Toronto Raptors (2-3) at Indiana Pacers (5-0)
Given Thursday off by head coach Frank Vogel, the Indiana Pacers play a second straight game on their home court in a Friday night matchup with the Toronto Raptors at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Toronto (2-3) possesses a dynamic scoring duo similar to the Pacers’ Paul George and Lance Stephenson. By acquiring forward Rudy Gay in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies last season, the Raptors immediately boosted their offense. Gay has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble, square up and shoot the mid- and long-range jumper, as well as finish strong around the basket. This allows guard DeMar DeRozan to put up points in bunches out of the backcourt.
To say George and Stephenson will face a touch challenge tonight would be an understatement. It is tough to imagine the two not performing well, however, following a spectacular showing Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls (might I add the M-V-P chants George received in the 4th quarter). Nonetheless, DeRozan and Gay will certainly bring their best tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse versus the undefeated Indiana Pacers.
One of the biggest differences tonight, undoubtedly, is the presence of Roy Hibbert. I expect Hibbert to increase his league-leading blocks total of 26 (a 5.2 per-game average) with Gay, DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry attacking the basket at a high rate tonight.
The Indiana Pacers should have no trouble slowing the Toronto Raptors’ struggling offense. According to ESPN.com, the Raptors are shooting a combined 43% from the floor and 32% from three-point distance. Not helping their cause is the Pacers’ team defense, allowing its opposition to shoot 37.5% from the floor and 31.8% from long-range. Indiana is also giving up a lowly 84.4 points per game, best in the NBA by a mile.
Despite the teams matching up fairly evenly on paper, the Indiana Pacers hold the advantage playing in front of their home crowd. I envision a loud and supportive audience tonight in downtown Indianapolis as Indiana seeks its best start since their multiple-championship ABA days. The pressure is on the blue and gold in search of a 6-0 start to the season.
I side with Lance Stephenson and his season-opening 10-game win streak idea tonight. Indiana’s defense will prove to be too much for Toronto to handle as the Pacers cruise to victory by double digits.