Opponent: Toronto Raptors
Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry – Fred VanVleet – Pat McCaw – OG Anunoby – Serge Ibaka
Second Unit: Terence Davis – Malcolm Miller – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Chris Boucher
Leading Scorer: Lowry (20.2 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Ibaka (7.4 RPG)
Leading Assists: Lowry: (7.5 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Small backcourt
The Raptors roll out a duo-point guard starting lineup with Lowry and VanVleet. They are also their two best players currently healthy. We’ve seen Malcolm Brogdon struggle guarding small, quick point guards, and with the starting backcourt being both small and quick guards, you can’t cross match him on to the bigger shooting guard. Lowry and VanVleet don’t posses the quickness of guys like Trae Young and Kemba Walker who have lit up the Indiana Pacers this season, but they bring the same issues to the table in a lesser sense.
Biggest Advantage: No Pascal Siakam
After losing Kawhi Leonard, many picked the Raptors to take a major step backwards. There ceiling is certainly lower, but Siakam has turned himself into an MVP candidate to keep them a contender. Losing him to injury is a huge loss for the Raptors. They have other big injuries in the likes of Marc Gasol and Normal Powell as well. The Pacers can now develop a gameplan specifically to limit Lowry and VanVleet. If they are able to do that, then a depleted cast of role players will have a tough time creating enough offensive firepower.
The X-Factor: Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis has an opportunity for a big game offensively, but he also has a big challenge ahead of him defensively. Ibaka looks like a shell of his former self, and when he’s not in the game, they are forced to play Boucher, who is below-average at best. He should be able to get buckets at will in the post, and if they double him, his improved passing should get open looks for the perimeter players. Now, defense is another story. He’ll be forced to guard Anunoby on the perimeter if they want to keep Myles Turner near the rim. Anunoby’s athleticism presents a big challenge for Sabonis on defense. Expect Turner and Sabonis to stagger minutes, so they can get wings on Anunoby as much as possible.
The Raptors are surprisingly competitive for the second seed in the East, despite losing Leonard to Los Angeles. Most of that success can be attributed to Siakam turning into an elite player, but the Raptors deserve some praise for taking care of business against lesser opponents while he’s been hurt. Without Siakam, all eyes are on their backcourt. Lowry, when healthy this season, has shown why he’s on the Raptors’ Mount Rushmore, and VanVleet could be a candidate for Most Improved Player. Finally healthy, Anunoby has excelled in a bigger role, and Ibaka can still be effective in certain situations. The Pacers have much more depth and scoring punch, but they are coming off a tough loss and will be playing the back end of a back-to-back. How effective can Sabonis be against inferior big men? How much of a gap can the bench create against a weak Toronto bench?