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Raptors confront the Pacers once again: Preview, start time, and more

Hard to believe given their first round matchup last season, but this is the first time the Raptors and Pacers have met this season.

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Due to the bizarre vagaries of the NBA schedule, this is the first meeting between the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers this season. These two teams have a, uh, modest history with one another. It’s not violent or anything, but maybe... maybe you remember this?

Hoo boy, I still get the chills.

Anyway, the Raptors are coming off an ugly — yet satisfying — win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. We know it was not pleasing aesthetically because the score resembles something from 1996 (it was 87-75). In any case, that win comes off a sad, deflating loss to the Thunder on Thursday, after which Toronto had a players-only meeting to really drill down to what the hell they were doing. Now we’re here. Still no Kyle Lowry, but are the Raptors on an upswing?

Here are three things to watch for to help us find out.

Paul George, Paul George, Paul George

It’s been rather hilarious to hear some of the chatter around George involve him “falling off” from the superstar level. Yes, some of his numbers are down — he’s shooting a more efficient 45 percent, but his points per game slipped to 22.4 (from 23.1), along with his rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, and threes attempted. Maybe George is on the decline?

Raptors fans know not to believe that. George should scare you. He is the perfect player to, a) bottle up whatever it is DeMar DeRozan is trying to do on the court, and b) do whatever he wants to do on the court. The Raptors were the better team in last season’s playoffs, but George almost powered them to victory. We don’t need to rehash it but it will be interesting to see this version of the Raptors (against this version of the Pacers) to mark the progress they’ve made. Yes, even without Lowry.

The Small Lineups

In the win over Detroit on Friday, the Raptors toggled small with their lineup, opting for a combo with Serge Ibaka at centre and Norman Powell up in the grill of the Pistons’ Markieff Morris. It worked, and the Raptors came back and won. This is worth taking note of because the Pacers will definitely try small lineup combos to try and blow Toronto off the court.

Of the Pacers’ three most used lineups, the best features George, with Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, C.J. Miles, and Jeff Teague. There are other permutations with Glenn Robinson III and Monta Ellis (and a fourth best lineup that doesn’t have George in it; what a world), but the point remains the same. This is a mobile Pacers team that’s designed, at least on paper, to push it and cause matchup trouble. (In reality, they play with the 17th fastest pace, the Raps 22nd.) Will the Raptors be able to keep up? They now have the personnel to do it, but is the spirit there? Let’s watch.

Maintain the Defense

For the past 12 games since Lowry’s been out, the Raptors are the fourth best defense in the entire league. This is incredibly encouraging. Yes, they had clunkers against Miami and OKC, but for the most part they’ve been able to stay in games via their defense, which has definitely not always been the case. Toronto’s MO for most of the year was to try and shoot the lights out and overpower teams with their (historically great!) offense.

With Lowry out the Raptors have gone from a top-3 offense to 17th, so it’s all about winning ugly and getting stops now. That’s really all there is to it here. Oh yeah, and it would be nice if some guys hit 3s, but whatever, let’s stick to harping on the defense. Good luck, guys.

Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 6:00pm EST