(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
Regular seasons series: Raptors won 3-1
Key matchup: DeMar DeRozan (24/4/5) vs. Paul George (23/7/4)
The Toronto Raptors have been a pleasant surprise this season. A franchise-best 56 wins, clinching the second seed, and having an All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have propelled this team into title contention. But most of us know about the Raptors struggles in the Playoffs.
Two straight seasons they have been bounced in the first round, last year getting swept by the Wizards in a very disappointing performance from their whole roster. Fans in Toronto are expecting this team to do some damage in the post-season this year, and nothing less than an ECF appearance will leave a bad taste in Raptor’s fans’ mouths. Toronto will have their hands full, facing up against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.
They had a promising start to the season, being as high as second in the East behind the Cavs late in December, before dropping off and hanging around 7th place for the rest of the season. The Paces are in good form heading into the Playoffs, however, as they were 7-3 in their last 10 games of the regular season.
Toronto was close to sweeping the season series between these two clubs, only dropping one game in December 106-90, where Jordan Hill had 20 and 13. The closest game between the two teams was decided by 7 points, with all 3 Toronto wins decided by an average of 8.3 points. This series seems extremely favourable towards the Raptors, as they have quietly proven they can do the job at home, and inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Pacers.
The Key Factors
All eyes will be on DeMar DeRozan in this series, specifically how he fairs against either Monta Ellis or Paul George. It is entirely possible that the Pacers move George to the SG spot, as forcing DeRozan to take well-defended shots, especially in the mid-range area, will be critical if Pacers want to steal this series.
This would most likely move Monta Ellis down into the 6th man role. DeMar DeRozan has performed quite poorly in previous post-seasons, especially last year, averaging 20.3 points off of 40% shooting in 40 minutes over the 4 games. His inconsistent play is what ultimately led to the Raptors being swept. DeRozan will need to put in a good performance this series alongside Lowry if the Raptors want to leave the first round this year.
Despite Toronto’s terrible showings in past post-seasons, improved play this year from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and a returning DeMarre Carrol, who always turns up for the Playoffs lead me to believe that the Raptors will win this series.
Prediction by Brad Stevenson: Toronto Raptors 4-2 Indiana Pacers