Live Free Picks
Home Of 500 Handicappers
Place: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
The Indiana Pacers have the opportunity to supplant the Chicago Bulls as the top team in the NBA’s Central Division. Like the Bulls, however, the Pacers will begin the 2012-13 season without their star player — as knee soreness has forward Danny Granger indefinitely sidelined.
Even without Granger, the opener is a good litmus test for a Toronto Raptors’ franchise that thinks it has a good shot at halting a four-year playoff drought.
Toronto traded for Kyle Lowry — a fine consolation prize at point guard after the Raptors fell short in the Steve Nash sweepstakes. Lowry’s presence as a distributor is expected to augment what was one of the more pedestrian offenses in the league last season. It’s also the coming-out party for 6-foot-11 Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft whose Toronto debut was delayed a year because his Lithuanian team would not release him to play for the Raptors.
Indiana Pacers (2011-12: 42-24): Continuity’s the name of the game. Indiana’s regular starting five played a combined 1,000 minutes together last season and four of those five players are back. The only void is at point guard, where George Hill has been locked up to a multi-year deal and will pair with D.J. Augustin to replace Darren Collison. The Pacers are playing five of their first six games on the road.
Toronto Raptors (2011-12: 23-43): Valanciunas, in theory, provides the best post player to suit up for Toronto since Chris Bosh decided to take his talents to South Beach. His game should complement that of Andrea Bargnani, the former No. 1 overall draft pick who missed about half of last season’s shortened campaign due to multiple calf injuries. DeMar DeRozan has been the subject of trade rumors after failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season began.
1. Gerald Green is expected to start for Granger, who felt a sharp pain in his knee after making a layup during the Pacers’ final preseason game.
2. Former Pacers team president Donnie Walsh is back in the front office in a similar role after Larry Bird stepped down as president of basketball operations.
3. Raptors coach Dwane Casey scoffs at the notion his team is a postseason contender at this point, recently telling reporters the following: “There’s no way we could be in a group knocking on the door of the playoffs. We’ve got to get in that group. We’ve got to scratch and claw every day to be there.”