Home, sweet home.
Coming off a tough four-game west coast trip, the Raptors managed to win the first two games in convincing fashion against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. Toronto looked like they were firing on all cylinders until they lost centre Jonas Valanciunas due to a thumb injury. Along the way, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka were also hurt (though more modestly so) in the final two games of the trip.
The two games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets were all winnable for the Raptors, as they came down to the final few possessions, but they couldn’t capitalize. Fans did get to see what Kawhi Leonard was capable of playing without Lowry — and much other support. It was clear that even with Kawhi playing well, he needs Lowry to facilitate too and relieve some of the offensive pressure.
Still, Toronto finished the road trip with a respectable 2-2 record, and sit 23-9 overall. They could potentially be without Lowry and Ibaka, who are questionable, and VanVleet and Siakam, who are probable for tonight’s game. Luckily, there is another light at the end of the tunnel: Norman Powell is probable for tonight’s game with all signs clearing him for a return to action for the first time since injuring his shoulder back on November 5th against the Utah Jazz
The Pacers come into this one having lost to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, courtesy of a Larry Nance Jr. game-winning tip-in shot.
Larry Nance Jr. buzzer-beater for the win pic.twitter.com/mJly5nWdEa— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 19, 2018
Before that game, Indiana had been riding a seven-game winning streak. They had been without their All-Star Victor Oladipo, who went down with a knee injury on November 17, but were able to keep afloat with a 7-4 record in his absence. Solid contributions from Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, and others, kept the Pacers in third in the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-11.
Here are the game details and what to watch for in tonight’s Raptors-Pacers contest:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m. EST
Toronto: Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka — subject to change big time!
Indiana: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Toronto: Kyle Lowry (Questionable - Left thigh contusion), Serge Ibaka (Questionable - Right knee swelling), Jonas Valanciunas (OUT - dislocated thumb)
Two-Way Threat Battle
This game features two of the top two-way threats in the league in Kawhi Leonard and Victor Oladipo. Both could be matched up with each other while on the court and they’ll likely be the cause of some entertaining play. Leonard, averaging 26.3 points on a solid 60 percent true shooting percentage, 8.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game may seem to have the upper hand in numbers, but Oladipo is close. The 26-year-old out of Indiana is putting up 20.4 points, on a decent 52.7 true shooting percentage, 6.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.7 steals per game while holding a defensive rating at 101 to Leonard’s 104.
What’s more important for both teams is shutting down their opponent’s best player in the fourth quarter, when they take over games. In the 10 clutch games Oladipo has played in, he is tied for second in the league in scoring, averaging 5.6 points per game on 60 percent shooting from the field. Leonard isn’t far off that mark — he’s tied for fourth in the league in scoring in the clutch, averaging 4.3 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting from the field in 12 games. If it’s close by the end, we know where the ball is going.
Brace for Impact
With JV out for at least four weeks and possibly without Ibaka for this game, the Raptors may enter this contest thin in the frontcourt. Luckily for Toronto, the Pacers are not a solid rebounding team nor do they have any big bodies to contend with. On the season, Indiana is tied for 20th in the league in rebounds per game with 44.1.
However, the story for Toronto for most of the season has been the lack of rebounding. The Raptors have been failing to grab rebounds in close-game situations and it’s felt like some losses were a direct result. Down their best defensive rebounder in Jonas, the Raptors will need to box-out and keep the Pacers’ main guys — Turner, Young, Sabonis— off the glass. The last thing the Raps want to night is to get crushed on the boards by a team not known for their rebounding prowess.
Close 2018 Strong
The Raptors only have two more home games remaining in 2018 after tonight. They take on the Cavaliers on Friday night and the Chicago Bulls on December 30. Obviously every game is important, but as the recent road trips and injuries have shown: it’s hard to build and maintain winning momentum in the NBA. Getting the job done at home — particularly against bad teams — is something to take pride in, and it matters a great deal as the season standings start to become a bit clearer.
And what’s more, the fans want to see their Raptors win! It would be great for Toronto to close out their final three home games in 2018 on a high note. Let’s see what happens.