The Raptors first meeting with the Charlotte Hornets on November 11th was a straight up slug fest. Led by DeRozan’s 34 point performance, the Raptors were just able to hold on for the 113-111 victory, despite a third quarter invasion from the Hornets that saw them outscore the Raps 38-21. Now fast-forward two months and the Raptors have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference and are looking to respond after arguably their toughest loss of the season.
It was going to happen eventually and four years to the date of their last win against the Raps, the Philadelphia 76ers were finally able to grab a victory against the Raptors 94-89 on Wednesday night.
The Raptors had an off night in Philadelphia (it happens) and on top of that began to feel the wrath of the injury bug. After losing DeMarre Carroll in the third quarter, there remained two options — play four guards or rely heavily on your rookie big men (Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam) to play roles and minutes that they may not yet be ready for. The Raptors were forced to play nearly 24 minutes (half of the game) in a four guard lineup.
Most of you are probably dreading the part where I bring up how poorly the Raptors have played against the Hornets in recent years. Oops! The truth cannot be denied — it can only be rewritten. The Raptors have gone 7-11 against the Hornets and just 2-8 (including the aforementioned win this season) in Charlotte going back to the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. On the plus side, at least it’s not the Bulls.
Here are three things to watch for tonight.
The Lost vs. the Limping
For the first real time this season, the Raptors are beginning to succumb to injury. The fact that they are all happening to front court personnel is most worrisome. With Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll and Lucas Nogueira all out of the lineup and Jared Sullinger being kept on a minutes restriction, the Raptors are smaller than ever and as mentioned this really showed against the 76ers on Wednesday night.
The Hornets on the other hand have dropped seven of their last nine contests and have yet to win a game on the road in 2017. Luckily for them they will be in front of their home crowd at the Spectrum Center on Wednesday night, where they are sporting a record of 13-7. The Hornets seemed to be stapled into a top four or five seed in the East, but in a crowded Eastern Conference they are in danger of losing ground if they don’t turn things around soon.
(Try to) Manage the Glass
Seeing the Raptors lose so many big bodies is subsequently going to result in them being even less competent at grabbing rebounds than normal. The Raptors are a lower tier team in terms of rebounding and are going against a team in Charlotte who ranks 4th league-wide in rebounds per-game and 2nd in defensive rebounding. Needless to say, the Raptors will need to be efficient each time down the floor as it is hard to imagine them getting many second or third chance opportunities in tonight’s match-up.
Next Man Up
One inevitable side effect of injuries is that they create opportunities for guys who otherwise may not get their chance to prove themselves. Remember that Tony Romo guy? Yeah, ask him. The Raptors have a ton of young talent just itching at their opportunity to see the floor in longer and more consistent spurts. Look to see players like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Norman Powell get more involved than usual in tonight’s contest, assuming that none of the injured troops are cleared to play by game time.
Off-season signing Sullinger also made his long anticipated Raptor debut on Wednesday night, playing in 14 minutes of action and chalking up a respectable 8 points and 3 boards. Although he is still on a minutes restriction, this is a chance for a player who’s potential role and impact has been forgotten about in his absence, to reinsert himself as a significant piece of this Raptor team.
Where to Watch: 7:00 p.m. ET, TSN 1/4