Raptors vs Pelicans Gameday Preview: Concerns abound for Dinos as they head to New Orleans.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The Toronto Raptors look to snap a two-game losing streak as they face off against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans' Pelicans.

It's only two games, but I'd argue there's some reason for concern in Raptorland right now.

Firstly, the team's defense over the past two matches has been pretty suspect, giving up an average of 120 points (both losses.)

Second, a club that's been pretty much injury-free all season, is suddenly having to deal with some ailments and while none are of an extreme nature, it's certainly hampering the club, especially in terms of bench production.

Finally, and likely due in part to the aforementioned injury issues, the team's offensive execution in key moments hasn't been exactly optimum.

Nothing that warrants all out panic but the Dinos have some work to do if they want to finish their final 16 games on a high note and enter the playoffs with some momentum.

That means stopping their current two-game losing streak this evening in New Orleans.

Here are our three keys:

1)  Stop the Ball. Relating to the first concern I mentioned above, the Raptors have been fairly awful of late at guarding the opposing team's point guard.  Kyle Lowry is a solid defender, but he needs some help against the top floor generals of the NBA and last night he just didn't get it regarding Jeff Teague.  Take a look at Teague's shot chart via our folks over at Peachtree Hoops:

Teagueshotchart_medium_medium

Are you kidding me?

Teauge simply got to the paint nearly whenever he wanted and when he wasn't dropping in floaters he was finding teammates for open looks and causing havoc for the Raps' D.

We saw similar results by the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic on Sunday, and even in last week's win over the Detroit Pistons, the equally speedy Brandon Jennings had an unusually efficient outing scoring 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting.

The Raptors won't have to deal with players of Dragic and Teague's ilk tonight, but the Hornets' Brian Roberts is still a bit of a waterbug and the club needs to do a much better job stopping the ball at the point of attack.

2)  Bench Play. Moving on to the second concern I noted above, the Raps' bench needs a big lift.  Last night the crew ranged in impact from non-existent (Chuck Hayes) to borderline awful at times (Vasquez), posting a solid combined plus/miuns rating of minus 51.  Dwane Casey isn't necessarily helping matters by leaving the pine crew out for too long in key moments, and stubbornly rolling out the same ineffective options (Salmons) but with Patrick Patterson still likely a week away from his return, this crew simply needs to play a lot better as well.  Vasquez for instance can be a tremendous advantage when he plays to his strengths, moving the ball, posting up smaller guards, etc, but last night he was way too trigger-happy.  Yes, a few of the shots dropped, but they were hardly of the "high-efficiency variety."

The bad news is the bench may have just gotten shorter too as Jonas Valanciunas is questionable for tonight's game (no word till pre-game shoot-around) thanks to last night's back injury, and Amir Johnson was seen hobbling around post-game.  Great.  Amir will likely play through the issues but add both to Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross being banged up, and the club could use a solid outing from an unexpected contributor, say a Landry Fields or even a Julyan Stone.

3)  Anthony Davis. Davis has just been a terror of late and seguing from the Valanciunas injury concerns, suddenly tonight's match-up versus the Pelicans looks a lot more daunting than it did 24 hours ago.  If an immobile Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, or Chuck Hayes (period) is forced to guard the sophomore sensation, this could be a very long night for Toronto.  Davis had 40 points and 21 rebounds (!!!) in his last match, and his presence helped open up scoring lanes for teammates like Tyreke Evans.  If Toronto can find a way to keep Davis under control tonight it bodes well for a W. The Raps shouldn't have much issue scoring the ball considering the Pelicans are a bottom five defensive club, so keeping Davis and the Pelicans' offense at bay will go a long way towards snapping Toronto's current two-game losing streak.

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