At this point, we know all there is to know about these Toronto Raptors. That tends to happen when you hyper-analyze every angle of a team over the course of an 82-game season. From the Raptors style of play, to their strengths and weaknesses, to the individuals on the roster and coaching staff, there aren't many more scraps left to be picked off the carcass on the eve of the 2016 playoffs.
Depending on the way you consume the NBA, though, you may not be totally acquainted with the Raptors first round opponent: the Indiana Pacers.
The stuff on the surface, you probably know. After a disappointing, mostly Paul George-less 2014-15 season that saw a deconstructed Pacers fall from being a top-seeded conference finalist to the oh so undesirable ninth-seed, Indiana rebounded to tally 45 wins with their superstar back in the fold this year. Other things you're probably aware of: Frank Vogel is an excellent defensive coach, Myles Turner has been a stand-out rookie and Monta Ellis has it all. But for a more in-depth look at the team the Raptors will square off against in their crucial first-round series, Raptors HQ got in touch with Tom Lewis of our Pacers sister-site IndyCornrows.com for a little round of Q & A.
Raptors HQ: What's the sense among Pacers fans after this season that saw them finish 7th in the East? Does it feel like the team met, surpassed or fell short of pre-season expectations?
Tom Lewis, Indy Cornrows: The Pacers met or surpassed positive preseason expectations, which were based on the hopes Paul George would be able to play the bulk of the season. Not only did PG play, but he was available for all 82 games and produced at a level surpassing anyone's expectations. So in a roundabout way, with PG playing so much and so well, the Pacers were disappointing over the last half of the season. They struggled to find an identity after scrapping an early effort to play small and while they had some big wins (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, etc.) they had many disappointing losses, including a 1-7 record in OT games. The night-to-night effort fluctuated far too much so as the Pacers head to the playoffs it is hard to find many fans who carry much confidence into the playoffs.
RHQ: How would you describe the mood of the fan base heading into this playoff series? Is there a sense at all among Pacers fans that this team can upset the Raptors?
TL: Regardless of how well or poorly the Pacers play, there won't be many surprises for fans that follow the Pacers closely. As mentioned above, the Pacers have shown they are more than capable of beating any team in the East but have also struggled to beat lesser teams even in the heat of a playoff race. While the Pacers finished 6-1, they beat several teams resting key players and, as you are well aware, were punished by the Raptors who were missing several key players. The only glimmer of hope is the fact that just when you think you have the Pacers figured out, they do the opposite. But that also meets the reality that, despite their past playoff issues, this Raptors team appears different thanks to their defense which could continue to make Air Canada Centre a house of horrors for the Blue and Gold.
RHQ: For Raptors fans who may not watch much of the Pacers, how would you summarize the team's style of play?
TL: The Pacers made an effort to speed up their style of play and for the most part succeeded, although they rely on the jump shot far too much and are streaky at best from behind the arc. When the Pacers have played their best, their defense is active and they are attacking the lane and earning free throws at the offensive end. Recently, Solomon Hill has worked his way into the playing rotation which allows them to play a smaller, spread lineup since Solo can cover power forwards.
RHQ: What's one area in which you worry the Raptors may be able to exploit the Pacers, and one area in which you think the Pacers may have an advantage over Toronto in this series?
TL: The Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combo always gives the Pacers fits as they struggle to neutralize Lowry's ability to attack and create offense for himself or his teammates. Paul George is not all the way back on the defensive end, so it's tough to expect much from him when matched up against DeRozan, especially since PG has to be big on the other end for the Pacers. It also helps the Raps to have DeMarre Carroll available to defend PG. Even if Carroll isn't fully ready to go, any minutes he can give them on PG will be a problem for the Pacers.
The Pacers still have quality playoff experience to tap into and have always responded well at playoff time. They also will have Monta Ellis on rest to begin the series. Monta played the first 81 games but was much more effective with a day or two off to rest his knees. Any hopes of the Pacers stealing the series will rely on a big Game 1 effort. Hopefully, the night owl NBA players are awake and ready to go by 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday!
RHQ: We all know about Paul George, but who is a player on the Pacers the Raptors should be wary of as a potential thorn in their sides throughout this series?
TL: Monta Ellis on rest has a little bounce in his game which will force the Raptors to pay attention. Also, off the bench Ty Lawson brings a different dynamic to the floor with his speed and ability to push and create for the reserve unit. Finally, C.J. Miles has been a streaky three-point shooter who seemed to find his stroke over the last few games. Since March, Miles is shooting over 43 percent from three-point land.
RHQ: Lastly, what's your prediction for Raptors vs. Pacers?
TL: Pacers in 6, baby! Gotta win Game 1, put a little pressure on the Raps and then grind out the home wins. It could happen...