This is unprecedented territory for the Hornets. It’s difficult to gauge how legitimate their success is.
After all, most of their wins have come against inferior opponents, though they did battle back from a few tough deficits to pull out unlikely wins.
The Raptors are without a doubt the toughest team the Hornets have faced yet this season.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the NBA (and life), it’s that even when you think you have all of the variables, your predictions are usually worthless.
Here’s the thing. On paper, the Hornets and Raptors match up extremely well. Kyle Lowry negates Kemba Walker and vice versa. DeMar DeRozan and Nicolas Batum. Jonas Valanciunas and Roy Hibbert. DeMarre Carroll and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Patrick Patterson and Marvin Williams.
It’s kind of weird, honestly.
But I don’t think this game will be close at all. I don’t know who wins, but I also don’t think this game is decided with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors are very good. They earned a franchise-best 56 wins last season and look to repeat that success this year with essentially the same roster. The Hornets, on the other hand, appear to be very good. We’ve never seen them have this kind of success — particularly when dealing with various injuries to key players — and the strength of their competition thus far is questionable.
That said, they sport some of the best metrics in the league. They’re second in defense. Second in turnovers per game. Fourth in defensive rebounding. Fifth in assist ratio. These are elite numbers.
Still, with a seven-game sample size, we’re likely to see some change in the Hornets. The safe bet would be on them regressing to something similar to what we saw last season — very good, but not great.
But there’s also a chance they’re better than this. After all, Jeremy Lamb and Roy Hibbert have missed significant time and both were expected to be key rotation players.
The Raptors are the Hornets’ first real test. A win tonight keeps the Hornets in first place in the Eastern Conference. A loss drops them to the Raptors’ record and puts the Cleveland Cavaliers in first.
In other words, a win legitimizes the Hornets. A loss reminds us that sample sizes are important when gauging a team’s talent. TL;DR, this is a huge game for the Hornets.
DeRozan has been incredibly hot to start the season, averaging 34.1 points per game with nearly half of those points coming on midrange jump shots he creates off the dribble. The increased workload on offense has forced Lowry to the background, raising questions about whether or not Lowry still has “it”. He’s in his thirties now and bound to regress in the next couple of years.
Either way, the Raptors’ backcourt is formidable, necessitating big games from Walker and Batum. I expect to see Hornets head coach Steve Clifford stick MKG on DeRozan, mind you, but there’s no harm in forcing DeRozan to play some defense of his own to take his legs out of his shot as the game progresses.
There’s a good chance Hibbert plays tonight after a five-game absence. Here’s hoping his knee’s in good shape, especially if Valanciunas returns to action tonight. Doctors identified liquid in his knee but the ailment is considered minor. He was kept out of Wednesday’s game as a precaution.
Jeremy Lamb is not expected to play, though that could change prior to tipoff.
The Raptors are a balanced team, showcasing a slower, efficient offense with pretty good defense. They do like to crash the offensive boards, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clifford try to exploit that.
A win tonight sends the Hornets into Cleveland with a five-game winning streak and the confidence needed to beat the defending champs. A loss humbles the team somewhat, which could spell trouble considering the Hornets’ upcoming slew of games. Matchups include the aforementioned Cavs, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs within the next week and a half.
This will be a tough game, but it is winnable and the Hornets will play with that in mind.
Locked on Hornets previewed tonight’s game with Sean Woodley. You can listen to the show below.
Let’s make history.