Opponent: Toronto Raptors
Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry – Fred VanVleet – OG Anunoby – Pascal Siakam – Serge Ibaka
Second Unit: Patrick McCaw – Terrance Davis – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Chris Boucher
Leading Scorer: Siakam (23.7 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Ibaka (8 RPG)
Leading Assists: (7.3 APG)
Biggest Strength: Defense
The Raptors have the third-best record in the NBA, but they are doing that without an abundance of big-name stars. How are they doing it? It starts with defense. They are second in the NBA in defensive rating, just behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Lowry and VanVleet are an undersized backcourt, but they are both tough as nails. Anunoby and Siakam form one of the best defensive wing combos in the NBA. And Ibaka and Boucher can defend the rim at an above-average level. The Indiana Pacers didn’t have a problem scoring Wednesday night, but they also hit a franchise-record 19 three-pointers. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again against this stingy defense.
Biggest Weakness: Bench
Due to injuries to Marc Gasol and Norm Powell, Toronto’s bench is running on fumes, especially offensively. Davis looks like a solid young prospect, and Boucher, McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson are tough and athletic, but they struggle offensively. The Pacers outscored the Raptor’s bench 55-22 in Wednesday’s outing and will have the advantage there again as the Domantas Sabonis + bench lineup continues to tear it up.
The X-Factor: VanVleet
The guy that has the best shot of stabilizing the Raptors’ bench is VanVleet, as he staggers a bulk of his minutes with that unit, similar to how Sabonis does with the Pacers. He’s their best chance to generate offense in the second unit, which was what separated the Pacers the most in their matchup on Wednesday. What makes life difficult for VanVleet is that McConnell matches up with him pretty well, since there isn’t a size advantage. Can he find some room to breath to get some offense going with the second unit?
Despite losing Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors haven’t missed a beat and find themselves in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. That’s largely because Siakam has turned himself from a very good player to an all-star starter. But the rest of their roster can’t be overlooked. Lowry and VanVleet are as good as they come as a backcourt. Gasol and Ibaka, when healthy, are strong veteran presence that can stabilize a defense. The last piece of the puzzle is turning Anunoby into a more consistent offensive force. He’s been better this year, but he can still improve as a ball-handler and shooter. Their biggest weakness is their bench, which would normally be solid when Gasol and Powell are healthy. Can the Pacers keep up with their starters and break away when the benches are in the game? That will make-or-break the game, just like last time.