Toronto (50-17) have created some separation from Boston atop both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. They are enjoying a season high in consecutive wins and have victories in 16 of their last 17 games overall after pulling away in the fourth quarter to beat Brooklyn 116-102 on the road Tuesday night.
The offense came from expected sources as the bench accounted for 50 points, paced by 15 from Fred VanVleet, and an unexpected source as center Jonas Valanciunas more than doubled his season average with 26 points. That was two off his season best, and the seven-footer pulled down 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double in six games.
Toronto also reached the 50-win mark for the third straight season after failing to do so in their first 20 seasons of existence. The Raptors need to go just 7-8 down the stretch to set a single-season club record for victories.
While the Raptors are trying to win the Atlantic Division for the fourth time in five years, the Pacers (40-28) are battling the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their first Central title since 2014 and claim the third seed in the East. Indiana have won three straight contests to take a one-half game lead over Cleveland and are coming off a 101-98 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Myles Turner scored 25 points and Thaddeus Young added 19 and ten rebounds, picking up the scoring slack as Victor Oladipo was held to 11 points on four-of-21 shooting. Indiana’s bench also provided some scoring punch as guards Lance Stephenson and Darren Collison combined for 21 points to help the Pacers move a season-high 12 games over .500.
Three keys to the game
Toronto's bench mob continues to roll - The Raptors are sixth in the league in bench scoring at 41.4 points per game, but the reserves have stepped their game up during this nine-game winning streak, averaging 46.1 points while shooting 47.7 percent overall and 37.7 percent from 3-point range.
Oladipo trying to end shooting funk - The Pacers shooting guard has put up three of his five worst shooting efforts of the season in his last five games, averaging 16.4 points on 36.4 percent shooting, including 33.3 percent from 3-point range. Facing the Raptors, though, may prove to be a slump-buster as Oladipo has gone 22 of 37 and scored 57 points in the two matchups this season.
50 is nice, 60 is better - While the Raptors can set a single-season franchise record with 57 wins, they have their eyes on a bigger goal, and that is winning 60.
“It’s never been done (in Toronto),” DeMar DeRozan told the Toronto Star. “Not many people get the opportunity to win 60-plus games. We came close a couple years ago, that’s big. On top of that, you’ve got to prove why you’re a 60-win team. As long as you continue to do what we need to do, hopefully we can get there.”
Matchup to watch
SG DeMar DeRozan vs SG Victor Oladipo - It's a matchup of All-Stars at the shooting guard position between DeRozan and Oladipo, and both are looking for breakout scoring games. DeRozan had a quiet 15 points against the Nets and has scored just 24 in his last two games, barely above his season mark of 23.6 per game, while shooting ten of 28 from the floor.
In between the three poor shooting games, Oladipo did go 17 for 29 in two contests while totaling 44 points. He has actually scored less at home than on the road this season, netting 22.7 points per game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse compared to 24.4 per contest on the road.
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - Norman Powell | PF - Serge Ibaka
Indiana Pacers projected starting lineup
PG - Cory Joseph | SG - Victor Oladipo | C - Myles Turner | SF - Bojan Bogdanovic | PF - Thaddeus Young
Even factoring in the last two games, DeRozan has still averaged 21.9 points and 4.7 assists during Toronto's nine-game run. He continues to be proficient from the foul line, hitting 54 of 66 in that span. DeRozan has scored 39 points in the two games versus the Pacers this season, shooting 40.5 percent (15 for 37), and his 13-point effort in the first meeting ended a run of 11 straight games of 20 or more points.
DeRozan has averaged 24.7 points and 3.9 assists in his last 13 against Indiana despite shooting just 40.3 percent because he has made 103 free throws while connecting at a 79.7 percent clip from the foul line.
Like DeRozan, point guard Kyle Lowry has been slightly off with his shot in the last two games, hitting three of 15 from 3-point range and seven of 21 overall. The All-Star guard finished two assists shy of a triple-double in the first game, totaling 24 points and ten rebounds in a 107-104 loss at Indiana on November 24.
Lowry then had 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Toronto's 120-115 win December 1, giving him lifetime marks of 15.0 points and 6.3 assists in 20 career matchups with the Pacers while shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range.
Oladipo has been a menace on the perimeter against Toronto, hitting 28 of 55 from 3-point range in 12 matchups. He has averaged 19.5 points, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals in those games, but been on the winning end of just three of them.
Turner is playing some of his best offensive basketball of the season, averaging 21.3 points on 61.8 percent shooting in his last four games. He's also pulled down 8.3 rebounds per game and hit nine of 17 from beyond the arc in those contests.
Turner had seven points and ten boards in Indiana's home win before totaling 17 points and six rebounds in the road loss. He has averaged 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in seven career matchups, taking just seven shots per game (22 for 49).
The Raptors have been established as four-point favorites for this game, yet they have not delivered for bettors recently in this rivalry. Toronto have failed to cover in the last four matchups in Indiana and are just 2-7 versus the spread in the last nine games between the teams overall.
Toronto, though, are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven road games and 6-2 in their last eight against conference rivals. The Raptors have covered in four of their last five overall but they are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games when facing teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better on the road.
Indiana have been providing returns for bettors of late, going 10-1 against the spread in their last 11 games against Atlantic Division opponents and have covered in four of their last five home games and six of their last seven overall. The Pacers are also 6-1 versus the number against teams with a winning percentage .600 or better and also have covered in eight of their last ten games following a win against the spread.
The over/under has slipped one point to 213.5 since its open, and the under has been the strong play when these teams meet in Indiana, hitting in the last seven matchups. The over, though, is 13-3-1 in Toronto's last 17 games against Central Division teams and 15-4 in their last 19 road games.
The under has been trending for the Pacers on all fronts, hitting in their last four home games, going 5-1 in their last six versus Atlantic Division foes and posting a 15-5-1 mark in their last 21 conference matchups.
One reason Toronto are atop the Eastern Conference is they keep finding ways to win the nights they don't have their "A" game. Different players step up at different points, evidenced by Valanciunas, VanVleet and C. J. Miles against Brooklyn.
There are intriguing matchups across the board, starting with DeRozan versus Oladipo and almost at every position. One understated one is at small forward with Norman Powell squaring off against Bojan Bogdanovic. Both played well offensively in the first game, scoring 19 and 16 points, respectively, then both made adjustments as they held each other to 16 points combined in the second.
The difference in this game may come down to the fact the Raptors finally have a margin of error atop the conference while the Pacers are fighting to stay atop the Central. That is not to say Toronto will lack urgency, but if there is ever a place for a letdown, it is on the final leg of a three-game, five-day road swing like the Raptors have in this contest.
The area where the Pacers can best counteract Toronto's bench mob is in the backcourt, with Collison and Stephenson providing offense without sacrificing defensive quality. Collison has not played over 24 minutes in any of the three games since returning from a knee injury, and this may be a game where the Pacers need a little more from him.
This game will be close like the first two this season and the winner will have the upper hand in the bid for the season series tiebreaker as they will meet again in Toronto on April 6. Look for the Pacers to end Toronto's run, but barely so with a 105-103 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on SportsNet One and locally on Fox Sports Indiana. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.
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