USA TODAY Sports
After Wednesday's loss in San Antonio snapped their five-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors look to get back on track tonight against a very similar club in New Orleans.
Thanks to Christmas travel woes, namely, some nice weather here in Toronto, I was unable to recap Toronto's 100 to 80 loss to San Antonio, so I had asked for a little help.
The results were interesting in that there was really only one huge summary of the game that gave me all I needed to know about the match.
The majority of other comments touched on a variety of other topics, but I noticed the bulk of these had one central theme; the future. Whether it was the future of the point guard position (trade Kyle Lowry, have Jose mentor a younger player etc), or the future prospects of individual players (Ed Davis, Terrence Ross), I was intrigued to see just how many readers focussed on things outside of the game, namely, projecting elements of this team down the road.
Sure there were notes about the refereeing, or Aaron Gray etc, but many readers opined about moves that should be made to improve this club.
And why not?
Even after a five-game winning streak, the team sits with a 9 and 20 record, on pace another 16 or so wins over the remaining 53 matches.
That would give them about 25 wins on the season, not exactly a successful campaign.
Fans are left to look for hope down the road again unfortunately, especially with Jonas Valanciunas out for a big chunk of time, much like the situation in New Orleans, the team Toronto faces tonight.
The Hornets have started to amass an intriguing collection of young talent and it's too bad we won't get to see Valanciunas going head-to-head with NO's top pick last year, Anthony Davis.
However we will get to see some other interesting stories potentially play out, so let's look at our three keys to tonight's match:
1. Ryan Anderson. Oh the irony. Anderson is likely the player Bryan Colangelo thought Andrea Bargnani would be at worst, when "Il Mago" was drafted first overall back in 2006. Instead, Bargs is sitting this one out tonight while trade rumours continue to swirl, and Anderson has proven to be a huge asset for his New Orleans club. He's the team's leading scorer at 18 a game, but more importantly, he's a deadly "stretch 4" who's taking eight 3-pointers a night and connecting on nearly 40 per cent of these.
His ability to space the floor from that position has given opponents fits, and it will be interesting to see how Dwane Casey handles this match-up tonight.
2. Pace. The Hornets average a measly 91.2 points per game, the second-worst mark in the league ahead of only Washington. However this is not a terrible offensive club. In terms of efficiency they are middle of the pack, and dwell in that same range in categories like true shooting percentage.
The club scores so few points mostly because it simply doesn't use as many possessions as other teams. Playing at the league's slowest pace, the Hornets methodically plod through their sets, but do so efficiently, rarely turning the ball over (ninth-best TO mark in the league.)
The Raptors operate in a similar manner with Jose Calderon at the point, sporting one of the league's slower paces and turning the ball over the third-least amount in the NBA. The club is not as efficient on offense, so a deciding factor tonight will likely be which team can do the superior job playing to its strengths.
3. Defense. And a lot of this will come down to the D. Toronto's crew has been better of late, holding opponents to under 100 points per game and they'll need to keep that up tonight against the low-scoring Hornets. New Orleans has the worst defensive efficiency score in the league besides the Charlotte Bobcats, so often find themselves on the losing end of matches thanks to the combination of this, and their inability to put points on the board quickly. The club's -6.2 point differential is third-worst in the league, going a long way to explain their 6 and 22 record.
That doesn't mean this is an easy win for the Raptors though, who struggle in similar ways to the young Hornets. More to the point, it means that this is likely another good test for Toronto in terms of how much "better" the club is of late.
You could argue that Toronto wasn't weren't supposed to beat a team like San Antonio but against a similar club like New Orleans, this is one they need to get if they want to continue to show signs of moving in the right direction.