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Game Preview: Charlotte Hornets vs Toronto Raptors

Coming off their third straight win, the Charlotte Hornets will be taking on one of the Eastern Conference's best teams tonight — the Toronto Raptors.

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When: 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON

Listen: WFNZ 610 AM

Watch: SportSouth

After an incredible comeback win against one of the NBA's premier big men, the Charlotte Hornets (13-24) are taking on the Toronto Raptors (24-10) in Canada Thursday night. Their win against the New Orleans Pelicans just one night prior relied heavily on Kemba Walker's 31-point, 36-minute heroics, while the Raptors haven't played since Sunday.

That will likely be the narrative of tonight's game. The Hornets are on the second night of a back-to-back, presumably exhausted after their win last night, while the Raptors are well rested and haven't played in several days.

However, the Raptors will not have DeMar DeRozan tonight, who is expected back in the rotation soon. DeRozan suffered the first major injury of his career this season with a torn tendon in his groin that sidelined him back in late November. This will offset the Hornets' absences of Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson a bit, but the Raptors are still an incredibly dangerous team.

With DeRozan out, Kyle Lowry is the team's de facto leader, and is widely regarded as the heart and soul of the Raptors by his teammates. Lowry is often referred to as a bulldog, and for good reason. Despite standing just 6'0", he's surprisingly strong and is absolutely ruthless on both ends of the floor. Kemba Walker won't find this matchup easy, and after three consecutive 30-point games, it will be interesting to see how Walker handles Lowry.

Toronto was among the NBA's best defensive teams last season, especially after trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento. However, this season their defense is average at best, and their record is a result of an unforgiving offensive onslaught. Many analysts believed the Raptors' offense would cool as the season progressed, but we're nearly halfway through the season and they're still hot. The Hornets are currently allowing 99.6 points per game this season — good for 17th in the league — so whether or not they can contain the Raptors' hot shooting will have a tremendous impact on the outcome of this game.

A key to tonight's game might be refusing to play small ball with the Raptors. With DeRozan out, Toronto has looked to lineups with two and sometimes even three point guards sharing the floor together. Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams are all capable point guards in their own right, and it would be a mistake for Steve Clifford to match their size. Unfortunately, the Hornets don't have much size in the backcourt, and Clifford often elects to let Gary Neal share the floor with Walker or Brian Roberts. Keep an eye on how the Hornets match up with the Raptors tonight.

All in all, this will be a difficult game for the Hornets. The Raptors are a very good team and will likely secure homecourt advantage in playoffs this season. They're also 14-3 at home this season, which is a testament to just how great their fanbase is when the team is winning. If the Hornets can somehow contain the Raptors' explosive offense while making hustle plays for extra possessions, they might be able to come out with a win. But it won't be easy.

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