Here come the Raptors again, the higher seed in a first-round series. They got swept by the Wizards last year and lost the Nets the year before. Will Toronto finally get over the hump? A few ways to assess the odds:
1. Are the Raptors in their own heads?
Toronto coach Dwane Casey isn’t happy about opening the playoffs with a 12:30 p.m. game tomorrow. Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:
“We have all these 12:30 games and they look at us as the team north of the border that plays the early games when people out west are still asleep. We’ll use that as a little motivation too,” he said. “Evidently someone doesn’t feel like we’re deserving of that prime time spot. We have to use that as motivation.”
Motivation? Maybe. But this also sounds like a coach fretting about an early start – which lends itself to unpredictability – after dropping home Game 1s the last two years.
Lowry and DeRozan had excellent regular seasons, and even George Hill and Paul George won’t necessarily have an easy time guarding those two Raptors. The Pacers play quality defense overall, but they’re only so-so at keeping opponents off the free-throw line. If Lowry and DeRozan dictate the pace, get into the paint and draw fouls, Indiana’s window for winning shrinks dramatically.
3. Will Frank Vogel uncover a matchup problem before its too late?
Toronto is better and more talented, but the Pacers are more versatile. They can play big and small, making several adjustments within each style. I’m not sure the exact strategy that will give the Raptors trouble, but within all the possible iterations, I’m convinced there’s one. Frank Vogel’s job: Finding it before the Raptors take a commanding series lead. It might not be enough for Indiana to win, but after the last two years, Toronto probably doesn’t want the series coming down to a coaching duel (though I still believe Casey is a good coach).
Prediction: Raptors in 6