The Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers will take on the Toronto Raptors in Toronto Friday evening at 7pm. One thing’s for sure: Toronto will be glad to put February behind them after losing back-to-back games to two sub .500 teams (Washington and Cleveland). And what better way to kick start March than by taking on one of the NBA’s best teams. Indiana won 10 of its last 13 games by an average of 23.8 points before losing to the Clippers 99-91 on Thursday.
But while the Pacers have had success in the ACC, it hasn’t shown versus the Raptors, as Toronto currently leads the season series 2-1. Talk about close games, Toronto small forward Rudy Gay deprived Indiana of what would have been a game winning jumper in overtime with just one second left when they last met on February 8th. Not only that, he was an effective closer, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
What to Expect
Look for a hard-fought, low-scoring contest, as the season series between these two opponents has been characterized by closely contested games, each coming down to the wire. A bit of trivia: Toronto and Indiana are the only two NBA teams to have played three games decided by two points or fewer thus far this season. A Raptors win tonight will give Toronto the season series for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
The Raptors have their work cut out for them. The Pacers are the league’s best rebounding team, averaging 45.8 per contest. What’s more, they are one of the best teams in the league defensively, with grinder-type defenders capable of inflicting a consistently punishing defense. And for a team as big and physical as they are overall, they are surprisingly agile. The Raptors have failed to exceed 39 per cent shooting against the Pacers all season—not that that has stopped them from ultimately pulling out the wins, thanks to a 6th-ranked defense that yielded an average of just 93.5 points per game in February.
But Toronto will face the same Pacers team that lost 99-91 to the Clippers on Thursday, with one big exception: Pacers All-Star centre, Roy Hibbert, will return to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for an altercation with the Warriors’ David Lee. Hibbert can be particularly effective in the paint, and is capable of creating havoc around the rim.
For Toronto to win, they will have to hold on to the ball better than they have in their two previous losses. Twelve of their 14 turnovers versus the Wizards came in the first half, while their 14 turnovers versus the Cavaliers cost them 20 points on Wednesday.
Neither team has been lighting it up offensively recently, so minimizing unforced errors will be critical if either team is to have an advantage.
Two Key Players for Indiana
Since signing with the Pacers in 2011, Pacers forward David West has proven his worth as a big man, averaging nearly 22 points per game in February. He has also been effective against the Raptors, shooting 51 percent and scoring 22 points.
Meanwhile, former All-Star Danny Granger continues to work his way back into the line after a knee injury forced him to miss the first 55 games of the season. But thanks to excellent play by Paul George, Indiana didn’t miss a beat in his absence. Granger shot just 11.7 percent and all of 7 points in his first two games of the season before going on to put up 12 points on 50 percent shooting against the Clippers.