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Raptors play host to surging Hawks: Preview, TV Info, and more

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Toronto’s extended homestand continues Thursday when the Raptors welcome the streaking Atlanta Hawks to town.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With last year's epic meltdown still very fresh in our minds, it's understandable to see some Raptors fans hover their collective fingers over the panic button as a result of the team's recent lackadaisical play. But the fact is the Dinos have the fifth best record in the NBA (42-20) and are sitting just 2.5 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, so there's plenty of time to right the ship as the regular season winds down.

Tonight's matchup with the Atlanta Hawks - the fifth straight at the ACC - will not be a cakewalk by any stretch. After dropping three in a row coming off the All-Star break, the Hawks have won five of six and appear to be peaking at the right time.

Mike Budenholzer's crew are in a dogfight for the Southeast Division crown with the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets. While they're far from the same team that won 60 games last year, the Hawks have the makings of a squad the Raps would like to avoid in the first round of the postseason.

In positive news, ex-Hawk DeMarre Carroll was moving well in Wednesday's practice. We miss you, DeMarre.

Let's get to it. Here are three things to watch out for in the tilt:

Contrasting defenses

The Raptors' recent severe defensive issues have been well documented, as our Daniel Hackett explains in-depth here. Want something else to worry about? Atlanta has been fantastic on the defensive end of the floor, as the Hawks lead the Association in defensive rating since the calendar flipped to 2016.

In their last outing, a 91-84 victory over Utah, they limited the Jazz to just 35 percent shooting while forcing 20 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Raptors have surrendered at least 100 points in seven of their past 8 and 12 of their last 14. Not great, Bob.

Battle of the point guards

Much like Toronto, the Hawks will go as far as their point guards will take them, and Jeff Teague has been doing an excellent job carrying the load as of late. Teague is averaging 17.2 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field over his last 15 games. The 27-year-old is connecting on 45 percent of his three-pointers during that span.

The Raptors shouldn't sleep on backup floor general Dennis Schroder, however. Schroder is putting up 11.2 points per game while shooting 43 percent from the field off the bench, more evidence the German is going to be a starter in this league sooner rather than later.

The Scola question

Much of the criticism surrounding the Raptors' current struggles on defense come from the Luis Scola-Jonas Valanciunas pairing in the frontcourt. Head coach Dwane Casey seems set on keeping Scola in the starting lineup, but the veteran received a day of rest in Tuesday's 104-99 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Newly acquired power forward Jason Thompson got the nod in Scola's place and performed admirably, posting nine points on four-for-six shooting, five boards, two assists, a steal and a couple of blocks.

The system is clearly failing with Scola receiving heavy minutes, and if the losses continue to pile up, Casey's hand may be forced to make a change. But it hasn't happened yet, and the ugly numbers are speaking for themselves.

Where to watch: TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET.

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