The Raptors enter this game trying to shake off Sunday's loss against Western Conference playoffs hopefuls, the Phoenix Suns, in a game that was all kinds of ugly. From uncalled fouls to Kyle Lowry getting inadvertently kneed in the face twice by P.J. Tucker, the Raps are probably glad to put that game behind them.
Thus far this season the ball clubs met twice, as the Hawks and Raps split the series with a game won each. The Hawks defended their home court against the Raps back in November, while the Raps won at home against the Hawks early February. Tonight's matchup will be the second last time they'll play against each other, as their final game together will be played the following week.
Sophomore centre, Jonas Valancuinas, however had a bad game as he only made 1 of 9 buckets from the field. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he finished with 14 rebounds, five of which were offensive so he was productive in that capacity.
Reviewing the standings, the Hawks currently hold the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, four games up on the troubled New York Knicks, holding the last spot in the playoffs race. They also hold the fourth seed in the Southeast Division.
As for the Dinos, they currently sit one game ahead of the Chicago Bulls, who keep breathing down the Raptors' necks. They're also maintaining the number one seed in the Atlantic, three and a half games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets.
In their two games against the Hawks, DeRozan has been averaging a staggering 31 points and 4.5 rebounds this season. DeRozan as well has scored more than 30 points in each of his last three meetings against Atlanta.
While Patrick Patterson remains the only Raptor inactive with a sore elbow - he'll be returning to limited basketball activity over the next seven days - the Hawks have had a series of unfortunate injuries themselves. Gustavo Ayon suffered a right shoulder injury, while Al Horford still recovers from the surgery he had on his torn right pectoral. Also John Jenkins remains out as he rehabilitates from a lower back injury.
This game should be a fun one as both teams always play well against each other. Despite the injuries both teams face, neither team necessarily has an advantage going into this game. Also with the first seed in the Atlantic division virtually a lock for the Raptors, this game and the following game against the New Orleans Pelicans will be crucial for Toronto if they hope to keep the third seed entering the Eastern Conference playoffs, as tonight's game will be the first of a back-to-back trip. Here are our three keys for a Raptors' win.
1) Defend Kyle Korver at all times:
Sharpshooting specialist, Kyle Korver has made a name for himself knocking down the three ball with ease. After a historic 127 consecutive games with a three pointer streak, ending against the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this season, Korver has picked up right where he left off.
Over the last four games (excluding the game against the Charlotte Bobcats), Korver has managed to shot 72 percent from the field, 87 percent from three point range and 100 percent from the free throw line. He's averaging 19 points per game, including at least three, 3-point makes.
In November's game against the Raptors, Korver managed to finish the game with 17 points, shooting 5 of 8 from three point range. He also shot 6 of 12 from the field.
However in the game in February, Toronto managed to hold Korver to only eight points, shooting 3 of 7 from the field, and 2 of 4 from three point range.
Korver's offence also helps open up the floor for his teammates so tonight, I'm hoping to see a Raptor defender draped on him at all times.
2) Defend, defend, defend:
While the Hawks aren't a fast-tempo team like the Phoenix Suns, they are one of the most unselfish teams in the league, passing the rock around to every team member. According to Hollinger's team statistics, the Hawks have an assist ratio of 19.1, behind only the Spurs in this category.
Even Korver is an underrated passer and tonight it's imperative that Toronto does a much better job defensively than they did versus the Suns, getting into lanes and disrupting ATL's offense. Versus the Suns the Raps struggled in this capacity so I'm looking forward to a rebound performance on D this evening.
3) Have a strong performance from Amir Johnson:
As noted, the Raptors will be missing Patrick Patterson tonight and his absence will likely be felt once again. (How much did the club miss him off the bench on Sunday versus the Morris twins?) Therefore it's crucial that others step up in his place, namely Tyler Hansbrough and Amir Johnson. Johnson sat out the last match between these clubs due to injury, and will have to help fill the void for his fallen brethren.
He'll have to take notes from Patterson and play aggressively down the stretch as he'll be guarded by none other than 2014 NBA All-Star, Paul Millsap. Millsap is the only player this season to be averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and one steal and one block so it would be nice to see Johnson holding Millsap down to as few points as possible, considering he and Korver are really the Hawk's lone key offensive options.
And by extension, the Raptors bench hasn't be productive as of late -- they were outscored 59 to 11 against the Suns -- so outside of the big men, players like Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons need to take it up a notch tonight to grab this W.