The Indiana Pacers have an opportunity to tie the best start in franchise history, and a matchup with the perennially struggling Toronto Raptors would appear to help their chances.
The Raptors, though, won in each of their visits to Indiana last season and will try to add to that success while avoiding a third straight defeat Friday night.
At 5-0, Indiana is off to its best start since joining the NBA in 1976-77 and is the league's last remaining unbeaten team. The Pacers' only 6-0 start came in 1970-71 during their successful era in the ABA in which they won three championships.
Indiana stayed perfect Wednesday by pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 97-80 victory against visiting Chicago. The Pacers outscored the Bulls 34-18 in the final period and 60-37 in the second half.
With 21 points, Paul George topped 20 for the fifth straight game and helped Indiana continue to overcome injuries to point guard George Hill (hip) and forward Danny Granger (calf). George is among the league's scoring leaders with a 25.8-point average, but it was Luis Scola, Donald Sloan and Lance Stephenson that combined for all the points in a pivotal 12-2 run in the fourth quarter.
"We're deep and we have a lot of guys who contribute and make plays," forward David West said after finishing with season highs of 17 points and 13 rebounds. "That's what we're going to need as the year wears on."
With its formidable depth, Indiana might have enough to get past Toronto (2-3), which hasn't posted a winning record since 2006-07.
The Raptors' victories in Indiana last season both were by two points and one came in overtime, a 100-98 win Feb. 8 in which Rudy Gay hit a 17-footer in the final seconds. The teams split four meetings and Indiana needed Hill's floater with 2.1 seconds left to earn a 90-88 win in the first.
The Raptors head into this game after another two-point loss Wednesday in Charlotte. Their rally from a late eight-point deficit fell short in a 92-90 defeat.
Gay scored a season-high 20 points and DeMar DeRozan, who had 14, missed a short jumper with 28 seconds left after making two free throws to cut the deficit to two. The Raptors fell behind 32-18 after the opening quarter but rallied to tie the game at 53-all by halftime.
"Our approach in the first quarter was very unlike us," coach Dwane Casey said. "We did not play the way we did the last three quarters. This is a great learning lesson for us. Never leave winning the game to the last couple of possessions."
After being acquired in a trade with Memphis on Jan. 30, Gay averaged 22.0 points in his two games against Indiana despite shooting 39.0 percent. He's averaging 16.8 points and shooting 33.7 percent this season.
West averaged a team-best 20.3 points last season versus Toronto, but it was George that provided a more all-around performance with 18.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the four meetings. He also went 11 of 23 from 3-point range.
25.7 seconds left in the last game. Bobcats have a full shot clock and the ball, and we're down by 2. Halfway through the possession (after attempting and failing to fullcourt trap them) they call a timeout. So the coach has had a chance to instruct the players on what to do.
Out of the timeout we just play defense for the remaining 10 seconds. With 2 seconds left in the game the bobcats take a 3 pointer and it hits the rim, (so no shotclock violation) finishing the time left in the game.
That happened 2 nights ago.
This is all in addition to refusing to give Val minutes, despite the fact that when he's in there we have match up advantages, and he's grabbing rebounds over their bigmen. But no, he'd rather go with Landry Fields and Hansborough (who hasn't been too bad actually). The weird thing too, is that in that first quarter when Val is in there, they attempt to run the offense through him, and for the most part it works fine. Then not only do they go away from an inside out game, they completely keep him off the court.