Saturday, September 24, 2022

Preview: Indiana Pacers (25-49) at Toronto Raptors (41-32)

The Toronto Raptors continue a key home stretch that could cement their place in the playoffs when they take on the visiting Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Toronto began a stretch of four straight home games (and eight of their next nine) with a critical 117-104 victory over Cleveland on Thursday. The Raptors (41-32) now have the same record as the Cavaliers, who hold the Eastern Conference’s all-important No. 6 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker.

Pascal Siakam matched his season-high with 35 points against the Cavs and Chris Boucher provided 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals off the bench. OG Anunoby added 14 points, including 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range in his return from a 15-game absence due to a fractured finger.

“There’s another person out there you can kick the ball out to,” Siakam told The Athletic following Thursday’s win. “I think that (Anunoby) is going to be open and if they help off of him, it’s always going to be open and he’s going to make those shots. Definitely glad to have him back.”

Anunoby’s return comes at a crucial juncture, not just coinciding with Toronto’s playoff push, but providing support with Gary Trent Jr. sidelined. Trent — a burgeoning scoring threat whose recent exploits include a 42-point effort March 11 at Phoenix — missed the past two games with a toe injury.

Toronto is 7-2 in its last nine against a stretch made up primarily of teams in playoff position. The Raptors’ current run includes road wins at NBA-leading Phoenix, and over Denver and Philadelphia squads featuring two of the league’s top MVP contenders in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.

Indiana enters Saturday’s matchup as the lone opponent in the Raptors’ four-game homestand not in position for a playoff or play-in berth. The Pacers (25-49) were eliminated from playoff contention last week.

After they beat Houston and Portland on March 18 and 20 for consecutive wins for the first time since January, the Pacers lost their last two: 110-109 at home against Sacramento on Wednesday, and a 133-103 rout Thursday in Memphis.

Thursday’s game was the first of two for Indiana without coach Rick Carlisle, who is missing the two-game road swing for personal reasons. Carlisle’s absence wasn’t the only one.

Malcolm Brogdon, Jalen Smith, Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson all missed Thursday’s contest. Goga Bitadze was questionable with a foot injury but played almost 30 minutes against Memphis. Tyrese Haliburton, who was questionable with a back injury, played 27 minutes and finished with nine points.

“When you’re … undermanned, it affects everyone,” assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said after the game. “Everyone’s in a position to do more. We’re asking guys that haven’t played a lot to play more minutes. We’re asking guys that shouldn’t be playing so much to play a little bit more.”

Brogdon should be back in the lineup on Saturday after resting in Thursday’s second leg of a back-to-back. Duarte has missed the last four games with a toe injury. Jackson, who sustained a concussion last week, missed three of the last four and played fewer than seven minutes before leaving Wednesday’s game with a headache.

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