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Preview: Hornets attempt to breach the .500 mark against the Raptors

Charlotte matches up with Toronto for the third time this season after dropping the first two games in Tampa

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What: Charlotte Hornets (18-18) vs Toronto Raptors (17-20)

When: 7:00 pm EST

Where: Spectrum Cetner; Charlotte, N.C.

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

The Charlotte Hornets are at The Hive tonight to face the Toronto Raptors, who have dropped three straight games and will be missing a large portion of their roster due to health and safety protocols.

OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet (health and safety) will all be out for the Raptors, leaving them with just 10 healthy players, only six or seven of whom are “regulars” in their rotation.

Norman Powell is likely to shoulder a lot of the offensive burden for Toronto minus three key players. This season, Powell is averaging a career-high 6.0 3PA per game on 44.5 percent, also the highest mark of his career. He’s putting up 18.1 points per game on the season, but that’s risen to 24.1 points over the last 15 games, and he’s doing it on a 69.6 true shooting percentage. Combine that with his pesky perimeter defense, and Powell has played himself into being a core piece of Toronto’s future as a franchise.

Kyle Lowry has been on the trade block lately, but for good reason—he’s still a great player. He’s posted double-digit assists in three of his last four games, including a 19-assist outing in a loss against Boston. He’s hitting 40.2 percent from long-range on 7.1 attempts per game, the second-highest percentage of his career, and he’s balanced Toronto’s need for him to score with making plays for others and initiating offense.

A lot of Hornets fans have taken note of this trend during this season, but the Hornets just can’t seem to get above .500 so far. Per The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell in the tweet above, the Hornets haven’t had to wait that long for a .500 team this late in the season, but it’s meaningful nonetheless—being above .500 indicates that Charlotte is at least competitive against high-level competition, and it being this late in the season bodes well for playoff/play-in hopes.

Taking advantage of a downtrodden Toronto team coming off three-straight losses and missing a full lineup’s worth of good players is a prime opportunity to break through that .500 mark for the first time in about two calendar years. The Raptors are a well-coached team that still has Lowry, Powell, and a hot-shooting big in Chris Boucher so it’s far from a cakewalk, but the Hornets should be able to tire them out quickly if they play with pace and execute on both ends. Just make life tough for the team with barely a handful of healthy players, and chances are, your team will come out on top.

Defense will be the key for the Hornets tonight (breaking news, thank you Captain Obvious). Over the last 10 games, Charlotte’s defense ranks 24th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114.0, a drop-off from their 16th-ranked defense for the whole season. The Hornets gave up a pair of 30-point quarters to Detroit and struggled with Minnesota in the first half. A fair portion of the Hornets’ success relies on opponents simply missing jumpers, but there’s been a noticeable drop-off in production on that end as of late.

The Hornets will have a fully-healthy roster this evening. Locked and loaded, baby!