March Madness has definitely descended upon the basketball world.
No, I’m not referring to Fairleigh Dickinson or Princeton. How about Houston getting a win over Boston (without Alperen Sengun)? Did Atlanta really blow a 24-point lead to San Antonio?
Hawks lost to Spurs after starting the 3Q up 24 pic.twitter.com/ufQpOQNSiN— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 19, 2023
The college kids aren’t the only ones pulling off upsets. With three home games against East teams with worse records, are there any upsets brewing against the Raptors this week? Toronto can’t afford any slip-ups this week if they hope to get out of the 9th spot with five of their remaining seven games (after this week) against East playoff teams.
But first, let’s get through this week’s hypothetical “calm” before the remaining “storm.”
March 22 vs Indiana Pacers
In the month of March, the Pacers have managed to get road wins in Dallas, Chicago, and Milwaukee(!). However, they’ve also lost to San Antonio by 11(!), Detroit by 20(!!), and Charlotte (after leading by 21!!!). After this visit to Scotiabank Arena, Indiana finishes their four-game road trip against two more teams with post-season plans in Boston and Atlanta.
In fact, all of the Pacers’ remaining games (except their second-last game of the season against the Pistons) are against teams in a playoff or play-in position. They’re 2.5 games out of the 10th spot while Rick Carlisle is giving the DNP-CD treatment to their two most seasoned veterans (George Hill and James Johnson) and two most playoff-tested players (Hill and Daniel Theis).
Tyrese Haliburton lost his hold on the assists title (hello James Harden). Benn Mathurin may not even make the podium in the rookie of the year race (hello Paolo Banchero, Walker Kessler, and Jalen Williams). The Pacers lost the mantle as this year’s surprise East team to make the playoffs (hello New York).
Fun fact that may only interest me
Indiana lost a lot of things this season, including games. But they did gain something.
ESPN Sources: 20 NBA teams received payment in the league's revenue sharing plan for the 2021-2022 season -- with Pacers getting the largest share at $42.2M. Warriors made highest contribution to pool at $45M. Lakers paid ($42.8M), Knicks ($20.9M), Celtics ($15.7M), Bulls ($10M).— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2023
The future is bright in Indiana. Whether or not they can make a last-ditch run for the playoffs, their cap situation (and tradeable assets) make them the early candidates for most improved team next season.
The Pacers will be playing their second game of a critical four-game road trip against East foes. They’ll be at a rest disadvantage as Toronto will have two days rest to Indiana’s one. The Pacers, like most teams in the league, have a poor road record (13-22), although they did win in Milwaukee last week without Haliburton or Mathurin.
Indiana will be attempting to sweep the season series against Toronto for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for the Pacers. Don’t get me wrong. This figures to be a high-scoring, entertaining game. It’s rare to say, but Indiana is the only team higher than Toronto in transition offense (specifically in points per play; while the Raps are higher in the frequency of transition opportunities). The Raptors make a more concerted effort to get back on defense (#5 in opponent’s transition frequency), while the Pacers rank dead-last in offensive rebounding percentage allowed (likely because they’re all leaking out for a fastbreak).
Toronto wins the possession battle and eventually runs away with this. The Raptors win 130-118 over the visiting Pacers.
March 24 vs Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham. Alec Burks, Bojan Bogdanovic. Isaiah Stewart. Jalen Duren.
That is Detroit’s entire starting lineup — all injured or, in Duren’s case, possibly returning from a head injury. If Dwane Casey can get a win over Toronto with a starting lineup of Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Rodney McGruder, Marvin Bagley, and James Wiseman — none of whom would be good enough to start for the Raptors — then I will tweet that Casey deserves a statue before Kyle Lowry!
But seriously, who is Eugene Omoruyi, and how is he averaging more minutes per game than Cory Joseph... yet is NOT listed on Detroit’s roster on Basketball Reference?
Fun fact that may only interest me
Speaking of Omoruyi, the Canadian is one of five Nigerian-born players in the NBA right now, including Josh Okogie, Charles Bassey, Udoka Azubuike... and Precious Achiuwa.
There have never been more than four Nigerians playing in the NBA within the same season.
With Christian Koloko joining Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam in the league, the same can be said about having the most Cameroonians playing in the NBA at the same time.
Giants of Africa indeed!
As opposed to the Pacers game, it’s the Pistons that have a rest advantage in this one (2 days vs 1). The lottery-bound Pistons are currently on an 8-game road losing streak that includes their last visit to Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto will look to continue an odd trend in this rivalry. If the Raptors can win and complete the season series sweep, this will be the sixth(!) consecutive season the series has been swept. Casey and his Pistons will absolutely not lay down and take a whooping without fighting. It wouldn’t shock anyone if Detroit pulled off a March Madness-like upset.
Well, me. I’d be shocked because I’m predicting a Toronto victory. The Raptors take care of business with the Pistons, winning 125-108.
March 26 vs Washington Wizards
At 32-39, it’s hard to say what’s more shocking, that the Wizards can still win their division, or that they’re only 3.5 games out of the 5th-best lottery odds.
Let’s check in on their fans.
Wizards have lost 5/6 games and are 12th in the Eastern Confernce.— Greg Finberg (@GregFinberg) March 19, 2023
Our owner: pic.twitter.com/4jYHE6FCl9
While they share a similar record as the Pacers, the Wizards have a more manageable remaining schedule with games against the Magic (x 2), Spurs, and Rockets. It’s difficult, however, to trust Washington to make up ground for the last play-in spot when they have the 29th-ranked defense over the last two weeks.
Fun fact that may only interest me
Regardless of how this season ends for the Wizards, Bradley Beal has joined Damian Lillard in the stick-with-the-team-that-drafted-you camp despite the increased likelihood that the franchise is stuck in mediocrity.
At least Beal’s getting paid handsomely.
This season, Toronto is paying $147.3 million in salaries. After this season, Beal will have over $150.6 million in upcoming salary.
Washington has lost 7 of their last 9 games with both of their wins against Detroit. Granted, the Wizards’ last non-Pistons win was against the Raptors, but that was in the comfort of their home arena. Washington has only mustered one road victory since the All-Star break.
I’m not sure what they’re doing on Saturday nights in the cities they visit, but the Wizards are 1-6 on Sunday road games.
Probably the most damning case against Washington is that they have not won a season series against Toronto since the 2007-08 campaign. In the series-clinching win, the Wizards needed overtime and 51+ minutes from Antawn Jamison to get a victory over a Raptors squad that was starting Jamario Moon and relying on heavy bench minutes from Kris Humphries.
The Raptors take the season series (again) and defeat the visiting Wizards, 115-106.