Where: Air Canada Centre; Toronto, Ontario
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
The Charlotte Hornets take on the Toronto Raptors on the road tonight after three days off. Despite the rest, Charlotte will be tested, as All-Star point guard Kemba Walker is doubtful to play after suffering a left shoulder contusion against the Spurs on Saturday. If out, Michael Carter-Williams will start in his place.
There’s no need to emphasize Walker’s importance. The Hornets will be in a tough spot if he can’t play tonight, leaving an onus on pretty much the rest of the roster to pick up the slack. Charlotte often relies on Walker too much, and he’s been a catalyst for this team in their recent success against the Raptors in past seasons.
Speaking of which, Toronto is one of the highest scoring teams in the NBA, ranking 5th in the league at 109.5 points per game. They are also second in team field goal percentage, meaning they don’t just score a lot, but score efficiently as well.
They are lead by DeMar Derozan, who is averaging 22.9 points per game along with 4.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists (which, by the way, is a career average). He was held out of Monday’s practice to rest a slight knee issue, but he’s expected to play tonight.
Beyond Derozan, Kyle Lowry instigates the offense, averaging a team best 7.0 assists per game. He’s averaging just 15.7 points per game, which is his lowest average since the 2012-13 season, but he’s also shooting less, and his shooting percentages remain fairly high.
Down low, the likes of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas provide a lot of size. There are concerns, however, as to whether both can play together. Ibaka has reportedly been much more effective playing center, which begs the question as to whether Raptors coach Dwayne Casey will send one to the bench. Assuming they do start together, expect Marvin Williams on Ibaka, and Dwight Howard on Valanciunas.
Beyond scoring a lot, Toronto ranks 9th in points allowed and 10th in opponent field goal percentage. That said, they struggle from the perimeter; however, ranking just 23rd in 3-point percentage. They also don’t rebound the ball that well, either, ranking 25th. Both are areas the Hornets can exploit. Charlotte needs to defend the paint well and prevent Dorozan from getting to his spots. Force the team to attempt more 3-pointers than they are comfortable with, and make sure to limit second chance opportunities by out-rebounding them on the defensive end.
This game may come down to slowing the pace down and digging down defensively to keep Toronto under 100 points. It won’t be pretty, but none will care how it looks so long as it’s a win. Offensively, the Hornets should look to get Howard early touches in the paint, but it’s important Howard dives deep and seals his man under the basket for easy shot attempts, rather than attempting to break down his defender one-on-one. Keep it simple, Dwight.
With MCW likely starting, Malik Monk should see time with the rotation. The Hornets could certainly use another breakout game from him.
But again, emphasis on a concerted team effort is needed here. The bench unit can’t afford to have a bad night, and the starters need to limit turnovers and take high percentage shots. The margin for error is slim if Walker doesn’t play.
Charlotte won’t be expected to win, but what it would do for their confidence if they could beat the Raptors without Walker. Momentum can come from the least expected places. Gaining some tonight despite the odds against them would be a good way to get things back on track.