The Toronto Raptors, having fumbled away two opportunities to advance their playoff hopes against lesser teams, face a formidable opponent tonight. The Indiana Pacers trail only Miami, whom they have defeated twice, and the Knicks in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Indiana sits atop the Central Division, ahead of excellent teams like Chicago. They may be young, but the Pacers defend like few other squads.
The Pacers’ starting five doesn’t dazzle you with science or stats, but can beat you anyway. George Hill, their small-ish point guard, has blossomed since arriving in Indianapolis two seasons ago. His first three were in the NBA’s best incubator, San Antonio, so he knows how to play. He takes good shots, involves his teammates, and doesn’t turn the ball over. Lance Stephenson has pushed his way into a starter’s role for similar reasons to his backcourt mate Hill. Lance is a little undersized and won’t make any highlight reels, but doesn’t dribble into trouble, force shots or take silly fouls.
The frontcourt of Indiana is top shelf material. Paul George, who might be Rudy Gay’s twin, was projected to be a star out of college, and that’s exactly what he is becoming. He’s spiked all his numbers upward this season: he’s added more than five points per game to average 17+, more than two additional rebounds to almost 8, and so on. The man is a load, and so is David West, the power forward. This fellow is a coach’s dream: a consistent scorer, rebounder and defender. We can’t leave the front line without taking note of Roy Hibbert, one of the biggest men in the league. While he’s not enjoying an All-Star season as many predicted he would, he’s physical, and he can score and change shots in the key.
The second unit of the Pacers includes Tyler Hansbrough, who’s a hockey enforcer in disguise. Danny Granger, who has been Indy’s “name” player for years, is working his way back into the lineup after missing his team’s first 55 games with a knee injury.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two teams; oddly enough, the visitors have won the first three, and all have been decided by two points. Let’s hope the Raps break both those trends with a 99-95 win.
Brian Boake is a co-editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.