys to the game.
Turn Me Over, I'm Done
The Pacers are one of the leagues best teams at generating turnovers, averaging 15.9 per game (tied - 6th) and drive that by averaging 9.0 steals per game (4th). They capitalize on those turnovers to the tune of 18.9 points per game (3rd). Last time these teams met, Toronto jumped out a 26-5 lead to open the game, before a turnover fueled 39-4 Pacers run wrenched the game back into the hands of their opponent.
The Raptors have generally been excellent at taking care of the ball this season, but will need to be especially vigilant tonight.
Too Many Cooks?
Indiana is expecting CJ Miles and the newly inked Ty Lawson back from injury tonight, which would give them 13 healthy regulars for one of first times this season. Due to the various injuries Indiana has suffered, every single one of those 13 players has played significant minutes for the team so far this year (except Lawson). With all of them healthy, who will get the reserve run against Toronto, and moving forward?
Bench depth has been a strength for Indiana all season, the only way they've been able to weather the storm, in fact. After the starters faltered In their last meeting with Toronto, Rodney Stuckey came off the bench and posted a +42, Lavoy Allen was a +38 and Jordan Hill dropped 20 points and 13 rebounds en route to a +27, so those guys are as good a bet as any to see the floor, but it remains to be seen how exactly Frank Vogel will handle his new-found embarrassment of rotational riches.
Things Done Changed
While these teams have met twice this season, the Raptors have played 40 games since they last saw the Pacers. One might be drawn to point out some parallels -- DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas played in the first meeting between the two, a Raptors victory, and both missed the second, a Raptors loss -- but the bottom line is that both teams are a lot different at this point in the season.
For Toronto, life without Carroll has become a normality, and they'll be better suited to handling his absence this time around. With that said, he sure as hell would help against Paul George. As for Jonas, he's currently listed as questionable and is likely to be a game-time decision. It would be great to have him pounding the ball down low against an Indiana team that defends the paint well, but can be vulnerable to skilled big men. Jonas himself put up a 21-15 against the Pacers in the first game of the season.
With that said, it's important to remember that with such a huge gap between games, the first two meetings between these teams are likely to be a poor predictor of what will happen tonight.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:00pm EST