What: Toronto Raptors (38-16) vs. Charlotte Hornets (23-32)
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
When: 1:00 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
The Charlotte Hornets are back home after a four-game road trip, but take on the Toronto Raptors, one of the league’s hottest teams.
Toronto is currently on a four game winning streak and sit first in the Eastern Conference (though Boston does have more wins). They are top five in points scored, offensive rating, points allowed, and defensive rating. Coming off a 20 point win against the Boston Celtics, there are a few making a case that the Raptors, not the Celtics, are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has been one of the better Eastern Conference teams in recent years, and the addition of Sere Ibaka at last season’s trade deadline has worked out well.
They are led by All-Star guard DeMar Derozan, who is averaging 23.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. He attempts nearly six more attempts per game than his closest teammate, and has found a way to improve his game while remaining barely competent from beyond the arc. He’ll be a handful.
Along side him is Kyle Lowry, the questionable All-Star reserve that made it over Kemba Walker. I’d go on to slander this decision more, but since Walker is now, in fact, an All-Star, I’ll refrain. Lowry isn’t averaging the numbers of a few seasons ago, but his 3-point percentage is close to 39 percent despite attempting nearly eight a game. Given Charlotte’s poor perimeter defense, Lowry could be in for another big night like the one on November 29th when he dropped 36.
Charlotte is reeling following a 1-3 roadtrip. They were competitive throughout the trip, but failed to execute in the fourth or in overtime. Walker often put the onus on himself to lead the Hornets to victory, and he nearly did twice. But as enjoyable as a 40 point performance from the captain is, he needs some help. Sporatically good play has come from the likes of Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, and Jeremy Lamb, but not nearly enough. Dwight Howard, meanwhile, is in poor form and coming off five points and nine rebounds in a game he fouled out in.
Howard’s struggles reflect the rest of the team, though. As Howard’s levels have dropped of late, so too has the rest of the team. They look like a group ready for the All-Star break to arrive. I don’t blame them, but they have two more games remaining, unfortunately. Losses in both could be the tipping point for a change in direction the rest of the season. Already six games back of eighth place, there’s nothing to suggest this team is capable of turning it around.
It’s a 1:00 p.m. start today, which will be a bit strange for both teams, I imagine. The basketball may not be pretty to start things off, but will it ultimately matter in the result? Not likely.
Note: Willy Hernangomez is cleared to play today, but it’s unlikely that happens. Steve Clifford stated he will start as the fifth big. Assuming there are no injuries in the front court, it’s doubtful he makes his debut unless the game is out of reach late.