When: Friday, February 28th, 7:30 pm EST
Where: Scotiabank Arena; Toronto, ON, CA
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA TV
After handing the Knicks their fifth-straight loss, the Charlotte Hornets will travel north of the border to Toronto to face the Raptors, who are coming off of a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks but had won 17 of 18 games prior.
Since the Hornets brought the Raptors to the brink in OT before Serge Ibaka iced the game with free throws on Jan. 8, Toronto has lost just three times. Three (3) losses in one month and 20 days. That is insanely good. It hasn’t been powered by one single player, either; Pascal Siakam has continued to improve past the All-Star level he’s already reached, Kyle Lowry still does Kyle Lowry things, Terence Davis has been an utter steal as an un-drafted free agent, Ibaka has been a rock in the middle, and Fred VanVleet is playing himself into a healthy payday this summer. All of this has been done while Norman Powell (finger) has been out since Jan. 31., Marc Gasol (hamstring) since Jan. 28, and Patrick McCaw (illness) since Feb. 12. Toronto players have lost more games to injury than any team except Golden State, Washington, Portland and Detroit. In short; the Raptors are really good despite not being healthy at all.
Toronto’s injury report currently lists Powell (finger) and Ibaka (knee soreness) as questionable for tonight, McCaw (illness) as likely to play, and Gasol (hamstring) as out.
The Hornets will be without Malik Monk (suspension), while Cody Zeller will be available after not playing against the Knicks on Wednesday.
The Raptors come into tonight’s contest with the league’s second-best defense (104.5 DEFRTG) and third-best 3-point percentage (37.6%). In the modern NBA, being that high in those two stat categories will probably lead to success. The first time they played the Hornets, they ran away with a 132-96 win in Toronto. The second time, they won 112-110 in OT behind a monster 27-point performance from Terry Rozier. Chances are, their third meeting of the season ends with a result more-similar to the first loss. The Hornets are suddenly short-handed, and though they have won four of their last six games, the two losses came against the only two playoff teams they faced. A young, rebuilding team that is frequently running lineups consisting of 2-4 players that were in Greensboro a month ago falters against high-level competition; a tale as old as time. That’s fine, though, because as we are all aware, counting wins and losses is not going to be an easy way to enjoy the Hornets this season. Player development, baby.
Devonte’ Graham seems to have gotten some of his swagger back against the Knicks, the first time he and Rozier each scored 20 points for the first time since Jan. 13 against Portland. Devonte’ put up 21 points (7-18 FG, 2-9 3PT, 5-6 FT) and five assists, and despite the low shooting percentages, he was finding his spots a lot easier than he had been in the weeks (months) beforehand. How the “Devonte’ might not be good” narrative gained steam is beyond me, but games like Wednesday night’s exemplify why that couldn’t be more false. Every player, especially young ones being thrust into high-volume roles, goes through slumps. Devonte’s has been long, but that’s because he is one of few players on the Hornets that opponents game plan for. Defenses are actively trying to run him off of his spots and make everything he does difficult. It’s hard to shoot a high percentage when most of your shots are long-range pull-up threes off of pick and rolls that get hedged beyond your wildest dreams. I empathize with Devonte’ and fully believe that he’s back on the right track.
This is the last of the back-and-forth flying the Hornets have been doing from Charlotte to various NBA cities. Every game since the All-Star break ended has been alternating home/away, but after tonight, the Hornets are at The Hive for four-straight games.