The Toronto Raptors are looking to heal up their players and slow the pace a bit since they have the top-two seed pretty much locked up, the Indiana Pacers on the other hand are still wondering about their play-off potential.
The Raptors are on the war path for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 spot and that will continue on Thursday night when they pay a visit to Indiana, to the Pacers who’re trying to get away from the nightmare of missing the postseason again. They are 36-31 on the season.
Toronto is 45-21 and has recently won four of five games, and 10 of 13 games since Feb. 21. That’s allowed them to cement a position well ahead of Boston in the Atlantic Division with 16 games left to play in the season. The Raptors are trailing the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, but catching them is not a priority, since in Tuesday’s post-game media scrum in Milwaukee, Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he would start resting players in anticipation of the strain the playoffs can put on his key players.
So far he has held true to his word, and rested his leading scorer DeMar DeRozan in a 107-89 win against the Bucks, which was Toronto’s third game in four days. The team’s two-time All-Star had before that had started each of the previous 65 games, but he was content to watch from the bench sitting alongside Jonas Valanciunas, who is being held back as a precaution since he sustained a small injury that bruised his left hand in Monday night’s 109-107 loss to the Chicago Bulls. A team they could meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Without their combined average of 36.5 points per game, Kyle Lowry took it upon himself to pick up the slack. The All-Star had 25 points and 11 assists one night after finishing with 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against the Bulls. Toronto rookie, Norman Powell added in a season-high 17 points, and Lowry rested in the fourth quarter with the Raptors easily ahead and not worried about falling back.
“It just shows how much depth we have on the bench, when your star player can have a rest game and we still have a dominating game like that,” said Powell, who played 34 minutes after averaging just 7 minutes coming into that game.
Bismack Biyombo replaced Valanciunas and posted 12 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks, both which came in the third quarter where the Bucks missed 16 of 22 shots. Toronto was unable to contain Chicago the night before where the Bulls shot 49.4 percent. Toronto was able to hold Milwaukee to 44.2 percebt, which included 2 of 13 from the 3-point range.
The Raptors are pretty good at that, since they rank near the top of the NBA for holding opponents to 98.4 points per game. On October 28, they held Indiana to 37.2 percent shooting in a 106-99 home win. But on Dec 14, the Pacers were able to snap a five-game skid in this head to head series by shooting 47.7 percent and making 10 of 22 3s in a surprising 106-90 victory in Indianapolis.
Pacers’ Paul George shot just 30 percent while averaging 16.5 points between the two games, but recently he has hit his stride in Indiana’s recent surge, with just one exception. George rebounded from a 3-for-15, seven-point effort in Sunday’s 104-75 loss at Atlanta with 25 points in Tuesday’s 103-98 win over Boston, which was Indiana’s fourth victory in five games. Not counting that it was a loss against the Hawks, George still averaged 24.7 points in the last six games.
The Pacers currently are the East’s seventh seed and will close the regular season with 10 of their last 15 games at home, in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they have a strong record of 20-11.
“(I see) potential, a lot of potential for this team to go forward (with momentum),” George said. “We got a chance to move up. With 15 games left, nothing is really set in stone, we’re still right there.”
Indiana has a nice schedule, it plays its next four games and seven of eight at home. One more victory at home and it will clinch a winning home record for the 27th straight season. But can they do that against the Raps? The Raptors are a pretty solid 19-13 on the road, but they have lost three games of their last five. And with their stars resting, this game could go the Pacers way.
Our Pick: Pacers over Raps, 104-101