NBA prognosticators have not had an easy time this season. Teams expected to be prime tankers, like the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, are making large strides. Supposed contenders, like both Big Apple squads, have been several degrees beyond bad. However, a few teams, including the Indiana Pacers, were expected to be powerful, and are. The Raps are at home against the Pacers tonight, thus ending Toronto’s brief 3-game honeymoon against injury-ravaged weak teams.
The Pacers outscore their opponents by an average of 9.6 PPG [Points Per Game], an absurd deficit. In their current 5-game winning streak, every victory has been by double digits. All five of their starters average over 11 PPG, led by small forward Paul George’s 23.8. This serious MVP candidate sits atop 82games.com’s “Simple Ratings” chart, and is ninth in PER. Roy Hibbert, their giant centre, leads the NBA in total blocked shots with 83, and has chalked up eight games with 5 blocks. Lance Stephenson at shooting guard will garner lots of votes for Most Improved Player. George Hill, the point guard, is no one’s idea of a star, but he’s an ego-free distributor and defender who will score if given space. Power forward David West always seem to come up big against Toronto. Their bench features gunner Danny Granger, who’s returning from a lengthy injury stint, and giant Ian Mahinmi.
The Raps will need to bring their “A” game, and then some, if they expect to beat the championship-grade Pacers. A win is possible if Toronto can:
- play with patience on offense. Good shots will be hard to come by, and probably won’t appear until late in the shot clock. The Raps play well when they share the ball, and they will need to do that time and again.
- neutralize the Pacers on the boards. Another one of Indiana’s many statistical advantages is their rebounding dominance. The Raps will need to box out Hibbert and West, which should allow the smaller guys like Terrence Ross to swoop in (or up) and grab the ball.
- pin the Pacers’ big men on offense. This statement is the reciprocal of the above point, except that Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will need to set the pin in advance of (say) a DeMar DeRozan drive. If they don’t, the paint will be a most unfriendly place.
The Raps are no longer in form; they played better in defeat against San Antonio than they did while beating Chicago. The Pacers are a juggernaut, and will outscore the Raptors 103-94.