With the 113-105 victory over the Sixers on Sunday evening, the Raptors leaped the Wizards for third in the East and look to keep the ball rolling against a familiar foe in the Indiana Pacers tonight.
The last two meetings between these teams came within the last few weeks and saw the Raptors walk away the victors on each occasion. The Raptors defended their home court in both of those contests and now it’s Indiana’s turn to hold down the fort as Toronto make their first and only visit of the season to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Patience is running thin in Indiana and if they cannot figure out a way to pull things together and crack a playoff spot, it’s hard to imagine that an already disenchanted Paul George would favour a return to his home of seven seasons with free agency looming this summer.
We talked about the return of Lance Stephenson during last week’s preview and, on Sunday night against the Cavaliers, he made a rather pedestrian debut. Stephenson scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes in the Pacers crushing double overtime loss.
P.J. Tucker sat out Sunday’s game against Philadelphia with a sore left knee and although he practiced with the team on Monday, remains questionable for tonight’s contest. The Raps are 14-6 since reacquiring the 31-year-old and will miss his defensive presence if he cannot go tonight, particularly against George whom he made life difficult for in their last contest.
JV Just Beasting
Against the Pacers on Friday night, Jonas Valanciunas was able to kick it into that next gear and enter “I’m the biggest dude on the floor and I am going to play like it” mode that we see in him from time to time. Valanciunas embraced this mentality last post-season against the Pacers and Heat averaging 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per-game, before going down with an ankle injury. Despite a decline in minutes since the acquiring of Serge Ibaka from 27 to 23.3 a night, JV has begun to understand his modified role within the fabric of the team.
Valanciunas went for a monster 16 points, 17 rebound and two block performance just four nights ago against Indiana and scored 13 points with 11 rebounds in just 24 minutes on March 19th against the Pacers as well. Match-up wise, JV and Indiana big-man Myles Turner have shared the court for a total of 45 minutes over the course of the two games and JV has held Turner to just 12 points and 8 rebounds during this span.
Here is JV feeling himself on Friday night and blowing by the Pacers defense for the reverse jam
Game of Threes
The Raptors haven’t exactly been shooting the lights out over the past couple of months, but against Indiana, they seem to find their touch. In the first contest against the Pacers, the Dino’s dropped 12-of-27 from deep and on Friday night they went 14-of 27 for one of their best shooting performances of the season. DeMarre Carroll has enjoyed a load of this success, channelling his inner Reggie Miller and shooting a combined 8-of-13 from three in the two games combined.
Before we celebrate a three-point renaissance from your Toronto Raptors, it is important to note that Indiana is one of the worst teams at defending the perimeter in the Association. They have conceded the fifth most three’s (777) in the league and have allowed twelve or more three-pointers in four of their last five contests, including eighteen to the Cavs on 42% from beyond the arc on Sunday night.
It’s Crunch time
Just two weeks ago today, the Indiana Pacers held the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and were a comfortable four games up on the ninth seeded Detroit Piston. Since then, the Pacers have gone 1-6 and find themselves on the outside looking in, sitting in ninth. NBA super-fans can circle two games that will surely shape the playoff picture in the East and confirm the Pacers playoff destiny—April 6th against Milwaukee who currently occupy the fifth seed and the last game of the season, April 12th against the sixth place Atlanta Hawks.
As we know, the Raptors will be playing game one of the playoffs on their home floor at the Air Canada Centre, but the question remains — who will be on the other side of the court? Something else to consider is that if the Raps can finish out the season 3-2 or better, they will hit 50 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. Since the 1999-2000 season, only Cleveland, Orlando, Miami, Boston and Detroit have won 50 games in back-to-back seasons in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors can accomplish this feat, there’s another small step forward in cementing the legacy and elite status of this Raptors team.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:00pm EST