The Raptors’ solid play of late is coming at the right time. Their schedule has gotten tougher and will continue to pose challenges in the next three games.
After starting the season 2-8 the team has strung together four wins in their last five games, including victories over the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, though both teams were shorthanded with personnel.
Tonight, the Raptors play the first of a back-to-back versus the Indiana Pacers before a matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks — two of the Eastern Conference’s best three teams in the standings.
While the Pacers are playing .500 basketball in their last 12 games after a 3-0 start to the season, they recently got shot blocking machine Myles Turner back from injury (averaging 4.1 blocks per game). They’re also adjusting their play after Victor Oladipo was traded to Houston in the blockbuster four-team trade that netted Brooklyn a third star in James Harden.
Indiana still has a lot of very talented scorers on their roster, which has led to the ninth best offensive rating in the league and 10th best net rating. They also have a head coach in Nate Bjorkgren, who spent the last two years with the Raptors.
But the Raptors have been playing better in the last five games, and it could be said that play began to improve eight games ago when they beat the Kings and then lost by one point to both Golden State and Portland.
During this five game stretch the Raptors have the fourth best defensive rating and their offense is just outside the league’s top ten. If they want to keep winning and do so against some of the East’s best — like the Pacers — they’ll need to keep rolling on both ends of the court.
Man, Freddy is BALLER.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 23, 2021
Here are the game details.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 1 PM ET
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Indiana – Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (toe – questionable), Patrick McCaw (knee – out)
Indiana – Caris LeVert (kidney – out), T.J. Warren (foot – out), JaKarr Sampson (ill – questionable)
This game could very well rely heavily on the production from both starting lineups. The Raptors’ 36.7 bench points per game ranks 15th in the league, while the Pacers are third last in the same category with their bench averaging 29.7 points per game. Toronto’s bench has shown it can produce though, which could come in handy against an opponent with suspect bench scoring.
Three of Norm Powell’s four best scoring games this season have come when he starts, and it has become obvious that some sort of spark gets lit underneath him when he hears his name announced with the starters — as Matt Devlin made clear a couple times last game.
If Kyle Lowry plays this afternoon, Powell will most likely return to the bench. In two of the three games prior to him starting against the Heat on Friday, Powell’s scoring was starting to appear. He was averaging 13.8 points in his last five off the bench, including 24- and 17-point performances.
Meanwhile, Chris Boucher in the past two games versus the Heat failed to score double digits. The Heat pose specific challenges to Boucher so the hope has to be that his scoring touch returns now against a different squad.
And for everyone else on the Raptors bench, as Stanley Johnson has been showing: simply play your role. If a shot attempt presents itself, take it, but you better make them, efficiently.
As mentioned above the Pacers have some very good scorers that can put up big numbers on any given night.
The offense for the Pacers starts with Malcolm Brogdon, who is having a fine season with career-highs in many offensive categories. Its not only his 22.5 points per game that is helping his team, however. Brogdon is getting teammates involved as the primary ballhandler with seven assist a game.
Then there is Domantas Sabonis, who is also averaging a career-high in points, but for the second consecutive season is putting up a double-double with rebounds on almost every night. Again, Turner is back in the lineup and he provides a solid piece in the middle, especially for drop passes off the pick-and-roll. And Toronto always has to worry about Doug McDermott, who’s been playing well over the last four games.
As mentioned, the Pacers’ offense will come from their starting lineup and the above four are the players to watch for. But Jeremy Lamb is also back in the lineup and his scoring as a role player the last two games could be the help the Indiana’s bench needs.
The Pacers, like the Raptors, don’t have a star — Brogdon and Sabonis are as close as they come — but this team has the weapons to put up a lot of points.
Get and Go
Neither team is very good at rebounding the ball. The Raptors rank 24th in the league and the Pacers 29th.
If this is a category they can win, especially limiting any offensive rebounds, the Raptors have an opportunity to get out in transition quite a bit in this game. As always, Toronto is a team that likes to get the ball up the court quickly and the Pacers are a matchup that allows for that to happen.
It’ll be important for the Raptors to limit the Pacers on the offensive glass, which the Raptors do a relatively OK job at — 9.5 offensive boards given up per game — but with Turner and Sabonis, Indiana will look to clean up the messes tonight, especially in situations when the Raptors may go small.
Make them miss, and when they do, get the ball, and go.