Confident Pacers pay a visit to Toronto
(Sports Network) - The Indiana Pacers visit the Toronto Raptors Wednesday in both teams' season opener.
The Pacers are coming off a solid 2011-12 campaign that saw them go 42-24 and give the eventual NBA Champions, the Miami Heat, a battle in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Expectations are justifiably high in Indianapolis this season. With a loaded roster, some valuable experience gained in last season's playoffs and a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team, the Pacers are the clear-cut favorites in the Central Division.
"We finished the season last year feeling like we were good enough to win a championship," head coach Frank Vogel said at Pacers' Media Day. "We're a team that sets our sights high, we shoot for the moon and then we work our butts off trying to get to those goals. We're dreaming big here."
Dreaming big is fine, especially when you have one of the best front-lines on the planet. Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert are all former All- Stars. Paul George, whose option was picked up by the Pacers through the 2013-14 season, is an All-Star in the making. George Hill is the point guard after he supplanted Darren Collison last season.
But Granger is out of action indefinitely with a sore left knee. Granger will get a second opinion and when he will return is anyone's guess. Gerald Green will start in his absence according to Vogel.
"We still have a heck of a basketball team," said Vogel. "David West is a beast. Roy Hibbert is a beast. George Hill is a beast. Paul George is coming. Still a lot of reason for optimism."
The bench will be solid with the offseason acquisitions of Green, Young and D.J. Augustin. They will compliment Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi to form a great group of non-starters.
Vogel's dreams aren't far-fetched, but the Raptors don't share the same rosy outlook for their squad this season.
Don't be confused, the Raptors aren't conceding the upcoming season, but their optimism is rooted in baby steps.
After a 23-43 2011-12 season, the Raptors brought in three new starters for this season.
They traded for point guard Kyle Lowry, signed Landry Fields to a free-agent deal and Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, who stayed overseas last season.
Throw in DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani, who was playing brilliantly last season until a calf injury shut him down for 35 games, and you've got an intriguing mix of the unproven.
If they put it all together, the Raptors could surprise some people.
"We've got some of the young core pieces back, but we have some additions coming in," said team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo. "We've got a high-character group of guys. Across the board, we've got a good foundation there. That's something you know I put a lot of weight on, in terms of roster conception."
Toronto went 6-1 in exhibition games with a perfect 5-0 record at home.
Indiana has won six of its last seven against the Raptors, including all three of last season's contests.
10/31 10:49:40 ET