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The Hornets trip up north takes them to Toronto

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The Charlotte Hornets, currently a playoff team, look to make it three in a row versus Pascal Siakam and co.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (6-7) at Toronto Raptors (8-4)

When: 7:30 PM EST

Where: Scotiabank Arena; Toronto, ON

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Coming off of a back-to-back that featured a pair of late-game clutch shots, the Hornets travel north of the border to take on a Raptors squad led by Pascal Siakam, who has been one of the best players in the NBA thus far.

Despite losing Kawhi Leonard immediately following a championship, Toronto seems to have stayed squarely in the hunt in the top-heavy East. This is largely thanks to Pascal Siakam, who has improved at a greater rate than nearly any player that’s ever played in the NBA. After having a non-existent three-point shot and limited offensive game at New Mexico State, he’s become a 35.1% shooter from distance on 6.4 attempts per game while averaging 26.2 points as the team’s main option on offense. On the other end, he’s their most versatile defender and guards the other team’s best player on a nightly basis.

Put Fred VanVleet on the short list of players who are going to get an enormous bag this summer with a comparatively-weak free-agent crop. He’s currently hitting threes at a 40% clip while taking 6.7 of them per game and averaging a career-high 17.7 points per game. Wildly enough, he’s second in the NBA right now to Damian Lillard (38.5) playing 38.4 minutes per game, one spot ahead of CJ McCollum (37.6) and two ahead of his teammate, Siakam (37.1). Toronto is paying him just north of $9M this season, and I’d be thoroughly surprised if he isn’t bringing in close to $15M next year, in Toronto or elsewhere.

Kyle Lowry is out with a fractured thumb and Serge Ibaka will likely miss the game with an ankle injury, so the Hornets will be facing yet another injury-plagued team. Don’t fact-check me on this, but I’d be willing to bet that a significant player from the opposing team has been injured in like 75% of Hornets games this year.

Nicolas Batum returned from his injury on Saturday against the Knicks, and Dwayne Bacon was active despite having right knee soreness but ultimately didn’t play, so I’d imagine that both of them are full-go in Toronto.

The Raptors boast the league’s seventh-best defensive rating (103) and net rating (4.5). Nick Nurse is a very smart and methodical coach, and if the Hornets get off to one of their patented slow starts, it won’t be as easy to come back from it. Hopefully the day of rest after a back-to-back helps with the sluggishness off of the opening tip.

The Hornets are a good shooting team sometimes, but the Raptors are a good shooting team all the time. Their 39.9 3PT% is second only to Detroit (how surprising is it that they lead the league in 3PT%), and they rank fourth in the league with a 57.8 TS%. They’re also in the top-half of the league in pace of play, something that the Hornets rank 22nd in despite James Borrego preaching a faster, smaller, spaced-out style of play. Basically, Charlotte should study Toronto and try to be like them during this rebuild.

Currently 6-7 after 13 games, the Hornets are posted up at seventh in the East. Who expected to be reading that?

You’re absolutely right, Paul Washington Jr. The Hornets have exceeded all expectations in terms of win-loss record, so it’s impossible to count them out on a given night. It will be tough against Toronto, especially given their scoring ability on the interior with Siakam and Marc Gasol, but if Siakam and/or VanVleet have a bad shooting night and the Hornets are making their threes, we have seen multiple times that anything is possible.