The Raptors will look to push their home record to 30-9 when the Charlotte Hornets visit the Air Canada Centre tonight. That would equal the team record for home victories, set by the 2006-07 Chris Bosh led Toronto team that also won the Atlantic Division title. That team, however, only managed 47 total victories; this team is already at 51 with six games left to play.
Here are your keys to the game.
Who's In, Who's Out?
We already know that DeMarre Carroll won't suit up for this one, though he went through portions of a full practice with the team on Monday. Coach Casey mentioned the final three games of the season -- vs. New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn -- as a 'test lab' for Carroll, which given the strength of competition and the fact that Toronto is basically locked into the 2-seed at this point, certainly makes good sense.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both listed as probable starters, while the revelatory Norman Powell is expected to remain in the starting lineup. The question lies in how much run Lowry and DeRozan will get. It seems so far that when the Raptors play their guys, they play them, but with this game meaning very little to Toronto, it would be nice to see both of the big guns have their minutes limited. This is particularly true since Toronto faces a difficult back-to-back road-home set against Indiana and Atlanta later in the week. Though, either of those games could serve as a 'rest' game as well.
On Charlotte's side of the ball, both Al Jefferson (thigh) and Nic Batum (knee) are questionable, with Batum the more likely of the two to play.
No Deep Balls
Whoever is on the floor for Toronto will have to try to limit Charlotte's three point shooting if they want to win. Toronto has allowed opponents to shoot 37.4% from deep this season, 29th in the league. The Hornets attempt the 4th most three's per game (29.2) and hit on 36% of them, which ranks them 7th.
Charlotte is a team with a very specific style, and the three ball is a big part of that. They're a bottom five team in offensive rebounding and total field goal percentage, which doesn't seem like a recipe for success. However, they're the best team in the NBA at taking care of the ball, turning it over just 12.7 times per game. They shoot 79% from the line as a team (5th) and get there 23.4 times per game (11th). A Daryl Morey-ish pattern emerges. They might not give themselves a lot of chances, but they make the most of them.
Gotta Want It (Or Not!)
Charlotte has clinched a playoff spot, but they're still playing for potential home court advantage in one or maybe two rounds of the playoffs. They sit 6th in the East, but are tied with Miami (who owns the tie-break) and just a half game behind Boston and Atlanta. The Hornets have easier games coming up against the Knicks, Nets, Wizards and Magic, but you have to think that they'll be going full throttle in this one, while Toronto might be saving some gas for Thursday's game in Indiana.
I have to say, as a Raptors fan, I'm not used to things being decided this early and I have no idea how to feel about it.
What do you think? Should Toronto go full out and use the game as a good late season test? Or do you want to see them encase Lowry and DeRozan in carbonite until April 16th?
Where to Watch: TSN 1/4, 7:30pm EST