Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors @ Pacers


Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors @ Pacers

After seemingly hitting rock bottom in their loss to a depleted New Orleans Pelicans team on Jan. 18, the Toronto Raptors appear to be moving back in the right direction.

The competition has not been top-notch, but Toronto has reeled off wins in three of its past four outings. That lone defeat came at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. No shame there.

This stretch of the schedule against inferior competition resumes tonight in Indiana against the Pacers, a team Toronto easily handled back on Dec. 12.

Jan 22, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (left) and guard Lance Stephenson against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One year ago, a date with Paul George and Co. would have struck fear in the heart of any NBA team. That is certainly not the case in 2014-15 as the Pacers sit fifth in the Central Division with a record of 16-30. George was lost for the season during the FIBA World Cup where he sustained a gruesome injury, while Lance Stephenson sought greener pastures in Charlotte, signing with the Hornets in the offseason.

Key to Victory #1: Stay aggressive

Led by DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors did a fantastic job getting to the free-throw line against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, attempting 29 shots from the charity stripe. On the flip side, Toronto only fired 15 looks from beyond the three-point arc – a far cry from the 25 they have averaged to this point in the season. Going up against a team that ranks in the top 10 in nearly every major defensive category, DeRozan will have to keep his teammates in that aggressive mindset tonight in Indiana.

Key to Victory #2: Rein in the turnovers

Toronto’s ball security seems to be returning to form after the eight-turnover performance on Sunday. However, for the month of January, the Raptors have averaged an alarming 15 turnovers per game. Luckily for them, their opponents this evening have struggled even more in this department, coughing the ball up 15.5 times per night this month. Whichever team is able to take care of the rock should walk away with the victory.

Key to Victory #3: Pack the paint

It is no secret that Indiana’s offence is the team’s Achilles heel. Sitting 22nd in the NBA in terms of points per game, the Pacers labour on the offensive end. Their numbers from three-point range are flat-out terrible. Frank Vogel’s squad knocks down under six triples per outing, shooting just 28 per cent on these attempts. The Raptors would be wise to protect the interior and force their opponents to fire away from downtown.

Apr 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert and Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas battle in the key during the second half of their NBA game at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors won 104-92. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Marquee Matchup: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Roy Hibbert

By now it’s clear that Jonas Valanciunas will not be seeing much floor time down the stretch of games. This decision is a curious one considering the Lithuanian’s effectiveness through 43 games. Valanciunas is averaging 17.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, but only sees 26 minutes of action each night. It is obvious Dwane Casey has more trust in Patrick Patterson late in ball games. JV will have his work cut out for him tonight, matching up with premier shot blocker Roy Hibbert. While his scoring numbers do not jump out at you, the Georgetown product remains an imposing presence in the paint, swatting away nearly two shots per night in just 25 minutes of burn.

Prediction: This portion of the Raptors’ schedule is challenging despite the level of competition. Tonight’s showdown is the first of four games in five nights – something that is never easy, regardless of who you are going up against. Fatigue will not have set in yet, so look for Toronto to have its way with a lacklustre Pacers group this evening.