As reported by The Athletic's Shams Charania, Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is targeting Jan. 29 as the date for his return to action after being sidelined for over a year.
Any time an All-Star calibre player returns to action, there is undoubtedly a ripple effect felt across the league and, more specifically, among the teams they are in direct competition with for playoff seeding.
At the time of the report, the Pacers' 23-14 record was good for sixth in a developing Eastern Conference playoff picture that looks to be nowhere near its final form, which is where the Toronto Raptors first come in to play.
With a quick glance, it's pretty clear how this news directly impacts Toronto as Indiana is just one game back in the standings nearly halfway through the season without its biggest star.
And it gets much deeper than that…
The schedule ahead
At the time of Oladipo's targeted return date of Jan. 29, the Pacers will have played 47 games, meaning he will be available for some or all of the team's final 35 contests, with respect to potential time missed for recovery management.
Over those final 35 games, the Pacers face the Raptors more than any other team as they are set to meet three times, all in February.
- Feb. 5, Indiana at Toronto
- Feb. 7, Toronto at Indiana
- Feb. 23, Indiana at Toronto
The Pacers took the first meeting between the two teams, earning a 120-115 overtime win over the Raptors on Dec. 23.
As Toronto and Indiana jockey for positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, it adds increased meaning to these next meetings as a best 2-out-of-3 in some respects. Winning the season series could come in handy as a tiebreaker at season's end.
Should the teams split the season series and neither wins their respective division, the conference win-loss percentage becomes the next tiebreaker.
Home court advantage
It's no secret that any team would want to open up the postseason at home.
As it stands, one of Boston, Miami, Toronto, Philadelphia or Indiana will not get that luxury. It appears to be even more important than in years past as the Heat (17-1), 76ers (17-2) and Celtics (14-2) have each established themselves as some of the league's best home teams.
The home records of Indiana (15-4) and Toronto (14-6) aren't too far behind. If neither the Pacers nor Raptors can catapult towards taking one the top three seeds in the conference, the battle for fourth could intensify given their three meetings.
This could even be a potential 4-5 matchup in the postseason.
The Pacers' record is all the more impressive when considering that in addition to Oladipo, free-agent acquisition Malcolm Brogdon has missed extended time due to various injuries. This team has done more than stay afloat without its star-studded backcourt.
If anyone knows about dealing with injuries this season, it's the Raptors.
CJ McCollum (upper respiratory illness) is listed as questionable for Portland.- Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 7, 2020
Raptors and Blazers enter tonight tied in man games lost to injury with 128 (3rd-most in NBA).
Nurkic, Collins, Hood, Labissiere are OUT for Portland. Siakam, VanVleet, Gasol, Hernandez OUT for Raps
Key players have been out for the Raptors, too, as Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have all missed at least six of the team's first 37 games.
Momentum towards the postseason is real. It's tangible. And it will almost certainly have bearing on how each of these teams perform in the postseason. They'll need their most talented players back in the fold to build as much as possible.
Most would agree that Indiana and Toronto are two teams that will be a difficult team to eliminate in the postseason but just how far they can go will heavily depend on how well they end the season.
And if they're able to avoid one another in the first round…
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