The Toronto Raptors will be back in action for the first time in 2023 on Monday night as they travel to Indianapolis to face the Indiana Pacers. After winning Friday Night against the Phoenix Suns, they will try to get back to back wins.
Back on road ✈️ pic.twitter.com/o5GPOquef8— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 1, 2023
It’s been a rollercoaster of a month for the Raptors. They went on a six game losing streak in mid-December, followed by back to back wins against New York and Cleveland. After Christmas, they lost two more against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Ahead of Friday’s game against the Suns, tensions were high. There was a tense meeting in the locker room with the team pre-game where it was reported Coach Nick Nurse addressed the problems the team has been having with effort.
Many questioned if this would help, and it seemed to, because many of the problems the Raptors faced even the night before against Memphis were addressed and fixed. They got the win, and the energy in Scotiabank Arena post-game almost felt relieving.
BIG TIME BUCKET @kolokojunior1 https://t.co/sEonlJIsNw pic.twitter.com/BE2EhCXMYP— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 31, 2022
The Raptors are not out of the woods yet, though. Monday night’s game in Indiana will be important, for a few reasons. First, it will determine if their performance on Friday was a one-off, or if the team as currently constructed has some hope of success. Second, it could set the tone for the next important stretch of games.
Now that we’re in 2023, it’s crunch time. The February 9th NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Raptors seem to be a team that has a high chance of making some moves. Knowing the front office, they often like to wait until the last moments to make deals, so we’ll have to wait and see what they are planning.
Beyond that, now is the time that the standings start to separate a little more. Will the Raptors make a push to the playoffs, similar to last season’s late-season run of success? Or will they find themselves in a similar position they were a few years ago, competing for a high draft pick in the lottery?
All of this speculation may be getting ahead of where we currently are, so let’s focus on tonight’s game.
Match-Up: Toronto Raptors (16-20) vs Indiana Pacers (20-17)
How to watch: Sportsnet
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto Injury Report: Fred VanVleet (QUESTIONABLE — back soreness), Precious Achiuwa (OUT (but expected to return soon — ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (OUT — hip)
Indiana Injury Report: Kendall Brown (OUT — right tibia), Daniel Theis (OUT - knee)
Don’t Underestimate Indiana
The Pacers may have spent the past couple of years being a lottery team, but they’ve bounced back quite well this season. They made a huge trade with the Sacramento Kings that brought Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield onto their team, and it seems to be working out for both sides.
They also used the sixth pick in the 2022 NBA draft to bring Canadian Bennedict Mathurin onto the team. Projected to be more of a 10-12th pick in the draft, Mathurin has been proving that the Pacers were right to pick him that early. He is making his case for a chance to be the 2023 Rookie of the Year, averaging 17.2 points per game.
With a record of 20-17 on the season so far, the Pacers sit in sixth place in the East. Obviously, with the East so close, anything could happen from now until playoff season, but they are making a great run for the playoffs so far.
So, while in recent seasons you may have written off an Indiana game as an easy win, I regret to inform you it will not be like that this time around.
The Gary Trent Jr. Factor
Gary Trent Jr. is easily playing the best basketball of his career this season. He has become an integral factor to the Raptors success this year. We can talk about his trade value, if he should be traded etc. later — but let’s focus on this game.
He started in Friday night’s match up against the Suns due to Fred VanVleet’s absence, and if VanVleet continues to be out (and honestly, maybe even if he plays), Trent Jr. should start again tonight. He is only of the only Raptors who is shooting somewhat consistently, and ended the game against the Suns with 35 points.
For a team that has struggled on offence for the past month, it makes more sense to start someone who is on a hot streak right now. Sure, he’s a great leader of the bench, but the Raptors NEED offensive power. He’s scored 20 or more in his last three games. It seems like an easy decision.
Not only his shooting power, but Trent Jr.’s defence was excellent in the Phoenix game. He recorded three steals and was helping his teammates all over the court. He should be a big factor in the Raptors’ success in Indiana tonight.
Pascal Siakam is undoubtedly deserving of a trip to the NBA All-Star game. He has scored 25+ points in his last seven games, and is averaging 26.5 PPG on the season. He is the glue of this team. When they need a bucket, Pascal Siakam gets one, then another, and another.
NBA Players of the Week for Week 10.— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2022
West: Luka Doncic (@dallasmavs)
East: Pascal Siakam (@Raptors) pic.twitter.com/iZ0Yb2eBd7
In the absence of Fred VanVleet, he also takes on the responsibility of playmaking. He is averaging 6.7 assists per season — a lot for a guy playing the four position, but we know this team doesn’t necessarily put too much emphasis on traditional positioning. With a season average of 8.3 rebounds to round it out, the guy is almost averaging a triple double.
As with every game, the burden will be on Siakam to propel this team to victory — and he seems to like the responsibility. So will he continue his streak of 25+ point games?
Don’t miss the first Raptors game of 2023, tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST on Sportsnet.