With only eight games remaining in the regular season, the Toronto Raptors continue to get the job done without starting point guard Kyle Lowry around. Riding a six-game winning streak, the Raps will look to inch closer towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
Toronto (45-29) is coming off a lopsided 131-112 victory over the lowly Orlando Magic on Monday to move them one game behind the Washington Wizards for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. The Dinos improved to 12-5 since Lowry went down with a wrist injury in early March.
As for the Hornets? The boys from Buzz City (33-41) dug themselves a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the middle of the year and are still trying to dig themselves out of it. Occupying the 11-seed, the Hornets have their work cut out for them to catch the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat to make the postseason. Charlotte is currently three games behind the Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Toronto is 2-1 vs. Charlotte this season but suffered one of its worst defeats of the year to them, a 113-78 blowout on January 20.
Here are three things to watch out for in the contest:
The P.J. Tucker Effect
Masai Ujuri’s deadline trades for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker were great initially, but they’ve looked even better since. Ibaka has finally solidified the gaping hole that was the Raptors’ four spot, while Tucker’s defensive impact and hustle night in and night out has been massive in the stretch run of the campaign.
As Daniel Hackett pointed out in this week’s Numbers Game column, the Cory Joseph-DeMar DeRozan-Tucker-Ibaka-Valanciunas lineup has a fantastic +12.6 net rating. Compared to the Joseph-DeRozan-DeMarre Carroll-Ibaka-JV lineup that boasts a -6.7 net rating, that’s a huge difference.
Point God Kemba Walker
Even for non-Hornets fans, it’s hard to dislike Kemba Walker. The guy straight-up balls out and has gotten better every year he’s been in the NBA. Walker, who’s averaging 22.9 points per game in 2016-17, has been especially cruel to Toronto.
In the Raptors’ three games vs. Charlotte, Walker has gone off for 23, 32 and a season-high 40 points on December 11. Without Lowry around, Joseph will have his hands full with the UConn product.
Don’t Let Up
Whether it’s at the professional or collegiate level, a lot of basketball teams have a habit of playing down to their competition. Every NBA squad is guilty of that every now and then, and the Raps are no different.
Dwane Casey’s club shot the lights out against the putrid Magic in their last outing, but they let things come far too easily for Orlando’s offense. The Raptors surrendered a 107.4 offensive rating to the cellar-dwelling Magic and allowed Elfrid Payton to continually kill them in the paint.
The Hornets are better than the Magic, and the Raptors’ defense has been solid of late, but they can’t allow those slip-ups to happen with the playoffs almost here.
Where to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One