In the wake of Tuesday’s 105-94 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Raps have now dropped 11 of their last 15 games to slide down into the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference at 32-24. The Hornets have been downright terrible in recent weeks, losing 10 of 11 to fall outside of the playoff picture with a record of 24-31. Since the calendar turned to 2017, Steve Clifford’s crew are a measly 5-16.
With the news of the Serge Ibaka trade dominating headlines on Tuesday, it’s hard to get too worked up about last night’s game. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were asking for help, and the razor-sharp Masai Ujiri delivered yet again by landing the Congolese big man.
This is Toronto’s last game before the All-Star break, and the timing couldn’t be better. The Ibaka addition will be a major shot in the arm for a team that’s been lacking at the power forward spot for quite some time, but the reality is the Raptors have many more hills they’ll need to overcome to once again be a contender come playoff time.
Here are three things to watch out for tonight:
Containing Kemba Walker
In a league filled with dynamic point guards it seems like Kemba Walker never gets the kind of attention he deserves, but the 26-year-old has gotten better every year since entering the NBA in 2011. Walker has been in a bit of a shooting slump lately, but the Raptors’ defense isn’t exactly scaring anyone these days.
In the last meeting between the teams — a 113-78 blowout by the Hornets on January 20 - Walker dropped a game-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting. The loss was one of Toronto’s worst of the campaign, and that’s truly saying something.
Next Man Up Norm Powell
One of the major beneficiaries of the Ibaka trade is Norman Powell. With Terrence Ross on his way to Orlando, Powell is (finally) able to take on a bigger role in the Raptors’ second unit. In just over 18 minutes of work against the Bulls, Powell contributed 13 points, four assists and two steals.
The next few months are the UCLA product’s time to prove to Dwane Casey that he’s worthy of bigger role, and I’m expecting him to have another solid showing vs. the Hornets.
Issues on the Glass
With players like Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts in tow, Charlotte used to be a solid rebounding squad. Those days are in the rear-view mirror now. On Monday the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers manhandled the Hornets on the glass to the tune of a 51-33 margin, as the absence of the injured Cody Zeller was extremely evident.
The Sixers outscored Charlotte in the paint by 24 points. Toronto was out rebounded 40-25 in their last meeting, but that’s not likely to happen again with the way the Hornets are currently playing.
Where to watch: 8:00 p.m. ET, TSN