I left school and came home for my winter break on December 19th. I return tonight. There is a weird bookending to my winter break, and it involves the Indiana Pacers.
That’s because the Raptors played the Pacers on December 19th — grinding out an incredible comeback from 17 points down in order to take home the win — and they’ll play them again tonight. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Toronto Raptors (29-12) will play host to the Indiana Pacers (26-12).
That Pacers record is looking pretty good right about now; they’re winners of 13 of their last 15. They last played on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, taking the victory in overtime on a Victor Oladipo game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds to play. With Oladipo, and their roster of young guns — like Myles Turner (who may be out tonight), Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic — they’ve transformed quickly into a tough team.
Can the Raptors build off of last night’s strong win in Milwaukee given less than 24 hours rest? Can they do it without Kyle Lowry (questionable) and, dun dun dun, Kawhi Leonard?
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM
Toronto: Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Indiana: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Indiana: Aaron Holiday - questionable (illness), Myles Turner - questionable (broken nose)
Toronto: Kyle Lowry - questionable (lower back pain), Jonas Valanciunas - out (left thumb dislocation), Kawhi Leonard - out (rest)
Remember Paul George? Pacers fans don’t. This Pacers team is fun.
Victor Oladipo is electric. Oladipo carried the load for Indiana on Friday night en route to his season-high 36, and he’s the one to watch again Sunday. The All-Star guard is unstoppable going downhill. Watch the way he backs up, speeds up, and gets to the rim. Oladipo managed 20 points against Toronto the last time these two teams met, but Kawhi and Co. were able to hassle him into six turnovers. There’s a recipe there for the Raptors to once again take Oladipo out of his comfort zone — but he could just as easily win the game by himself.
Steadying the Ship
Three games in four nights is no fun. It’s especially no fun when those three are San Antonio, Milwaukee, and Indiana. At the end of a stretch like this week, it’s important to steady the ship and play an assured game. If last night taught us anything, it’s that the Raptors’ starters can snap into place when they need to. They played poorly in San Antonio, and get back to what works in Milwaukee. But now they’ll need the bench — which was terrible last night — to come through to give their tired legs a rest.
To that end, somewhere else the Raptors can steady the ship is from three-point range. There’s something called “regression to the mean.” We know how teams fall back to Earth after hot streaks. And we know we keep saying they’ll find their groove soon enough. They have to. They’ve got the shooters. It was good to see Danny Green and Fred VanVleet find their stroke last night. But what about OG Anunoby and Delon Wright? It’s starting to look like an actual problem—and the Raptors need to figure it out.
Most Improved Players
Zach Lowe declared the bandwagon closed for Pascal Siakam. We knew that already. The Most Improved Player candidate/frontrunner/whatever you want to call him is having a tremendous season thus far, and had a career night on Monday against the Jazz. He’s the Raptors’ Swiss Army Knife. I don’t know how many more words I need to dedicate to him.
But I will dedicate some words to Indiana’s X-factor, their most improved player candidate: say hello to Domantas Sabonis.
Back to Paul George for a moment. The George trade is a classic win-win. Oladipo and Sabonis? The Pacers hit some kind of home run.
The young forward is averaging 14.9 points and 9.6 rebounds on 63 percent shooting, career-bests for him thus far. On Friday, he had 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls. He’s playing inside-out, swallowing rebounds, and recording double-doubles. Also, I really liked this Sabonis profile by Paolo Uggetti in The Ringer a couple of weeks ago. I liked Sabonis before I read this, but I guess that by linking you to it I sort of lose the bragging privilege? How does that work?
And guess what day that profile came out? December 19th. Synchronicity!