USA TODAY Sports
Toronto goes for its 10th victory in 13 games as they host the struggling Charlotte Bobcats later this evening at the Air Canada Centre. The HQ's Chris Walder previews tonight's action.
Remember that time when the Charlotte Bobcats were hovering above the .500 mark in mid-November with seven victories (matching their win total from all of last season) and everyone around the league thought that this team was finally ready to turn the corner?
Ah, the good old days.
As the famous line of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green goes, "they are who we thought they were".
Despite how awful the team has been this year, one of their nine wins actually came against the Toronto Raptors back on November 21st when the Bobcats barely walked away with a 98-97 victory, courtesy of a late Ramon Sessions jumper.
Let's just hope that this go-around, the officiating will be a little more kinder towards the Raptors.
Toronto is coming off of a 90-72 defensive blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night. Amir Johnson led the way with a double-double of 19 points (on 6 for 11 shooting) and 11 rebounds. He also chipped in 5 assists in a very "Magic Johnson-esque" manner.
It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing of games, but the Raptors got the job done as they improved to 13-22 on the year.
With the team looking to gain some more ground in the race for that final playoff spot in the East, winning games against lesser competition will be extremely crucial.
Redemption is also on the line tonight as Toronto surely has that November loss in the back of their minds.
As always, here is your "Triple W: Walder's Winning Ways" for the game.
1) Contain Kemba Walker
Through 34 games, Walker is averaging 17.8 points (up from 12.1 in 2011-12), 6.0 assists (up from 4.4) and 1.8 steals a game (up from 0.9). He's been the shining light for a Bobcats team still searching for an identity in this league.
The last time these two teams played, Kemba dropped 19 points on the Raptors by shooting 50% (8 for 16) from the field. He also chipped in seven assists and three rebounds as well.
Jose Calderon will have the dubious distinction of trying to guard Kemba Walker tonight, which will be no easy task.
While the Bobcats actually do have a variety of weapons that can hurt Toronto on offense (six players averaging double-figure scoring), stopping Kemba will be of the utmost importance as he is there key facilitator with the basketball. He is one of the very few players on Charlotte who can create there own shot.
Take him out of his element, and the rest will fall in place.
2) Put The Bobcats Away Early
For those who watched the Raptors/76ers game on Wednesday, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Instead of putting away the Sixers (a team who was missing their star player and had played the night before) early in the first half and making a statement, Toronto allowed Philadelphia to stick around until late in the third quarter when they finally decided to pull away.
Charlotte may be going through some growing pains at the moment, but they certainly won't lay down and die for Toronto, that's for sure.
The Cats are only 4-11 on the road while the Raptors have a winning record at the ACC of 9-7. It's best to end this one as soon as possible, rather than giving Charlotte any unnecessary confidence late in the game.
3) The Continued Emergence Of Landry Fields
By continued emergence, I don't mean more airings of his now infamous Playstation Vita commercial.
Landry actually put up some great numbers on Wednesday, finishing the night with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.
That was the type of game we as Raptor fans have been dying to see from Fields since he signed on with the team. He looked confident with his shot, showed great energy on both sides of the ball and just looked like an entirely different player out there on the court.
Putting up a second-straight strong performance against the Bobcats tonight will go a long way towards winning over a few more fans. Mickael Pietrus has struggled in his role as the starting small forward thus far, so Fields now has the opportunity to not only win some of his PT back, but also help the Raptors etch out a few more W's in the win column in the process.