It’s a good time to be a Raptors fan. As SB Nation’s Paul Flannery recently addressed in his Sunday Shootaround column, we’re currently living in the Raptors’ golden age. If you haven’t already, give it a read. Flannery is a great writer, and he makes a lot of interesting points in that piece.
After trudging through a tough November schedule, the Raps are enjoying an easy pre-Christmas slate as they prepare for a date with the reeling Atlanta Hawks tonight. Atlanta took the league by storm in the first few weeks to the tune of a 9-2 start, but they’ve lost 11 of 14 since. Mike Budenholzer’s club has won just twice since November 23.
It’s a completely different story for the Dinos. Toronto has won 10 of its last 11 and presently boasts a league-best 115.3 offensive rating. Think about that for a second. It’s been three years since Rudy Gay was shipped to Sacramento and the direction of the franchise finally started to move in the right direction. It really is amazing to think about how far this team has come in such a short time.
The Raptors hammered Atlanta in their last meeting - a 128-84 home triumph - on December 3. The game was the largest margin of victory in team history, as eight Raps scored in double-digits paced by DeMar DeRozan’s 21.
Here are three things to watch out for tonight:
Beasts of the East
Outside of that pesky squad from Cleveland, Toronto has absolutely owned the Eastern Conference this season. In the wake of Wednesday’s 123-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, Kyle Lowry and company are 11-0 versus conference foes.
Sure they’re 0-2 against Cleveland, but that’s pretty damn impressive. A six-game road trip against Western Conference competition awaits on December 23, so expect Toronto to keep that trend rolling against the Hawks, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets before then.
Make your free throws
While free throws are often perceived as one of the most boring aspects of basketball, they’re an important one. As of Thursday, the Raptors owned the best free throw percentage in the Association (82.1 percent). On the other side of the coin, the Hawks had the third-worst mark in the league (71.4 percent). Atlanta’s offense has been dreadful across the board lately, but this is another area where Toronto has a big edge.
The turnover battle
Another area where the Hawks struggle is protecting the rock.. Atlanta is third in the NBA in turnovers with an average of 16.9 per game. Only the lowly 76ers (17.1) and Nets (17) are worse. The Hawks committed 18 turnovers in the last meeting between the clubs, and the Raps will surely make them pay if they’re that careless again.
Where to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN