Following one of the biggest wins of the season on Wednesday, the Raptors could decide to go into cruise mode with four games left in the regular season. They are one win or a Celtics loss away from clinching the first seed in the Eastern Conference. They only need one more victory to break the franchise single season record for wins. Lastly, they have two opportunities to finish with the most home wins in a season in franchise history. A lot would have to go wrong for the Raptors not to achieve all of that before season’s end, even if they choose to cruise.
All that could happen Friday night when the Raptors host the Pacers in the fourth and final matchup between the two. The last time the two met, the Raptors were riding a nine-game win streak — eventually ending at 11. The Raptors would beat the Pacers 106-99, in a game that was sloppy to start, until Toronto found their identity in the fourth.
In the other two matchups, the Raptors edged the Pacers on Dec. 1, 120-115 and the Pacers won a close one in late-November, 107-104.
Toronto hasn’t played pretty basketball against Indiana this season, as if they’ve decided to play down to the Pacers’ level. It’s a somewhat odd and scary thing to say because the Pacers are going to be the fifth seed in the East and a potential second round opponent for the Raptors. (Assuming they get by either the Sixers or the Cavaliers.)
While the Raptors’ defensive rating has been in a swoon as of late (19th in the league since Mar. 7), Wednesday’s win against the Celtics bumped them back into the top five in the NBA. It’s worth noting however, that against the Pacers, their defensive rating has slipped by 1.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranks seventh in the league amongst teams that have played the Pacers at least three times. They can’t — or shouldn’t — sleep on Indiana.
One other thing in Toronto’s favour: the Pacers come into Toronto on the second night of a back-to-back. Yes, they beat the Warriors last night by 20.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Indiana – Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Toronto – None
Indiana – None
Run A Few Miles
With four games left the Raptors need to find a way to get C.J. Miles going. The fan base has seen it time and time again in the playoffs when the Raptors role players go quiet from beyond the arc. For the Raptors to be successful they’ll need their bench to be big, and more specifically hit their open shots.
Over the last nine games, Miles has been non-existent from three. Two of his best performance over that stretch were when he hit 5-of-12 (42%) versus the Mavericks on Mar. 16 and 3-of-7 (43%) versus Cleveland. Overall in those nine games he has shot a dreadful 27% (22-of-82). There’s nothing worse than seeing a role player in the playoffs miss multiple open jumpers. (Looking at you Patrick Patterson.)
The Raptors have a chance to give Miles extra minutes over the next few games, and against his former team on Friday to find his groove. It’ll also be an opportunity to give him more time alongside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Raptors can find their defense and Miles’ shooting, it’ll be a lot more relaxing going into the playoffs.
It’s a Playoff Game
If there’s one thing history has told us, the Raptors won’t make it easy on their fan base. Every round is stressful since the team can never play to the best of their ability with Lowry, DeRozan and/or key role players being non-existent.
Again, the Pacers could be a second-round matchup and are the fifth seed in the conference. Use Friday as like an opening round playoff game. If the crowd can bring the playoff atmosphere and the players play like it is a Game 7, it could ease whatever nerves come with Game 1 of the first round.
The Raptors’ opening round opponent could be either the Bucks, Wizards or Heat — all three are equally tough. It’s time to end the ugly opening round jitters and maybe Friday night could be a practice run for that.
Do It Yourself
There’s nothing more exciting for a fan base — during the regular season — to see their team clinch the number one seed at home. The Raptors have the opportunity to do so on Friday night, and have the chance to set franchise records in home wins and total season wins.
To clinch the number one seed two things can happen: The Raptors can beat the Pacers, or if they are unsuccessful, the Celtics could lose Friday night to the Chicago Bulls. The latter would be boring for the fans watching at home, and for the fans at the Air Canada Centre who will be scoreboard watching. The Celtics also play at 7:30 p.m., so why not get it done on your home court. Let the confetti fall at home, and we can all enjoy the first seed and the best regular season in franchise history — together.