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Raptors end quick trip in Atlanta: Preview, start time, and more

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Another soft spot in the schedule begins, as the Raptors face the struggling Hawks.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Soon, the Toronto Raptors will be home, and home a lot.

After tonight’s game against Atlanta, ten of the next 13 will be at Air Canada Centre — considering the competition and their place in the standings, it’s no time to slouch. The number one seed is still calling (they’re just a game back of the Celtics in the loss column) and Toronto has the ability to close the gap.

But don’t look past these Hawks. They may be a miserable 14-32 overall, but they’ve had a decent new year, winning four of their last six including a 104-90 win over Utah on Monday.

Toronto has been pretty good at taking winnable games, especially when they’re healthy. Let’s talk game details, and get into what to watch for.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM ET

Lineups

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Atlanta - Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Ersan Ilyasova, Miles Plumlee

Injuries

Toronto - none

Atlanta - DeAndre’ Bembry (groin)

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Keep It Safe

Now, the Hawks aren’t going to surprise you with their personnel. They’re bottom five in defense and bottom eight in offense — and looking at this roster, that’s not likely to change. Where they can beat you is through opportunity. Atlanta is second in the league in forcing turnovers right now, with their opponents averaging 16.3 per game. They also have a rookie, John Collins, who is tearing down offensive rebounds at a franchise-high rate: 2.8 per game.

So if Dennis Schröder didn’t keep you up last night, consider those factors. The Raptors need to keep the ball safe and carry out solid possessions against a feisty Hawks team. Kent Bazemore and Taurean “JYD 3.5” Prince are opportunistic defenders, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will need to take this night seriously to avoid easy buckets the other way.

Feed the Beast

We all know Jonas Valanciunas is on a tear, and that he thrives in matchups against more typical centres. He has to just light up at the sight of a jersey with Plumlee on it, and that’s what he’ll get in this Hawks matchup. While Miles can be a live wire, he plays it closer to the hoop, where Jonas can win. Valanciunas has averaged team highs of 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two matchups with the Hawks this year. Expect that to continue Wednesday.

Happy All-Star Fun Time

This is less analytics and more existential, but the Raptors have to feel good coming off the announcements of their two All-Stars (Lowry and DeRozan, duh).

As a team, staying motivated in the months of January and February can be challenging if the schedule gets lighter and the teams around you start to flounder (Boston has a tough West stretch upcoming and Cleveland is... yeah). Any sort of self-motivation the Raptors can muster up in a week they play Atlanta, Utah, and the Lakers is welcome — perhaps they can get some lift from a unique kind of national recognition.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that Lowry is coming off his best performance of the season: 40 points in a losing effort against Minnesota. Even without self-talk, that kind of play could carry over against a lowly Hawks team.