Raptors, Pacers jockey for playoff spots
TORONTO -- While the Toronto Raptors are trying to improve their position in the playoff seedings, the Indiana Pacers are trying to hold on to what they have.
Both teams will be coming off disappointing losses on Wednesday when they meet Friday night at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors (45-30) were outscored 44-32 in the fourth quarter in losing 110-106 to the Charlotte Hornets to remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Washington Wizards, who also lost Wednesday. The defeat ended Toronto's six-game winning streak, which matched a season best.
"I can't see how we lost this game," Toronto forward P.J. Tucker said. "Especially when you consider the last few games, how the season is coming to an end, how close the race is. We can't come out like that. There's no excuse for us coming out and playing like that. We got to be better."
The Pacers (37-38) allowed 38 points in the first quarter in their 110-97 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"We were supposed to come out here and make the game tough," said Paul George, who led Indiana with 22 points and is averaging 28.8 in the past five games. "But to start the game off, they kind of did what they wanted, and it showed."
The loss made Indiana's hold on a playoff spot a little more precarious. The Pacers have lost four of their past five games and are tied with Miami (37-38) for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls (36-39) are just one game behind the Pacers and the Heat.
In their past four losses, the Pacers have allowed an average of 114.8 points per game, allowing opposing teams to shoot 46 percent from the field.
On Thursday, the Pacers signed guard Lance Stephenson, who last played for them in the 2013-14 season before leaving as a free agent. He will not play in Toronto and is expected to join the team for the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
He will take the roster spot left after guard Rodney Stuckey was waived this week. Stuckey was expected to miss up to six weeks with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee.
Stephenson probably would be used off the bench as a playmaker.
"Lance is a ballplayer and he's a guy that fits right in," George said. "I think one area that we need and we're lacking is a shot creator and a playmaker (off the bench) and you've got a guy that can do both of those."
"We're very happy to have Lance back as part of our team," Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said. "We always knew he wanted to come back here, and we feel now is the right time, not only for the rest of this season but moving forward. We look forward to having a long relationship with him, because we know what he can bring to our franchise, both on and off the court."
Stephenson, 26, has had stints with the Charlotte Hornets, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves after playing four seasons with the Pacers to start his career.
He has career averages of 8.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 352 NBA games, including 189 starts.
The Pacers are without Al Jefferson, who is expected to be out for two weeks with a sprained ankle, and Glenn Robinson, who is out with a strained left calf.
The Raptors have coped well with the loss of point guard Kyle Lowry, who is not expected back until the playoffs after undergoing right wrist surgery. The Raptors are 13-6 without Lowry in the lineup this season. He has missed 18 games since the All-Star break because of the injury and also was rested Jan. 17, a win over the Nets at Brooklyn.
"I thought our guys were working," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game Wednesday. "We had a couple of breakdowns in coverage, mistakes we usually don't make. (The Hornets) made every shot and you have to shake their hands in that situation. It is up to us, our disposition, the way we start the game and the way you end it."
"We all have it in the back of our minds that it's a tight race, and we want to move ahead," said Cory Joseph, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists Wednesday as he continues to start at point guard in Lowry's absence. "But we have to focus on ourselves first."
The Raptors defeated the Pacers in seven games in a first-round playoff series last season. The teams have met once this season, with Toronto winning 116-91 on March 19 at the ACC. After Friday, the teams meet once more in the regular season, April 4 at Indiana.
The Raptors have won eight of the past nine regular-season games against the Pacers, including six in a row at the ACC.
Updated March 31, 2017