4) Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers
Currently slotted in fifth position, but effectively tied with the Sixers, the Pacers could become the Raptors’ first round opponents if Toronto drops a handful of their eight remaining regular season games.
What Indiana has been able to accomplish this season is a testament to their depth and versatility. After rupturing his quadriceps tendon against the Raptors on January 23, 2019, two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo returned in time for only 13 of the Pacers’ 65 games this season.
That means a group built to work off of and around Oladipo somehow found its way to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. And with a team offence rating lower than any other team currently holding down a playoff spot (save for Memphis, the eighth seed in the West), their Oladipo-less approach can be summed up in one word – defence.
Fifth in the league in team defence at the time of the pause, Indiana makes teams grind for every basket. Domantas Sabonis, the only non-centre other than Giannis Antetokounmpo in the top 10 in defensive rebounds, is a big reason why.
Enjoying his first career All-Star season, Sabonis has set career highs in defensive rebounds per game, steals per game and blocks per game, while also contributing on the offensive end. Also, the addition of former Bucks super-sub Malcolm Brogdon has worked out well, as the Virginia product is averaging 16.3 points a game, also a career high.
With Oladipo back in the fold, coach Nate McMillan can finally get back to running their full offence. The Pacers, at full strength, are better than a five seed, and could give the Raptors a long series.