Toronto takes a one game jaunt to Atlanta tonight, looking to push their record to 4-0 against the Hawks. This Atlanta team has really found themselves after a sluggish start to the season, pushing the envelop defensively and ranking second in the NBA in assists (25.7). If you move the ball effectively and defend well, it follows that you're going to win games.
It's curious then, why this Hawks team struggles so much against Toronto. This will be the third meeting between the two teams in the last 30 days, and the first two were nearly identical Toronto victories, 105-97 and 104-96. Couple that with Kyle Lowry's HAM 22 point 4th quarter back in December, and the Hawks have been snake bitten all year long.
Here are your keys to the game.
If It Ain't Broke...
As we've seen during every Raptors-Bulls games so far this year, sometimes teams just don't match up well. This appears to be the case with Atlanta and Toronto. The Hawks are kind of a mirror of the Raptors, built from the front-court out, using smaller, speedy guards to keep the ball moving with the hopes of getting open three point looks and easy buckets down low. This has worked for them, by and large -- remember, this team was the East's one seed just a season ago, and they haven't changed their playing style.
The thing is, Toronto has basically thrown a wrench into that game plan all season long, and the Hawks have struggled to adjust. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Dennis Schroeder are effective players, but they get bullied on the defensive end by the stronger Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan combination, and for all the praise heaped on Paul Millsap and Al Horford (deservedly so) they've really struggled to contain Toronto's big men, be it Jonas Valanciunas in the pick and roll, Patrick Patterson from beyond the arc or Bismack Biyombo on the glass.
Get Glass, Make Money
Toronto has dominated Atlanta so far this season on the boards, and it's been a main cog in their success. Atlanta is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league anyway -- they rank just 24th in total rebounds per game (42.0), despite being 9th in pace, a combination that puts them 28th in REB% (47.5%).
The Raptors have actually managed to hold them below those already putrid numbers. The Hawks have grabbed just 45.8% of rebounds in games against Toronto this season. This is an especially important factor because Toronto has bothered the Hawks normally efficient offense. Atlanta has a team TS% of 55.4 on the year, but it's just 49.9 against the Raps. If you're missing shots and not getting boards, it follows that you'll be getting smoked. Case in point: Atlanta has played Toronto to a -8.7 differential this year, their worst differential against any Eastern Conference opponent. These games have been contested, but not exactly close.
Sweet Home Indiana
If the playoffs started today, the Raptors would face off against tomorrow night's opponent, the Indiana Pacers. It'll be interesting to see if they opt to rest players a little tonight and go full bore tomorrow against the Pacers, or if there'll be any gamesmanship in play tomorrow night in Toronto.
Where to Watch: TSN1, 8:00pm EST