Ever since Kyle Lowry's post All-Star weekend wrist surgery (only time I'll bring this up, I promise) we have seen signs of progress on some nights and in contrast, cries for help on others. The Raps have struggled to grab hold of any momentum throughout the month, failing to win back-to-back games since their four game winning streak in late February. Don't fret though, there are some positive signs of what could be to come.
When the Raptors made moves to obtain Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker before the deadline, their main incentive was to improve their below-average defensive play. Since the All-Star break, the Raps have owned the sixth best defensive rating in the league at 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, a significant improvement from their previous rating of 106.4 that had them ranked 19th. The lineup of Joseph, Powell, DeRozan, Tucker and Ibaka has been called upon to close out games as of late and have racked up a net rating of 47.9 points per 100 possessions over the past month. Although the sample size is extremely small (six games and 29 minutes), insert a healthy Kyle Lowry into this lineup and surely there will be great things to come.
Something to take note of is that the Raptors will have a significant amount of say in the battle for the Eastern Conferences final few playoff seeds. Seven of the their final 12 games (including tonight) will come against the Pacers (three), the Heat (two), the Pistons and the Bulls. It's also worth mentioning that outside of the Pacers who sit at a very pedestrian 35-33 record, Toronto's remaining schedule consists of exclusively sub-.500 opponents. This lighter schedule presents an excellent opportunity for them to gain ground and get into the third seed, avoiding a date with LeBron in round two.
The Pacers on the other hand have seven games left against opponents with records above .500, plus dates with Denver and Milwaukee -- teams who are desperately trying to keep their playoff hopes in tact. Luckily for Indiana, Paul George is having his best month of the season, averaging 27.5 points and shooting 43.5% from three-point range on seven attempts per-game. It's been a trying season for a Pacers team who's roster on paper looks like a potential fifty-win team. They have faced an identity crisis as a unit all season long, and are quickly running out of time to find themselves in 2017.
With more info and analysis on tonight's contest, check out Daniel Reynolds' preview and enjoy the game tonight!